What began as Buford & Tate of Rock Island, Illinois, in 1855 eventually went on to call themselves Buford & Co. before a much more significant name change occurred in 1882. It was at that time that they became known as The Rock Island Plow Company. With this name change also came a change in the type of machines they manufactured with a move from only creating plows to eventually incorporating implements that were horse drawn. As even more time progressed, more designs were introduced. These included side delivery rakes, window loaders, walking cultivators, tedder rakes, and more.
By the year 1914, the Rock Island Plow Co. was ready to move from the manual power of man and horse into the era of gasoline era. This meant selling gasoline engines under their brand, although these engines were actually manufactured at by Alamo Gasoline Engine Co., which was located in Hillsdale, Michigan. Also around this time, Rock Island Plow co. joined forced with Heider Tractor Co. out of Carroll, Iowa. What started out as an agreement to sell Heider tractors through Rock Island turned out to be a successful venture, so much so that expansion was in the cards. Heider, however, did not share the same expansion ideas that Rock Island had, and so Rock Island bought out Heider in 1916, although Henry Heider continued to work with Rock Island contractually until 1922.
The Heider tractors began with the C in 1913 and went on to include A's and B's which were popular amongst consumers. Heider tractors were unique in that they had 20% less parts than comparable tractors. This amounted to fewer parts that could break or wear out which was an advantageous selling point. They also had variable speed friction drive and were capable of forward and backward speeds between 2-5 miles per hour. This friction drive made a complex transmission unnecessary, which brings us to another selling point: no gears to strip. Eventually, however, complaints began to surface of a slipping friction drive. Some improvements were made to the design and a smaller model D was released. Eventually the C was given a larger engine and re-released as the 15-27, but the design was not competitive and customers were beginning to look elsewhere to fulfill their needs. As a result, production on the Heider line was discontinued and instead Rock Island dropped the Heider name in 1929 and introduced their own 18-35 F and 15-25 G.
The entire conglomeration of tractors resulting from the efforts of Heider and Rock Island included several machines, many of which were sold for military use overseas and were utilized across Europe. These four cylinder machines came in a total of eight different sizes as follows:
- Model C 10-20
- Model C 12-20
- Model C 15-27
- Model D 9-16
- Model 6-10
- Model F 18-35
- Model FA 18-35
- Model G-2 15-25
Rock Island continued to build tractors until 1937. Some of these were labeled as Heider while others were Rock-Island Heider, until 1929 when they were simply branded as Rock Island. In the 1930's the company saw a decline and was plunged into debt. In 1937, J.I. Case Plow Works bought out Rock Island, but it was not to breathe life back into the company and make a comeback. Instead, production was halted and the tractor line eliminated although some implements did live on. Beyond that, servicing was all that remained of the Rock Island and Heider tractor lines as production became a memory put firmly in the past.
For more information, check out www.RockIslandPlowCo.com