1 of 2
Ray Grass, Deseret Morning News
Marv Jenkins, seated, and Eldon Kearl check out 1932 tractor made for racing.

Of all the record speed runs Ab Jenkins made on the salt at Bonneville, none was more challenging than in 1935 when, at top speed, he was traveling a mere 68 miles per hour.

It was much slower than his more recognized records, some at over 200 miles per hour, but this one, he would later recall, was one of his most thrill-packed experiences. He likened it to riding a "frightened bison."

He was driving, at the time, a 1932 Allis-Chalmers tractor with, of all things, rubber tires.

In 1956, while in Wisconsin to drive a pace car for the Road American Auto Races, Jenkins passed a road sign showing a tractor. He commented on his "wild ride back in '35." Within seconds, he collapsed and would later die of a heart attack.

It was in 1932 that Harvey Firestone, owner of Firestone Tire, had three Allis-Chalmers tractors built, not for their pulling power, but for speed. They were the first tractors to be fitted with rubber tires.

One of the tractors is currently on loan here in Salt Lake City to the Ardell Brown Classic Car Center.

Firestone believed the high-speed tractors would be a way he could show farmers that his rubber tires were a technical marvel, not a gimmick.

The agriculture market was skeptical of the new rubber tires. Tractors, at the time, ran on metal rims.

Firestone hired celebrity race drivers, including Jenkins and Barney Oldfield, one of the most famous of the early auto racers, to engage in tractor races at county fairs and agricultural events.

Jenkins eventually took one of the tractors to Bonneville Salt Flats to set a land-speed record. In 1935, he drove the tractor at 68 miles per hour through a one-mile course. He later was given a belt bucket inscribed, "The World's Fastest Farmer."

Jenkins' son, Marv, who accompanied his father and even drove in many of the record runs, recalled that the tractor ride his dad took was a harrowing experience.

"There were no springs in the front, just a pin in the center of the axle, so there was no up-and-down movement," he recalled as he inspected the old tractor. "If the tires were perfectly balanced, then everything would have been OK, but there was no way of balancing tires. One tire would start bouncing and going this way and that, then the other one would start bouncing.

"Because it was so rough, dad couldn't sit down on the seat. He had to stand, and even then it was all he could do to stay on the tractor."

Eldon Kearl, who facilitated the loan of the tractor, said his research shows the tractor was purchased by a farmer, who found that it had no power but could go fast.

It was later purchased by an Ohio man, Randall Sheffied, who planned to use the tractor to plow fields. He, too, found the tractor had no pulling power but went much faster than he wanted.

Research told him the tractor was not meant to plow fields but to race.

Kearl said he read about the tractor in a magazine and contacted Sheffield.

"We checked the serial number for authenticity and found it was not the tractor Ab drove on the salt, but it was one of the three he raced at county fairs," said Kearl.

"I've had the tractor up to 45 (mph). That's as fast as I'd ever want to go. I passed a Sandy police officer and he just looked at me and shook his head."

At the time, there were few cars that could keep up with the tractor from a standing start.

Kearl said he is trying to raise funds to buy the tractor and keep it here in Utah, where it has a companion — the Mormon Meteor III.


E-mail: grass@desnews.com