Rare York County-made tractor finds a new life.
Leafing through a recent issue of a magazine for tractor collectors called Antique Power, I found an article “Resurrecting a Pioneer Diesel” by Dave Gerlach. The photos show a gleaming orange farm tractor with a bold nameplate reading “Sheppard Diesel.”
The article relates that in 1933, after graduating from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Richard H. Sheppard experimented with diesel engine compositions, patenting several fuel injection pumps. He founded the R. H. Sheppard Company in Hanover in 1937, eventually producing “diesel engines, generator sets, steering systems and farm tractors.”
The author says Sheppard got into the farm tractor field in 1949 by offering his three-cylinder diesel engines to repower International Harvester Model M Farmalls. Soon the company introduced a line of their own tractors, with engines varying from one to four cylinders. The customers had a choice of wide or narrow front axels and could also choose models designed to work in orchards.
Because of being handcrafted, the Sheppards were expensive. They lost out to tractors mass produced by other manufacturers, and the company stopped tractor production in 1956.
The R.H. Sheppard Company is still going strong in Hanover, according to its website, supplying “components for the trucking and transportation industry worldwide,” with more than 900 employees. It was acquired by WABCO (Westinghouse Air Brake Company) in September 2017.
Back to the bright orange tractor and why it was the cover story for the January/February 2018 issue of Antique Power:
Gerlach says there were only 1,943 total made in the nine years of production. The Wisconsin man knew how rare it would be to find one in any condition, so when he saw an ad for a Sheppard 80 miles away he drove right there. He says “It was sitting in a cow pasture and was in pieces—lots of pieces. What wasn’t rusted was broken, but it was a Sheppard.” He loaded every piece he could find unto his trailer and brought it home in a snowstorm in December 2006.
I won’t go into the details Gerlach outlines in the article, but after three years of replacing and repairing, and the help of another Sheppard enthusiast in Indiana, the Sheppard Diesel is again operational. It still doesn’t run quite a smoothly as he would be like, but it certainly looks great on the magazine cover.
One more York County connection, this time to a resurrected example of York County craftsmanship rising from a Wisconsin pasture in a snowstorm.