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BETTER FARMING WITH ELECTRICITY

International Harvester in the early 1950s was innovative and unafraid to market new things. One of those things was called Electrall and it debuted for 1954 in the form of a tractor-mounted generator kit that cranked out 10 kW 3-phase 120/208 volts. “Yes, but why?” you may ask.

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Don Olson’s ’54 Super M-TA diesel Farmall (alternatively known as the MD-TA), with an Electrall and a Model 55W baler behind it, are the poster children for illustrating one of International Harvester’s many strange but wonderful ideas. The long-running and very popular M-Series Farmalls were in their final years when the “Super” upgrade debuted for 1952. The Super gave you a displacement increase from 248 ci to 264 ci and a significant power increase from 35 to 46 PTO horsepower. Later in ’53, the M-TA was introduced with the new Torque Amplifier (TA). The TA was a very early version of a power shift that allowed clutchless 1.42:1 ratio changes up or down in each gear. The M-TA also got IH’s new live PTO as standard. The Super M-TA diesel is a rare tractor, built only for 1954 and replaced that year by the redesigned Model 400 diesel.

Even in the early 1950s, the electrIfication of rural farming areas was not complete, nor was it particularly reliable in many places. As a result, many farmers had standby generators. They weren’t there just to keep the house lights on and the wife’s fridge going, either. This was back in the days when many farmers did it all. A few dairy cows, steers, hogs, sheep, chickens, plus crops. Farmers with a small dairy had electric milking machines and refrigerated milk tanks and anyone who knows the dairy biz knows a power outage can run your day… and old Bessie’s.

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The Super MD-TA and a rare Model 55 electric baler turned a lot of heads at the 2017 Red Power Roundup in Iowa, especially when Don Olson fired it up. Better farming with electricity for sure!

On top of that, International Harvester (IH) had some ideas about the way implements should run. Shaft-driven PTO implements were just getting a foothold in the tractor market and only the newer tractors had them. At that time, most implements like hay balers and pullbehind combines were self-powered using small gasoline engines. In the case of the baler, the engine ran the baling machinery and the tractor towed the baler and hay wagon. IH contended self-powered implements were more efficiently powered by an electric motor fed juice by a tractor-mounted generator. It could probably have also been argued that an electrically driven implement offered a more precise, constant speed, less mechanical complexity, better efficiency and more safety over a PTO-powered unit. IH offered kits that could attach Electrall directly to many of their newer tractors.

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The Model 55 baler was one of the better ones on the market in the era. In the pre-live PTO era, they were self-powered with a small 4-cylinder Continental engine. For the electric version, a 208-volt, 3-phase GE motor replaced the gas engine and it operated at 1,650 rpm, drawing up to 22.5 amps. The motor was rated for 10 horsepower continuous and 15 intermittent.

Unfortunately, the idea failed miserably. In typically quirky fashion, IH had shot holes in their own idea by introducing the Electrall just as they were introducing live PTOs in their tractors and live PTO was to become the farmer’s best friend. So, IH adapted and began to offer PTO-driven generators mounted on a trailer or on a Fast Hitch-mounted skid. By then, the electric implement idea had gone completely by the wayside but IH still had a crapload of generators left to sell. This idea brought more acceptance and IH soon upped the PTO generator rating to 12.5 KW.

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The Electrall mounted side-saddle and was driven by belts from a gearbox and pulley that took power from the live PTO system. You can see the second face of the IH gas-start diesel in this shot, the tiny carburetor and distributor.

The nal variant of the Electrall debuted in 1956 for the S-Line light trucks. It was the same 12.5 KW unit then offered for the tractors but it was mounted in the bed of a truck and driven by a transmission PTO. It could be installed on a new truck or retrofitted to an older one. The truck units were potentially useful in a commercial or agricultural environment but they didn’t generate any hoopla and were quietly discontinued early in 1957. The various tractor units were discontinued not long after and today they are very rare and seldom seen, even by IH enthusiasts.

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This was old-time farming at its best—or worst, depending upon your point of view. If you were lever-shy, this wasn’t the place to be. This tractor also came with a side PTO (not accessible with the Electrall mounted) and rear PTO and has a hydraulic pump added for good measure.

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Mike Wiegmann’s ’54 WD6-TA is the standard tread counterpoint to Don Olson’s Farmall. It had the same engine and drivetrain as the Farmall, but was a fixed-tread tractor with bigger tires and it put a tiny bit more onto the drawbar. It was designed for heavy tillage of wheat crops or any other type of non-row-crop work.

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The trailer-mounted unit was the best selling Electrall by far because it was the most generally useful. The ball hitch on this unit is not factory original.

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The BD-264 IDI engine was the mainstay of the IH diesel line for much of the second half of the 1950s. It was limited to 1,450 rpm in tractors but in some industrial applications it was run up to 1,800 rpm, where it made 55 hp on the flywheel. Flywheel torque was 188 lb-ft at 1,100 rpm. It was a gas-start diesel, which added some complicated controls and equipment, but it was a reliable cold starter in an era when that was tough claim for a diesel to make. It also proved to be a reliable and long-lived diesel. In diesel mode, it had a 16.5:1 compression ratio and indirect injection via a cast iron IH Model B pump delivering 69cc that popped the injectors at approximately 1,800 PSI. To start in gas mode, a third valve (called the starting valve) was opened that revealed a small gas engine combustion chamber with a 6.48:1 compression ratio and a magneto ignition system. A tiny fixed-venturi carburetor would run the engine at about 800 rpm until it was warmed up. You’d throw the lever back and that would close the starting valve, disable the ignition and engage the diesel injection pump, and the engine began running as a diesel.

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Not long after these truck-mounted Electralls were built in 1956, IH pulled the plug on the whole line. This setup, however, had all sorts of uses, even if it did take up a bunch of bed space. Don Olson has spent many years searching for an original truck Electrall and finally had to resort to recreating one from some original parts and some fabricated to the original spec.

At the 2017 Red Power Roundup in Des Moines, Iowa, Electrall collector Don Olson answered the tractor enthusiast’s quest for knowledge with an Electrall display. He had his own ’54 M-TA diesel there with an operational Electrall and an electric Model 55 baler. New to his collection was an operational truck unit on a ’54 R-110 pickup. He was joined by Mike Wiegmann with his Electrall-equipped ’54 W6TA diesel with a trailer-mounted Electrall behind it. When enough interested people were present, the two red everything up to demonstrate the equipment. These units are so rare that it took Olson 20 years to put the collection together, and he may be the most knowledgeable person in the IH collector community on this super-rare option. DW

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