Rockville Garage Dealer of Bates Steel Mules

Bates Steel Mule Tractor, 1919

Montgomery County Sentinel, June 20, 1919

To survive the early days in the automobile business, most dealerships sold several makes of cars. During the early years, Reed Brothers represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Oldsmobile, Hudson, and Essex. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1916 through 1923. In addition to automobiles, the Rockville Garage also sold Bates Steel Mules, “the most efficient tractor in America.”

The Bates Steel Mule Tractor, sold in 1919 by Lewis Reed’s Rockville Garage, was designed at the dawn of the steel-wheeled tractor era to pull any horse-drawn implement the farmer owned. I had never even heard of such a thing until I came across this advertisement from the Montgomery County Sentinel.

So, I did some digging online and found the Steel Mule was a product of the Joliet Oil Tractor Company of Joliet, Illinois. First produced about 1913 the Bates Steel Mule was an odd looking tractor with two wheels set wide in front but only a single, low, crawler track centered under the rear. It was promoted as a powerful replacement for a team of horses when used to draw conventional horse-drawn farm machinery. Joliet was one of dozens of small companies vying for a spot in the lucrative small tractor market between 1910 and 1920. Its first tractor debuted in 1913. One of its key selling features was that a farmer could use it to pull his horse-drawn equipment. The Bates Steel Mule originally sold for $1,500, a lot of money in 1919.

Tractor Trouble?

Montgomery County Sentinel, April 18, 1919

World War I, and the food shortage that came along with it, was a defining moment in history and a direct cause of the rise of the lightweight tractor. — Rick Mannen, editor, Antique Power.

Today’s tractors have come a long way in the past 100 years. Current models are equipped with revolutionary technology, including self-driving models, GPS, luxury cabs, Dolby sound systems, and increased horsepower and versatility.

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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