Mr. & Mrs. Steve Mosley & Family Is it a truck, a car or a tractor?
Neither. It’s an American Doodlebug! Once found in farming areas all over the USA, they are now a rarity. The few remaining are now owned by serious automotive history buffs that want something much different and are interested in this segment of our country’s history.
We’ve all heard the old saying: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. The need for a farm tractor during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, with little extra money, brought out the talents of entrepreneurs to the surface. It was the beginning of what is called the American Doodlebug. A farmer or local repair shop discovered they could build one! All makes and models of used cars and trucks were considered as possible farm tractor material. Three major changes had to occur: The tired bodies were discarded, frames shortened to allow for short turns in a field and if available, larger wheels and tires were placed in the rear for gripping into the soil. Usually the hood was left as is as to protect the engine from rain.
Often a heavier transmission was added and when available a large truck differential gave more tractor strength.
Thus, at the fraction of the cost of a new tractor, the farmer had a Doodlebug. It was very adequate for a small acreage that could support a family in the earlier years. Thousands were created and none were the same.
Just as the Great Depression was winding down and a little disposable income began to surface, the worst thing happened. The US became involved in World War II. Tractor factories were forced to stop production and build products for the military overseas. Once again no new tractors!
The creation of more and more Doodlebugs during WWII saved many farmers and added to our badly needed local food supplies. All citizens that remained stateside, required a dependable supply of crops. The Doodlebugs emerged to “save the day” for much agriculture production.
This month’s feature truck is a real Doodlebug built many years ago on what appears to be a 1935 Chevy ½ ton chassis. The owner is Steve Mosley of Independence, Missouri. It is an excellent example of what was done with limited funds combined with a need for a small farm tractor. Steve has kept it just the way he found it after it had been sitting in a back field in Southwest Missouri. He only added a lawn chair seat and side gas tank. What an eye catcher at any car & truck show, even though few have any idea what it is?
As all Doodlebugs are custom created, here are some specifications of Steve’s “one of a kind”.
- The original 207 inline 6 cylinder engine block cracked about 1970. A full pressure Chevy 235 six cylinder engine was a drop-in replacement.
- A two speed differential is from about a 1940 1 ½ ton. The mechanical lever, not vacuum shift, changes the rear end ratio from high to low speed when you are on a real pull.
- The transmission arrangement is the real eye catcher!! A 4 speed secured against the bell housing is the more common unit used on Chevy & GMC trucks from 1948 to about 1964. The real surprise is a second 4 speed (it appears from the original 1935) that is secured backward to the front 4 speed. This raises the Doodlebug’s speed up to passenger car miles/hours if anyone would consider driving it that fast. By Steve’s calculations this gives it 34 forward gears. The lowest (for moving beside slow snails) is over 372 to 1 ratio. Remember: All is home-made with parts that could be found locally (probably less than 6 of these forward gears were ever used).
- The next is really impressive! Dual rears (Steve only adds them during raining and snow months) is a real example of creating custom overloads on its dual tires. The two outside tires are slightly smaller than the inners and are wrapped with chains. Therefore, it runs on a smooth field on the large inner tires. If they sink into soft soil or mud the outside tires, with chains, help in the pull. What an idea!!
- The rear axles are secured directly to the light-weight original 1935 frame. This prevents the narrow 1 3/4” wide leaf springs from bending and breaking on a heavy pull.
- As the frame is shortened, the drive shaft must be cut to length.
Of course, hungry entrepreneurs quickly jumped on the opportunity to make it easier for people to own a Doodlebug. Kits became available in farm stores as well as in mail-order catalogs such as Montgomery Ward and Sears and Robuck. For those not quite as creative, it was a good way to create your own Doodlebug. Most conversion parts were included so it was not necessary to hire the town mechanic to help. The more common kits were for a Chevrolet or Ford vehicle because so many of these makes were in existence. Other less popular vehicles had no Doodlebug kits and the owner was totally on his own to build his own little tractor.
In looking for a Doodlebug Club to join, Steve found none in the Midwest only a few in New England. So he started his own club with free membership. In 2 years, he has 78 members! He calls it: The Winch Truck / Doodlebug Strip down Association of America. (Try to get all this on a club flag)
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Steve’s whole family gets into the fun of owning a Doodlebug. People at car and truck shows stop all conversation as Steve creeps by on his little tractor. Some attached photos show a local Boy Scout troop selling 50cents soda pop as they ease by rows of vehicles on display. A donation! Most usually donate at least $1.00 to the Boy Scouts for their summer camp.
To Steve’s surprise there were many, many Doodlebugs in Europe. After the disasters of WWII the people had no money to buy tractors. If they wanted to go back to farming, they had to build their own. Even used little vehicles like Opel’s and related English cars were made into Doodlebugs.
You can contact Steve Mosley at email@example.com.
Bringing it Home
Soon after its on its own feet. (The hood is laying in the back)
The Front Vocal Point
Beauty and the Beast
The “SODA POP” Salesmen
Steve in the Lawn Chair Seat
50₵ “Soda Pop” at a Car Show
Hydraulic Brakes only on the Front
Connecting Two 4 Speed Transmissions