In 1917 a new and unique vehicle was developed for heavy hauling and heavy construction work. Its designer, Holman Harry Linn, produced a machine with a wide footprint, capable of traveling over different types of terrain while carrying heavy payloads. The link track was the cornerstone of Linn's design. No other manufacturer competed in the niche market Linn created. For over thirty years, the Linn Manufacturing Company produced these custom tractors for customers in all sorts of industries. Some went to open pit mines, to logging, to construction sites, to dam projects, and to rural town garages. In the 1930's and 40's these machines were used to maintain the Panama Canal. The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State was built with the aid of LINN Tractors.
The fact that some of these machines still exist and run, testifies to their creator's engineering genius. Despite many decades of neglect, sitting in barns and sheds, in fields and junkyards, sometimes half buried in soil, a dozen of Linn's tractors have come to reside under the care of Charles Bilby in Richmondville, New York. Mr. Bilby's dream is to restore these tractors for the benefit of future generations. Charles' relationship with these behemoths from the past began many years ago as a child.
The Schenectady, New York, Daily Gazette printed an excellent article about Charles and his collection of LINN Tractors. The following text is a reprint of that article. All references to towns and counties are in New York state unless otherwise noted. Old Workhorse
Slow-moving Linn Tractor boasted rugged power
By ALAN GINSBURG
The Linn Tractor, says Bilby, was a precursor of earth movers manufactured by
Caterpillar and other firms that improved on Linn's traction unit design, with is flexible
track system for easy travel over difficult terrain.
Designed by Holman Harry Linn, who formed the Linn Manufacturing Co. in 1917 in Morris, Ostego County, the Linn Tractor was custom-built machine with an average retail price of $20,00. In its early years, the Linn was powered by gasoline. Later models were available with diesel engines. Linns were equipped with four and six cylinder Waukesha engines, six cylinder Cummins diesel engines and later Hercules engines.
While earlier engines would accelerate the Linn to about 8 mph, the Hercules increased it to 12 mph. Linn transmissions provided four speeds both forward and backward.
"You could get any type of body you wanted," says Bilby, "a dump body that could empty from the rear or the side, with metal-and-wooden boxes that could carry 8 to 15 yards of material."
the Linns are about 25 feet long and 7 feet wide. Many of the Linns were used in the logging industry, where sled-type skis replaced the front wheels in winter and logs loaded in a train of trailers were pulled by the tractor.
Standard colors were green and black, with some available in yellow, red, black and orange.
The slogan for Linn Tractors was, "Carry a pay-load using but one set of tracks."
In 1927, the Republic Motor Truck Corp., a Michigan-based firm, purchased Linn Manufacturing and continued to operate it in Morris as a subsidiary while retaining its name.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Linn Tractor was used in construction of dams, such as the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in Washington state, for maintenance work on the waterway in the Panama Canal Zone and in many Tennessee Valley Authority projects. Linns also were extensively used in the logging industry in the Adirondacks.
Bilby, a maintenance employee at the State University of New York
College at Cobleskill, says his fascination with the Linn tractor began when he was a
youngster watching the machine plow snow along the back roads of Schoharie County.
"I still remember seeing the Linn coming down the road from a long way off, and even after it was out of sight, you could hear the roar of the engine and the clatter of the track," he says.
His father was a "wing man" on a Linn, Huddled against winter's cold winds in a small shed attached to the dump box and outfitted with a kerosene heater, Bilby's father raised and lowered the wing plows with control levers. The levers were later modified to operate from the cab.
"When they were plowing with the wings out, it stretched about 21 fee wide, the the average road was probably narrower between stone walls," Bilby says.
Cleats were attached to the tracks to prevent sliding on the snow- and ice-covered roads. It took two men two days to fasten the cleats.
"It was quite a sight to see," says Bilby, who recalls watching the Linn clear the high snowdrifts. After each attempt to dislodge deep layers of hard-packed snow with the front-mounted V-plow, the driver would back up and buck against the drift, back and forth until a wide path opened.
Never forgetting those early images of the Linn Tractor in action, Bilby, whose longtime hobby is restoring early gas-powered engines, found his first Linn about 11 years ago, a 1924 machine abandoned by a town highway department. He restored it and has taken the Linn to exhibitions of vehicles and machinery of yesteryear.
Bilby has accumulated a dozen Linn Tractors -- built between 1924 to 1946 -- most of them once used by town highway departments in Schoharie and several other nearby counties. He found them in town barns, garages, landfills, fields, in various stages of rust and corrosion. He restored the engines on a few and replaced parts and adjusted the tracks so they would operate.
"I talked with some of the old guys who remembered the Linn plowing theirs towns and some knew where they ended up, and when I found one, No matter how rusted or busted up it was, I'd offer to take it off their hands."
One of the Linns, he says, was buried nearly 2 feet in the
ground. "We had to dig it out and jack it up and put blocks under it until we
could free it. I just hate to see them end up in the junkyard."
Recently, he restored a 1935 Linn for a town in Sullivan County in exchange for two other Linns -- a 1933 gas-powered and a 1946 diesel-powered Linn, with metal cab and body.
Restoring the 1935 Linn took two years and the help of his nephew Rob Bilby, who restored the tractor's electrical system.
"The engine was a lot worse than I thought," says Bilby. "The valves were rusted shut, pistons stuck so tight you couldn't get them out."
After failing to free the pistons with solvent. he dislodged them by using a 20 ton hydraulic jack that squeezed a plug against the pistons to drive them through the cylinders. Though he had to replace the piston rings and make new head gaskets, the bearings simply needed a good cleaning.
Bilby ordered some engine parts from a man in Ohio who maintains an inventory of parts used in Linn engines: others he fabricated or found in the scrap yard. Bilby has the technical manuals, including drawings and diagrams, for repairing the tractors.
Bilby also repaired the hydraulic system that operates the plow, mounted new side lights, replaced the windshield and back window of the cab, mounted new tires. He cleaned and adjusted the track mechanisms and repainted the metal parts black.
He then replaced rotted wooden doors, roof slats of the cab and dump body with white oak planks and painted them green, the Linn's original color. He had a new decal printed for the side of the cab, to match the original company logo.
Linn Manufacturing stopped making the tractors in the early 1950s, but would accept used tractors as trade for highway equipment, such as sanders and snow plows, Bilby said.
"The company would cut the engine from the rest of the tractor, rebuild it and sell it for use at power plant," he said, noting he has several of the engines, two that were used in sawmills, one that operated a ski tow and another that operated a water pump that made snow at a ski resort.
"The Linn was just a good idea in its time," says Bilby, "They were
outmoded when country roads were black-topped and four-wheel-drive, rubber-tire trucks
came along that could plow and travel much faster."
Meredith McNeil, professor of agricultural engineering at SUNY Cobleskill, who also has a special interest in Linns, agreed.
"Time finally outran the Linn company. They built a machine that served the logging, construction industry and highway industry at a time when speed wasn't important. The Linn was slow but rugged beyond belief. But in the late 1940s and early 1950s, America really began to move technologically. So, speed-wise, the Linn Tractor was outdated.
What made the Linn last, says McNeil, was the track system. "It had what you would call a fairly large footprint -- the amount of area that contacted the ground, which meant it could carry some pretty big loads."
Bilby says he's still looking for Linns to add to his collection and continues to comb the countryside for rusting machinery in former town landfills, barns and junkyards. He also checks out reported sightings of Linn Tractors by folks who have seen his restored 1924 Linn Tractor at a gas-up or antique car exhibit.
Ernie Benson of Worcester recalls what it was like seeing a Linn plowing the roadway from Dorloo to Hyndsville in Schoharie County in the winter of 1945, when he was 7.
Stopping by to admire Bilby's restoration of the 1935 Linn Tractor and hearing the start, brought back memories for Benson of the thrill of watching the tractor plow through the snow.
"It was awesome," says Benson, "It was an awful winter that year, lots of snow. the Linn just came down that dirt road loaded with rock to give it ballast, and it just kept pushing against the snow, back and forth until the road was cleared. For a young boy, it was quite a sight to see, something you'd never forget."