(first posted 7/8/2013. The quite elderly owners have since moved out and the Oliver too) It’s all about the boy toys, and when it comes to backyard garden tractors, this one takes the prize. Now if this scene had been shot out on the edge of town, no biggie. But this fine Oliver Super 88 lives just a couple of blocks down the alley from us, and is very much in town; rather close in actually (Friendly Street and 27th). It’s been there for at least the twenty years we’ve lived here, and it comes out of its big garage to play in the backyard once in a while. I rather assume the owners are retired farmers, and just couldn’t bear not bring their favorite tractor to live with them. I can relate, especially for a vintage Oliver.
I’ve always had a soft spot for older Olivers, preferably even older than this one, which is sadly missing its distinctive bright yellow grille. Why? They were some of the best looking tractors back in the late thirties through the early fifties, and many of them sported six cylinder engines. What a winning combo.
Here’s how this one is supposed to look. At least I I think that’s what the featured tractor is, but it’s possible that it’s an earlier 88. But the really fine-looking Olivers date back a ways further, when they were some of the handsomest tractors in the land.
If I remember correctly, Oliver was pretty much the first of the major tractor manufacturers to embrace Streamlined Moderne styling in the thirties, which was quite a revolution down on the farm, given how utilitarian tractor were back then. Tractors were a bit late to the streamlined party, but Oliver embraced it fully, with a sleek now hood, grille, and even full engine covers. Oliver had three main models: the 50 and 60, both four-cylinders, and the 70, which sported a 201 cubic inch six cylinder by Waukesha. This is in a class of tractor size where sixes were almost unheard of. Governed to a rated 1500 rpm, the six churned out all of 31.52 hp at the belt.
Oliver was also a pioneer in diesel engines for main-line tractors such as these. Diesels generally didn’t become common on the family farm until the very late fifties or well into the sixties, but since Waukesha was a diesel engine pioneer itself, it obviously made sense to offer them on the Olivers too.
The next generation looked a bit less delicate, with a slightly chunkier grille and body. As I mentioned earlier, what really set Oliver apart was its use of in-line sixes in classes of popular field tractors that were dominated by four cylinders and the two-cylinder John Deeres. This gave the Olivers a very distinct feel and sound, and I thoroughly enjoyed my one day in the saddle of a 77 like this, on a neighbor’s farm when I used to spend part of my childhood summers as a tractor driver intern.
Compared to the thumping Johnny-poppers and the big fours on Farmalls (and Allis Chalmers and Case), the Oliver’s Waukesha OHV gas six ran as smooth as the proverbial turbine. Well, relatively so. Of course, these fairly small sixes weren’t quite as torquey as the fours, or especially the JD twins. But the sound of a six working through a minimal muffler was music to my ears on a long day spent raking hay.
Admittedly, these folks have the biggest back yard in my neighborhood, given that their house (dubbed “The Pluggers’ Mansion” by us), but the big Oliver doesn’t really have much to do, except maybe spread some fresh gravel every few years. It’s not like they’ve used it to bust their sod.
Here’s the throne, and no, it’s not original. But it looks mighty familiar to me. I’m sitting in a very similar vintage steel chair right now (with its legs intact), a high quality vintage model that will still be around after the Apocalypse. This one had some added padding.
Here’s a closer look at the helm. The steering wheel’s hub is a bit different; I’m not sure what to make of it. The “throttle” is of course that notched lever sprouting out on the right. Since tractor engines are governed, this doesn’t really open the throttle, but changes the engine speed, which the governor then tries to keep consistent, regardless of load. Cruise control, if you like.
The Oliver has a rather unusual transmission shift pattern, although with tractors, not really anything is standard. Perhaps the Farmall five -speed was the closest to that of a typical car’s pattern. Obviously Oliver used a three-speed forward transmission with a two-speed auxiliary, all of it shifted by one lever. That is a bit unusual.
If this is a Super 88, then its Waukesha diesel six has now grown to 265 inches (4.3 L), has a governed rated speed of 1750 rpm, and a tested output at the belt of 55.77 hp (Nebraska Tractor test). The Super 88 wa sbuilt between 1954 and 1958, and would have competed with the Farmall 450. These were essentially the most powerful standard field tractors of their time.
Nothing less would do for this backyard tractor owner.
White tractors used the same gearshift pattern well into the eighties even on their 4WD models. My Grandpa had both a 2-180 and a 4-150 when I was in high school and they had ALOT better fuel economy than the 4640 John Deere that replaced the 2-180.
I failed to mention that White bought Oliver in 1960, and the tractors were eventually re-branded as Whites after 1974. That would explain that.
I am the new owner of the friendly street super 88.
Thanks to your story and many trips to friendly street I was able to purchase it and meet the owner.
I’m glad to know it found a good home.The folks that lived sold the place a while back.
Thank you Paul.
I just now saw your message. Not sure how I missed it. I gets used often here and has been very handy. Fits in nicely with my oliver collection.
hate to break your bubble but that super 88 oliver is a 1957 model. red wheels, large battery box and tachometer under the dash, its a keeper
My dad worked for Oliver in South Bend from the mid-60s through the time the plant closed in the mid-80s. He worked in quality control. Hell, he was quality control — he was the only guy in the department, at least in South Bend. I think there was a plant in Iowa, too; maybe there was a quality control guy there as well. Dad made tractors that looked like the attached photo.
When the tractors were rebranded White, Dad came home with a giant stack of Oliver stickers. I’ll bet he still has a bunch of them.
The years post-rebrand were dreadful and stressful for Dad. Dad had 18 years in when the plant folded. Because the owners had sucked the pension fund dry, a lot of workers faced a very uncertain future.
I hate to hear that because Oliver was a company to be proud of. I guess the elephant in the room here is Minneapolis-Moline another name that was from my youth. I am trying to remember the “larger” sized Oliver tractor that had the “Jimmy” four cylinder diesel in it. My neighbor had hearing loss because he drove one without a muffler on it for one season.
Dad always seemed happy during “the Oliver years,” but not at all during “the White years.” I know Oliver was owned by White throughout his employment, but it was after the rebranding that things went downhill, and fast.
This is a generation older than the Oliver 550 from the early 1960s that my father owned. He always said that it was a ’61 model, which was fairly early in the model run that began in 1958. I spent a fair amount of time behind the wheel of that one. The picture below is not ours, but similar (and much nicer). Jim Grey’s dad may have checked this one over before it shipped to its original owner. Dad bought it around 1970 or so.
Dad was in the navy in ’61, so your dad’s tractor missed the Grey touch. Dad went to work for Oliver in ’65.
The steering wheel hub may have been a homemade repair, as the spokes were rather thin and prone to rusting out/breaking over time. Which was the typical book on Olivers-good basic engineering on the engines/drivetrains, lighter-weight peripherals/hydraulics/controls. Our neighbor had an Oliver the vintage of the tractors in Mr. Grey’s picture, his power steering pump leaked internally in such a way that you had to keep slowly turning left to keep going straight down they field. But they were lovely, smooth-running tractors, with a very loyal following-after Deere and I-H, more people trying to keep the memory alive than most of the other row-crop makes. Headquartered in Charles City Iowa, and a very well run, nearly “full line” manufacturer (they made, or had custom-manufactured by smaller line companies, many of the accompanying field implements/attachments, too-note that the loader on your neighbor’s tractor is also labeled as an Oliver, making it an even more special machine) until the company decided it needed to merge to survive; the rest is a very sad history.
Oh dear, Paul-have you found the Nebraska Tests website? Once you learn how to navigate it, you can get lost for days in there pouring over the data on your favorite machines and comparing them with competitors. Beware!
I don’t have the time right now, but I bet it’s a rabbit hole. I stumbled across this site that has lots of tractor data (obviously): http://www.tractordata.com/
Is the featured Oliver missing a shift knob? I guess the yellow rag wrapped around it’s base is the new shift boot.
Undoubtedly. It’s not very user friendly as is, eh? I know farmers have tough hands, but….
That 70 is gorgeous… really like the early styled tractors.
Go on- show some ASS-KICKING-
Reminds me of my uncle’s house extension which involved the use of a 300hp Steiger tractor to relocate a couple of 5500 gallon (20,000L) concrete water tanks – dig out one side of the tank, wrap a big chain around the tank, hook up to Steiger, drag 30 feet – done! Quite a useful home renovation tool really. I’m not sure whether they even emptied the tanks, I doubt it as they don’t have mains water, but at least it wouldn’t have been full.
They do also have a tractor that would be suited to yard work (among several others), a 3cyl Fiat diesel aka the Blowfly, but I don’t think it would have been up to the task.
Stylish tractors in their day there were many surviving Olivers at the vintage machinery expo I went to a near forgotten brand here now.
I am looking for a large journal crankshaft for a super 88 oliver diesel, I also need one rod and a gasket set, rod and main bearing’s. Thank’s Glen
I grew up in Newport, MI and our local John Deere dealer was Jim Niedermeyer. My dad ran Oliver tractors starting with the 80 he bought used after he got out of the Navy after WW2. I was six years old when he traded it for a brand new 1956 Oliver Super 88 diesel. At some point when I was around 8 years old he and his younger brother began farming together, My Uncle started with a Farmall M then upgraded to an Oliver 880 diesel. I spend hours and hours in the field on those two tractors while growing up. Every once in a while I like to browse the web for nostalgia’s sake for the old Olivers that I came to know so well.