The Louisville Motor Plow –

B.F. Avery’s First Tractor

By Luther D. “Dan” Thomas
Author of B.F. Avery & Sons Pioneer Plowmakers of America………….


The first gasoline-powered tractor was built in about 1890 by custom thresherman, John Froelich of Iowa and his blacksmith, who mounted a one-cylinder gas engine on a steam engine running gear. In 1894, they started the Waterloo Gasoline Tractor Engine Company which later produced the Waterloo Boy. Other farm equipment manufacturers soon followed with their own
motorized equipment. Between 1910 and 1915, a number of companies introduced their own versions of gasoline or kerosene powered three or four wheeled self-contained “motor plows.”

In 1914, B.F. Avery & Sons Company of Louisville, widely recognized as the “world’s largest manufacturer of plows,” entered the tractor business with its motorplow-1Louisville Motor Plow, a three-wheeled machine with one of the rear wheels furnishing the drive. Like its competitors, it was self-contained and had two removable plows—a choice of either 14-inch moldboard or 24-inch disk plows. The Louisville Motor Plow was rated at 20 belt horsepower or 10 drawbar horsepower. It was 7 feet wide x 13 feet long x 5 feet 7 inches high and weighed approximately 5,000 pounds. The four-cycle valve-in-head motor with two horizontally-opposed 6 x 6 cylinders could be detached by removing eight bolts. It had a high-grade copper cellular-type radiator with a pressed steel three-blade ball-bearing fan driven at 2000 rpm with a built-in gear-driven centrifugal water pump. Its starting system was a high tension magneto with an impulse starter. Avery’s advertising suggested that its motor plow could perform other farm duties with its plows removed.

The company claimed that the Louisville Motor Plow could plow an acre of ground in a hundred minutes using just two gallons of gasoline. Avery further stated that its motor plow could plow six acres of land in a ten hour day, and was the mechanical equivalent of two men and eight mules. The company’s advertising boasted that “one man does it all” stating that the Louisville Motor Plow was the perfect deep plowing machine. Avery also claimed the motor plow replaced six sturdy horses year-round. The flyer claimed that the motorized plow would, in one hour’s continuous operation in the prairie states, cut a swath 28-inches wide and two and one-half miles long. An advertising brochure touted an automatic steering device which freed the operator from the “nerve-racking business of steering and permits him to give his undivided attention to the depth and character of the plowing which was always in full view.”

motorplow-4The Louisville Motor Plow was manufactured and sold over a three-year period between late 1914 and 1917.  It was priced at $850., with the gasoline engine, and $900 for the kerosene version.  The price included a choice of two plows—either moldboard (turning) or disk plows.  Any other implements were optional.

Very little information is available today about the Louisville Motor Plow.  To my knowledge, none of these tractors are in existence. One would think that a non-running motor plow or remnants of one would be around some farmstead. However, some collectors have suggested that this may be attributable to the huge scrap metal drives of the two world wars, and in particular, World War II.  While doing the research for my book, B. F. Avery & Sons, Pioneer Plowmakers of America, I was able to procure a very rare original 1916 Louisville Motor Plow advertising brochure which Avery designed for its dealers to mail to prospective buyers. The photographs in this article appeared in the brochure.  The advertisement at the beginning of the article appeared in a 1917 edition of Implement and Tractor, a trade journal for the farm equipment industry. The journal tells about the Kansas City tractor show that year where representatives of B.F. Avery and Sons were promoting their motor plow with implement dealers. The publication included advertisements and information on other so-called “motor plows” which closely resemble the Louisville Motor Plow—most of them by companies that I’d never heard of before. The Louisville Motor Plow quietly disappeared from the scene, and twenty years would elapse before Avery would be back with a tractor of its own. motorplow-2

Those who have studied the B.F. Avery and Sons Company cannot help but question if Avery had developed its own tractor earlier, and been at the forefront of tractor development, the 195 1merger might have been Avery buying Minneapolis Moline rather than the converse.