Priceless Imperial EB tractor may be lost to Australian history

An extremely rare Australian tractor built in Richmond VIC in 1912 may have been lost to an overseas collector forever.

The Imperial EB model built by Australia’s first tractor manufacturer, A.H McDonald, has been sold to a private bidder in a US auction.

The tractor sold for US$283,500 on June 13th and local tractor enthusiasts are afraid it will now disappear from sight.

However, the fight is still on to have the tractor returned to Australia.

The most disappointing aspect of the whole affair is that it’s likely the tractor should never have been allowed to leave Australian shores in the first place.

Experts believe that under the Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 it should not have been exported, and that the Government can and should have it repatriated.

John Edgar, a collector from Heywood in Victoria’s south-west, said the Imperial EB is one of only two remaining in the world and was vitally important to Australian engineering heritage.

“It cannot remain in foreign hands,” he said.

The 1912 Imperial EB tractor is powered by a two-cylinder vertical gasoline/kerosene engine with an output of 15kW (20hp)

Those petitioning for the tractor’s return thought they had succeeded when a Federal Government department admitted an “error” was made when the historic tractor was allowed to leave the country. However, the department declined to take any action on that basis.

It’s believed the 108-year-old tractor was given clearance to leave the country when it was lumped in with others for an export permit from Australia in 2008.

Frustratingly, the tractor had been exported once before when it was bought by a collector in the UK. On that occasion, however, it was repatriated after the legality of its removal was scrutinised.

One of only two working models left in the world, the tractor was built for the Chilcot family who farmed on French Island, within Victoria’s Western Port Bay.

It has previously been seen in museums, on the cover of numerous books and is believed to be in good enough condition that it could be returned to work in the paddock.

The Imperial EB’s beehive-like radiator sits far forward on a separate platform to access plenty of cool air circulation

It’s believed the tractor was rescued from a wrecker in the 1960s and then passed through a number of hands including those of Victorian collector Sandy Reith who had first seen it on French Island and got it up and running again with the help of the McDonald factory.

Eventually it was bought by passionate South Australian collector, Kevin Rohrlach, who did a significant restoration of the tractor.

For collectors, the fact it is the first type of tractor manufactured in Australia with an internal combustion engine makes it essentially priceless.

The A.H. McDonald & Co. “Imperial Oil Tractor” was born in 1908 when Alfred Henry McDonald, and his brother Ernest, fitted one of their “Imperial” gasoline/kerosene, D-Type twin-cylinder stationary engines into a four-wheel chassis.

The company’s second design of tractor, the Model EB of 1910, was influenced by the British Saunderson brand and was again powered by the “Imperial” D-Type twin-cylinder engine mounted transversely in the centre of the frame.

The 1912 Imperial EB tractor has a two-cylinder vertical gasoline/kerosene engine with a 158.75mm (6.25 inch) bore rated at 15kW (20hp).

It has 3 forward speeds and one reverse speed, weighing in at 4898kg (10,800lbs).

The only bright spot in this sorry tale is the rumour that the successful bidder was actually an unnamed Melbourne businessman and the tractor will in fact be heading home.

If this is not the case, it is up to the government department that made the blunder to cough up the funds from their own tea jar to have the tractor repatriated.