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Old Iron: Oliver: For men who grow

Lance Phillips for Progressive Forage Published on 27 December 2018

It’s no secret Oliver is my favorite brand of farm tractor. I have talked about this before and the many reasons I feel this way. It’s a shame people were the undoing of this great company and not the exceptional product being sent to the field farmers had come to expect over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, just about all the other manufacturers have something special to “hang their hat on,” but Oliver was ahead of its time from the beginning. After all, the Hart-Parr Company developed the word “tractor” from the term “traction engine,” which is one of the four members of the merger that formed the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.

The first Olivers we acquired were two Oliver Hart-Parr 70s. They were basket cases to say the least, but for mid-1930s tractors, they were complete enough to see that they were definitely ahead of their time. Having things like electric start, headlights, six-cylinder engine, mechanical lift and enclosed engine compartment (just to name a few things) definitely set these tractors apart from other brands of the same era.

Now skip ahead about 30 years to this nice pair of 1964 Oliver 1800-Cs with their 310-cubic-inch Waukesha diesel engines. They were also available as propane or gasoline models. These machines are great examples of the Oliver tractors produced during this decade, and “for men who grow” was Oliver’s slogan around this time.

There was an A series (with checkerboard decals) and a B series available from 1960 to 1963. The 1964 C series (Photo 1) offered tilt steering and an improved hydraulic system.

1964 Oliver 1800-C o display

Having around 80 horsepower, these tractors were very versatile, as they were available in narrow- and wide-front row-crop versions as well as a wheat land model. Three-point hitches and auxiliary hydraulics only added to the variety of jobs they were capable of doing. The Over/Under Hydraul-Shift transmissions were comparable to the Torque Amplifier of International Harvester (IH).

They work differently but essentially do the same thing – when the tractor needs a little extra power and slower ground speed, just pull the Over-Under shifter out. When you sense you can go back to normal speed, push the shifter back in, and away you go without even touching the clutch.

One weekend while I was away in pharmacy school, an IH collector friend and I went to an auction that was supposed to be all Farmall and other IH-related items. As soon as we got there and started looking around, one piece stood out. There sat the open station 1800 with a narrow front end right in the middle of several Farmall tractors and implements.

The sale was about to start, so I didn’t get to examine the 1800. When they got around to selling it, I was talking to my dad on the phone. The auctioneer was struggling to even get a bid on it. I guess because there was so much IH stuff for sale, there wasn’t much interest in the Oliver. I told Dad about it, and he said, “Bid!” I think the starting bid was about $800, and we ended up getting a great tractor at a great deal.

After getting it home, we decided to change the narrow front over to a wide front end and it totally changed the look of the tractor. We also noticed the speedometer wasn’t hooked up. As we studied the situation, we came to realize there was absolutely nowhere for the speedometer cable to go. After talking to a few Oliver experts, we learned the tractor came equipped from the factory with a long pinion shaft. This allowed it to be directly converted to a front-wheel assist setup, and it’s my understanding this option is a pretty rare find on an 1800. This tractor is a strong runner and very comfortable to operate.

The other 1800 with the cab (Photo 2) is a fairly recent acquisition, so I don’t have quite as much history with it as I do the previous one.

My son, Griffin, at our 2018 show proudly standing by his dad's 1964 Oliver 1800-C with Full View cab

I really like the Full View brand cab and think it is pretty unique. It has a sliding door, sliding back window and even still has the original AM radio. The hood has been painted the wrong shade of green, but it has helped protect it, and at least it’s not JD (John Deere) green. This tractor is equipped with 34-inch rear wheels where the open-station one has 38-inch.

I’m leaving the narrow front end under this one mostly because I like to compare and contrast it and the open station. It’s pretty cool to have two 1800s that are the same year model, yet they have so many different features and options.

Sometimes people ask me how I came to know so much about Oliver and some of the other tractor brands. Well, I would have to say the biggest part of it came from listening. Early on, I tried to absorb all I could when I heard Dad talking to his collector buddies about tractors. I will always be trying to learn more, but the sad part is the sources of my info are getting older and in some cases passing on.

It’s hard to replace the vast knowledge of the people who have actually built, used or collected these machines and worked on them for many years. There are too many folks to list, but I would just like to thank them all for the time and effort they have put into teaching and helping me so much through the years. You are greatly appreciated.  end mark

PHOTO 1: 1964 Oliver 1800-C on display, but looking more like it’s ready to get to work on the show grounds in Abingdon, Virginia.

PHOTO 2: My son, Griffin, at our 2018 show proudly standing by his dad’s 1964 Oliver 1800-C with Full View cab – his favorite “tractor ride” tractor. Photos by Lance Phillips.