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Can You Lift Yourself By Your Bootstraps?
The Hart-Parr Tractor Demonstration


By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner and former Conservator Ron Ford
January 2006

Hart-Parr 'bootstraps' demonstration
Hart-Parr bootstrap demonstration c. 1925
Floyd county Historical Society
Charles City, Iowa

The Hart-Parr company began as a partnership between University of Wisconsin engineering students Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr. They built their first tractor in 1901 at Charles City, Iowa. Over the next few years, the partners spent time redesigning their tractor, and in 1905, hired a sales manager, W.H. Williams. Williams is credited with coining the word “tractor” in 1907. Hart-Parr’s tractors, like others of the day, were big and clumsy. The 30-60 HP model, dubbed “Old Reliable,” weighed some 10 tons.

In the late teens, Hart-Parr came up with a clever gimmick to promote its new and smaller gas tractors at local fairs throughout Canada and the United States. The bootstrap demonstration showed the tractor lifting itself up with cables and pulleys wrapped around the wheels. The stunt was even filmed by a movie-maker.

A reporter for the Charles City newspaper wrote about the demonstration at the National Tractor Show in Kansas City in early 1919.

The boys ... called the stunt which the tractor did the “boot strap” job for it resembled in a remote way the efforts of the man who tried to jump over a fence by pulling upward on his bootstraps. Of course he never accomplished his aim while the Hart-Parr put its demonstration over and across. Briefly, it consists of an arrangement whereby the tractor is able by its own power to lift up and down inside a four posted framework.

The “boot strap” demonstration attracted so much attention and applause that the show management at Kansas City requested that the stunt be exhibited elsewhere...

...Hart-Parr came away with so many honours...that our local poet...perpetrated the following outburst in honour of the event:

There are tractors that make us dippy,
There are tractors that make us swear,
There are tractors that drive away all reason
And make us rave and tear.
There are tractors that have abundant power for
They show us what they really are:
But the tractor that is bringing home the bacon
Is the powerful New Hart-Parr.

The December, 1919 edition of The Canadian Thresherman and Farmer carried a Hart-Parr advertisement that showed an illustration of 12 men on the tractor and described the demonstration.

In this demonstration the tractor is running in reverse gear at 1½ miles per hour...This unique demonstration designed by Hart-Parr Company and called ”Bootstrap Test” is proof of the actual power delivered at the rims of the rear wheels. The cables pass around the rims of the rear wheels and around the front wheels and the tractor raises itself and the twelve men by its own power.

The clutch and brake action of the New Hart-Parr are so perfect that the tractor moves up and down gently and steadily, stopping at any desired point. The tractor has such perfect balance that it is not necessary to lock the differential in making this test....

The Western Development Museum collection contains ten Hart-Parr tractors, ranging from the 1911 model 30-60 HP to 1920s models including the 12-24 HP used for the bootstrap demonstration. This tractor was restored by Western Development Museum conservation staff for exhibit in the WDM centennial exhibit Winning the Prairie Gamble: Farm Life in Saskatchewan. It is featured in a 1920s agricultural fair scene where the bootstrap demonstration will be recreated. However, for technical and safety considerations, the tractor is stationary–it does not move up and down as did the original.

The WDM welcomes visitors to the colourful and interactive story of farming in Saskatchewan as told from the perspective of an immigrant family. Be sure to see the impressive line-up of recently restored agricultural equipment and a re-created sod house.


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