Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor

Farm technology is a constant evolving industry. I think about how much the farm has evolved in one hundred years. In 1915 fields were plowed and planted with teams of horses; grains were brought from the field to be threshed on the dooryard; milking a small herd of cows was done by hand. Today, farming is all but computerized. Thousands of dairy cows are milked systematically in robotic dairy operations. Thousands of acres can be planted with equipment that uses high-tech instruments for precision planting. Tractors have gotten larger, powerful, and loaded with additional features. A futuristic innovation that Allis-Chalmers engineers pioneered in back in the late 1950s has made a comeback in the farm scene–the fuel cell tractor.


Allis-Chalmers Fuel Cell Tractor (History Wired)

On October 15, 1959, engineers from the AC Research Division unveiled a prototype fuel cell tractor at the company-owned golf course just outside of West Allis.It was built on the D10/D12 tractor chassis but had little resemblance to it. It had a bulky, box-like appearance. Three large panels covered the complex system of fuel cells where an engine would normally be. The operator sat dwarfed behind the giant fuel cell unit. The dash panel was packed with gauges and meters to monitor the chemical process and electric current. To the left of the operator were levers to control the current (for speed) and polarity of the current (for forward or reverse). Oxygen tanks were secured beneath the tractor, and a propane tank was behind the driver seat. It was a one-of-a-kind tractor.

The vehicle was powered by a 112 units of 9 cells in each, making a total of 1008 fuel cells in all. The chemical reaction between propane gas, hydrogen-oxygen, and an electrolyte in the cells produced an electrical current that powered the 20 hp electric motor. The fuel cell’s total electrical output was 15 kilowatts.It produced a clean by-product during the chemical reaction–water and carbon dioxide. The tractor weighed in at 5270 pounds and had up to 3000 pounds of drawbar pull.In addition, the tractor was silent while in operation.

Fuel Cell Process

Although Allis-Chalmers did not invent the fuel cell, it had been around for many years, the company was the first to build a vehicle powered by one. It’s fuel cell tractor was far too expensive to put into production, but It was a stepping stone that launched the company into a new line of products. Allis-Chalmers developed fuel cells for NASA’s space program, and the U.S. Military also contracted some experimental fuel cell equipment. Sadly, the company discontinued the division and sold it to Teledyne Corporation. Allis-Chalmers made the announcement in December 1970, that the loss of major contracts was the reason it had to cut funding.

After its tests were conducted, Allis-Chalmers donated the fuel cell tractor to the Smithsonian. The tractor is currently being loaned to the McLeod County Historical Society in Hutchinson, Minnesota, for display. If you attend the annual Orange Spectacular in that city be sure to take a quick detour to see this piece of technological history.


Wendel, C. H., and George H. Dammann. 1988. The Allis-Chalmers story. Sarasota, Fla: Crestline Pub.
Swinford, Norm. 1994. Allis-Chalmers farm equipment, 1914-1985. St. Joseph, Mich: American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Peterson, Walter Fritiof, and C. Edward Weber. 1978. An industrial heritage, Allis-Chalmers Corporation. Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Fuel Cell Paces Power- Allis-Chalmers publication

D-19 Restoration

In 2006, my dad, brother and I decided to take up a new hobby. Dad thought that getting some old tractors and machinery might be fun, and we could use them to make some small food plots near our woods. He bought a 1962 Allis-Chalmers D-17 Series II and, although we never really intended to, we started to restore her. I was 15 years old at that time, and since then we’ve restored several Allis-Chalmers tractors and implements.

Dad bought this 1963 Allis-Chalmers D-19 gas tractor for $1,500 in 2007. The seller said that it was actually a combination of two D-19s that were put together to make one. The tractor was a great deal, but it needed a great deal of work. The rear main seal leaked, the power-director jumped out of high range, the PTO seal leaked badly, and the transmission needed some attention.

We moved the D-19 in the shop right after we finished our D-17. The first thing that we tackled was the transmission. The main pinion bearing was out, and it was making noises and metal filings were in the oil. Getting to this area of the tractor meant a complete tear-down of the transmission housing, which is something that most tractor owners cringe when they hear, but not us.

The most agonizing part of fixing the D-19 was removing the rear hubs from the axles. It took two weeks of torching them till they were cherry red and then hammering on them until they freed up. After we managed to get them off, it took us no time at all to get the transmission apart, fix it and put it back together again. The other issues were a quick fix, seeing as we had the opportunity to fix them on the D-17 prior tackling the D-19.

The last major problem we encountered was that the tractor had no oil pressure, as the rear main seal was worn out. We discovered the problem when we were working the tractor on our farm and engine oil started pouring out of the clutch inspection hole in torque tube. We ended up splitting the tractor again, after the restoration, in the same spot to replace the two seals for the clutch shaft. We learned after that to replace any seal we see when fixing a tractor.

In spring 2008, it was time to get really dirty. My job was to sand blast the entire tractor and all the sheet metal. For anyone that has done this job, you know how labor intense and dirty it really is. I had to be very careful not to get sand in any of the new seals or other areas where the sand could damage moving parts. To do this I used plastic bags and duct taped them to ensure a seal around the critical areas. It took a lot of hours and a lot of sand to get the tractor blasted, but getting the old paint and rust off would ensure a fabulous paint job. The next step was to prime and put the persian orange #2 paint on her.

For our painting booth, dad bought a car port and set it up in our shop with cut pieces of silo bags on the floor inside. We painted the main tractor and wheels first then got it out of the booth. We then built a rack to hold the smaller parts. My brother sprayed the fenders, hoods and all the other smaller stuff. When he finished painting, we could just disassemble the car port, box it up and store it until the next project we had.

We put the final touches on the D-19 in september 2008. This was when the tractor got decals, gauges and a new wiring harness. As we pulled it out of the shed for the first time, the tractor looked like brand new. A lot of the cosmetic parts that went into this tractor were bought from Steiner Tractor Parts. They offer a wide range of products for hobbyists restoring these old machines.

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At that time our line-up consisted of a D-10, D-14, D-15, D-17 and this D-19. After the D-19 we restored our D-14 and D-10. We did a few custom jobs on the side after that including a Minneapolis-Moline Jet Star 2 and a Farmall H. The D-17 and D-19 were recently sold and replaced with a 190XT Series III and an Allis-Chalmers 440. We really enjoy collecting and restoring these old machines and the best part is using them after they are all fixed and repainted. Collecting old farm equipment has been a really good father-and-sons project for us.