What's New...And Old?
Kosch Steering Aid Handled Driving 'Shock'
By Greg Stephen
Collectors usually end up with a "prize" that is in less than perfect shape. Often the acquired tractor has seen years of hard use and often less than perfect care. Careful examination of a tractor can sometimes yield a wealth of information. A welded block tells a story of a cold snap that caught the farmer unprepared, a broken casting offers mute testimony to some catastrophe in the distant past and an old worn out blanket strapped to the seat tells us that Mr. Farmer was seeking additional relief in the business end of Mr. Farmer!
To me, the "farmerizing" is always the most interesting. Many times helpful changes in a tractor's design can be traced to suggestions from those who actually use the machine. Field testing and, today, computer aided design can only do so much. Nothing compares to the actual hours and hours of use that the owner will put on that tractor. Farmers are by nature an inventive and resourceful lot so most of us have seen the results of a farmer and a welder! It's usually not good for the upcoming restoration!
The farmer is not the only one who was attempting to make each tractor better or more useful. An entire industry sprang up almost overnight to cater to the needs of the new Ford model "T." In fact, these after market products are so numerous that today there are people who do nothing but collect them!
The same thing happened with tractors. New ideas in wheels, ignition and fuel systems, transmission gears and more were all produced by a multitude of companies, each claiming to offer the farmer some improvement in productivity or comfort. These added items are still commonly found today on an old tractor when a collector drags it into the shop to begin the resurrection process. I have always found these items extremely interesting and am always on the lookout for documentation on who offered them and information on them.
A popular item to seek out today are the aftermarket gas manifolds. These offered quite a boost in horsepower in their day, a fact which today's tractor pullers readily appreciate! It has been common up until recently for a restorer to remove these "non-original" items and put the tractor back to the way it came. I have preached on this before AND will continue to do so. I believe the time is approaching when these non-original items will be highly sought after. The same thing happened with the street rod hobby. Who here doesn't remember "blue-dots," beehive oil filter covers and Offenhauser intakes? Not original by a long shot, but certainly highly collectible today and most are even reproduced!
How many of you either have or know someone who has a model "G" on propane? How many of these same tractors were restored as a propane conversion? Very, very few, I would guess. How many of you have I myself told face to face to think about leaving it as a propane? That's right! Every one of you who made the mistake of telling me you were taking the propane pieces off! To each his own, but I think it is becoming increasingly popular to have a tractor with a little something different that sets it apart from the crowd. This would be an easy way to justify keeping some of those aftermarket pieces on a restored tractor. The one that tripped my trigger this month is shown in the illustrations on this page.
We have a late model "B" that has been used for parts and it has one of these steering wheels on it. I have often wondered what in the world was so special about it. The brochure I am taking this information from explains it. The steering wheel was made by Kosch Manufacturing of Columbus, Nebraska. I am familiar with the Kosch company since for years they made a successful sickle mower. Most manufacturers like this produced many products, this being one example.
The Kosch Steering-Aid, as it was known, was designed to take the shock out of tractor steering systems. Anyone who has driven an older tractor without power steering through or across fresh furrows knows what the "shock" is. The front wheels get pushed one way and then the other by clods, furrows, rocks and even ditches. This sudden turning of the wheels can be quite violent and can even wrench the steering wheel right out of the operator's hands. Those who manage to hang on usually get their hands banged up for their trouble.
Kosch advertised that the Steering-Aid would lessen steering fatigue and would hold the tractor's wheels in any position the operator set them in. Kosch also stated "No more fighting the wheel. Holds the steering wheel positively stationary, regardless of 'kick back' caused by the front wheels striking obstacles or going over rough ground." Sounds good, doesn't it? No more wrestling with the steering wheel to keep the tractor headed where you want it to go. Just what is this miracle? Read below.
"WHAT IS IT? The Kosch Steering-Aid is a steering wheel with an automatic clutching device built into the hub. It replaces your present steering wheel. Contains no hydraulic or electrical mechanism. WHERE CAN IT BE USED? The Kosch Steering-Aid is manufactured for use on all tractors which are tiresome to hold when driving over rough ground or on side hills.
WHAT DOES IT DO? The Kosch Steering-Aid holds the steering gear stationary, no matter how much 'kick-back' the front wheels get from hitting washouts, ruts or shoulders. The Steering-Aid automatically releases as you turn the wheel so that you can steer the same as always-but without shock!"
Now, although we all know that our beloved John Deeres are the most perfectly designed tractor ever built (!), the fact is that they must have had a problem in this area like other tractors. Kosch built kits for IHC tractors and combines, Ferguson, Ford, Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline, Massey-Harris, Case, Coop, Cockshutt and Allis Chalmers...AND John Deere! Hard as it is to believe, kit number 351 fit the John Deere "A," "B" ('30 to '46-sure wish I could find a '30, '31, '32 or '33 "B"!) and "G" ('39 to '52). Kit number 353 fit the "A" and "B" ('46 to '52). Kit number 354 fit the 50, 60 and 70 and kit number 361 fit the "R." John Deere combines were also covered with kit number 371 for the model 55, serial number 1001 to 12050, and kit number 372 for the later 55s.
These Kosch steering wheels are not difficult to locate. If you study the picture of the wheel itself, you can readily see that it has a very large hub. This was necessary to contain the clutching device that is what the Steering-Aid is all about. The words "Kosch Steering-Aid" were also stamped right in the center of the wheel hub. Two of the three steering wheels pictured in the pamphlet have different spokes, one has straight steel spokes and the other has spokes with a dip built into them. I suppose this varied with application.
I imagine quite a few of you are familiar with these steering wheels and I assume are still in daily use, doing what they were designed to do years ago. As always, I would love to hear of your experiences with the items I write about. Did it work as advertised? Were they rugged and durable? Does anyone have any more information on it? If anything interesting turns up, I will include it in a future column. Until next month!
Stop the presses! After I had finished this column, I was able to contact the Kosch Manufacturing Company. They are still located in Columbus, Nebraska. Gordon Kosch graciously agreed to talk with me regarding the Kosch Company and the Steering-Aid that they manufactured. Gordon related to me that the company began by converting IHC horse drawn sickle mowers to tractor mounted. One thing led to another and soon Kosch was busily manufacturing its own design mower. Today, Kosch continues to built its mower and recently introduced a pitman-less model. Future plans include a hydraulically driven model and even one built especially for today's popular compact tractor market. Surprisingly, Gordon told me that Kosch had built the Steering-Aid up until five years ago. Of course, the product had changed quite a bit since it was originally produced. In the early 1970s, the large center hub that contained the clutch mechanism was downsized and made quite a bit smaller. The majority of the tractor ap plications had also been discontinued by this time since the tractors the Steering-Aid had been made for were getting older and power steering on the newer tractors had made the Steering-Aid unnecessary. The application of the Steering-Aid was not centered solely on the forklift industry. Apparently the Steering-Aid was in great demand by factories for their forklift fleets. Sadly, even this market was not enough to justify continuing production of the Steering-Aid and when sales continued a slow decline, the decision was made to stop production. And so another innovative productive, after enjoying a successful run, was finished and was retired.
I queried Gordon as to what another Kosch product, mentioned in the pamphlet, was all about. He said that as he understood it, the Kosch Drive-Rite was a device that enabled Ford and Ferguson owners to enjoy a higher speed road gear. The Drive-Rite employed a device that worked through the differential and gained the operator almost twice the transport speed than he had before installing the Drive-Rite. It was also discontinued long ago. I feel I should state here that Gordon Kosch has told me that there are NO parts and NO Kosch steering wheels remaining! I told him I would make sure to impress this upon readers so as to not have him bothered with requests for items he no longer supplies.
It was certainly enjoyable for me to actually be able to talk to someone who was involved with something I was writing about. So often, the items we read about are all essentially lost in the past and no links to them exist today. Gordon Kosch's company continues strong today, providing innovations in the sickle mower and round bale mover markets. Thanks, Gordon!
Write to Greg Stephen at The Old Tractor Company, Stephen Equipment Company, Box 709, 7460 E. Highway 86, Franktown, CO 80116, call him at 303-663-5246 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.