Rare Sheppard Tractors: One of Three - Diesel World

1949 Sheppard SD-1

Sheppard Tractors are among the most rare of the orphan tractors. We covered a ‘51 Sheppard SD-3 for you back in 2015 and you can see the story online at the Diesel World website linked below. This time we show you the smallest Sheppard, built in very small numbers from early ‘49 into January of 1950. As you will learn, it’s one of the rarest collectible tractors you will ever see.

“The  engine used in the SD-1 was built around a 3 x 4-inch bore and stroke. The air-cooled unit in the SD-1 was indirect injected and rated at 5.4 gross horsepower at 2000 rpm.”

We won’t rehash the entire R.H. Sheppard Company history, which you can read in the online story, but we will tell you that Richard Sheppard designed and started building diesel engines in 1937 as a sideline to some of his other business pursuits. The engine business was his main interest and passion, so he expanded it as he could and when the rearmament push came in 1940, followed by outright war in 1941, he was ready to supply engines for the war effort. That translated mainly into generator sets and single-cylinder engines for lifeboats and the wartime production boosted the diesel business.

Post War Aspirations

After the war, Sheppard was hungry to create a diesel empire in the world of agriculture. He started in 1948 with a repower kit to put the three-cylinder, 188 ci Sheppard diesel into IH Farmall M tractors. In 1949, Sheppard debuted his own line of tractors, the SD-1, SD2 and SD-3 tractors. Contrary to some reports, the “SD” in the tractor model designations did not stand “Sheppard Diesel.” According to Peter Sheppard, son of the founder, it was the first and last letters of “ShepparD.” The 1,2 or 3 in the designation indicated the plow rating and coincided with number of engine cylinders. The R.H. Sheppard Company would also build and sell bare diesel engines, generator sets, power units, and marine engines.

Sheppard SD-2 Tractor

Here’s a sneak peak at an upcoming Tractor Talk on the Sheppard SD-2. The SD-2 was not a large tractor, so this shot highlights the diminutive size of the SD-1.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, there were a lot of inexpensive compact tractors on the market, useful for plowing up the veggie patch, moving small wagons, maybe pulling a gang mower on a golf course. Because Sheppard had one-cylinder diesels, it seemed logical to start the lineup with a small tractor in this category, to be called the SD-1.

To accomplish all this quickly, they used as much outside-sourced material as possible. In the case of the diminutive SD-1, they bought an almost complete small tractor and installed a Sheppard one-cylinder, air cooled diesel. The SD-1 was built on a rolling chassis sourced from Doylestown Machine Company, of Danboro, Pennsylvania, about 132 miles from Sheppard’s Hanover, Pennsylvania plant.  Doylestown produced a small tractor called the Atomic Babe, powered by a Novo gasoline engine. Sheppard made a few changes but with the exception of the engine, the SD-1 and the Atomic Babe are nearly identical.

DW-2010-TRAC-01

One of only three known to still exist! The last one that sold went for $27,300 in 2016. It ain’t purty, nor was it a particularly good tractor, but it was likely the first diesel-powered garden-sized tractor built in the U.S. This one is part of the Wendell Kelch collection, which spans the four Sheppard models. Kelch is well known for some outstanding tractor and truck restorations, as well as a very unique collection of equipment. This one has the optional electric start.

The engine used in the SD-1 was built around a 3 x 4-inch bore and stroke. The air-cooled unit in the SD-1 was indirect injected and rated at 5.4 gross horsepower at 2000 rpm. A similar water-cooled engine was rated for up to 8 hp, but it was apparently only used in one experimental SD-1.

Fate of the SD-1

The SD-1 was a resounding failure. First off, list price was $1095, about 20 percent more than many equivalent competitive units. Secondly, Sheppard was harsh with their dealers. They had no floor or financing plans for the dealers and they had to buy their own demo tractors and all purchases were “cash-n-carry.” It appears from the sales ledgers that the dealer cost was about $995, so it appears there wasn’t a huge profit margin, either. On top of that, it was really a so-so to average tractor anyway and there wasn’t enough “whizbangness” to overcome the other obstacles. It’s only unique feature was the diesel engine and in the tractor market of 1949, that was as much a detriment as a draw. Diesels were still looked a skeptically by most small farmers.

Sheppard Diesel Tractor

This tractor was ordered by a Sheppard dealer but when the sale fell thru and the dealer couldn’t find another buyer, it was stored. It ended up being a yard queen before being stuffed into the back of a storage building and finally sold years later. Kelch is only the fourth owner. From the business end, we can see a swinging, adjustable height drawbar. Sheppard never paid to have their tractors Nebraska tested, so we don’t know how much drawbar power it could generate.

Sheppard Diesel Fuel Injector pump

The fuel injection was extremely simple and that was a two edged sword. One of the early Sheppard salesmen would demonstrate how easy the system was to work on by disassembling it and reassembling it with little more than a Crescent wrench and  pliers. Farmers like easy so that was a plus. On the minus side, the system barely produced 1000 psi injection pressure, so atomization was not a strong suit.

In looking at the production ledgers with Wendell Kelch, owner of this SD-1, we could find only a total of 17 tractors, most of which were leftover units sold at bargain-basement prices to an outfit in the Philippines in January of 1950, after production had ended. The SD-2, and especially the SD-3, were more successful. The Sheppard line was further improved by the intro of the SD-4 in 1954, but that was near the end of the tractor era at Sheppard. In most ways, the SD-4 was the best Sheppard and compared well with other diesel tractors in the market, but was overpriced and dealers still weren’t incentivized. Sheppard left the tractor biz in 1956.

Sheppard Diesel SD-1 Tractor

Minimal controls and instrumentation and minimal comfort. We test drove this unit and found it supremely uncomfortable and non-ergonomic. It has only two instruments, an ammeter and an oil pressure gauge. Some sources list it with a top speed of 7 mph.

Sheppard SD-1 Engine

We have not found Sheppard’s designation for the engine in the SD-1, if it differed from the “SD-1” on the engine tag. It was indirect injected and could be started by hand with a crank or with an optional electric start system. The engine has a compression release on the head for hand starting. The engine tag lists it at 5.4 gross horsepower at 2000 rpm, but other specs from Sheppard list it at 4 hp at 2000 rpm. If the 4-hp is to be believed, it could be the net, or continuous, power rating for stationary use. The engine has a pressurized lubrication system with an oil filter, unusual for small engines of the day, and a fin and tube oil cooler. Some source material lists a 1000 hour oil change interval, with filter changes only, but we don’t know if it applied to all the Sheppard tractors.

SD-1 Compression release

The compression release was useful with maintenance and for hand starting.

Ironically, Sheppard added power steering to the SD-4 and that changed their fortunes. In order to keep their factory hitting on all eight during the tractor era, they took on side manufacturing jobs, one of which was power steering systems. They began innovating and today, they are a foremost builder of power steering systems for trucks and tractors. They are still in Hanover and recently built a museum highlighting their manufacturing history.

Specifications

1949 Sheppard SD-1

Engine: 1-cylinder,
Displacement: 28 ci
Bore & Stroke: 3×4 in.
Compression Ratio: 20:1
Flywheel Power: 5.4 hp @ 2000 rpm
Transmission:  3-speed
Weight: 1,100 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 1.5 gal.
Tires: Front- 4.00-12
Rear- 7.50-16

Source

Kelch Restoration
513-543-9477