A Little Doodlebug History

Doodlebug tractor is the colloquial American English name for a home-made tractor made in the United States during World War II when production tractors were in short supply. “Although the Doodlebug of the 1040’s could be constructed from any automotive chassis, the most common starting point was a Model A Ford. The reason was that they were fairly common, cheap and the gas tank location in the cowl eliminated the problem of where to mount the fuel tank. The Model A Ford chassis was modified either by the complete removal or alteration of some of the vehicle body.

Doodlebugs had many names — Poor Man’s Tractor, Friday Tractors, Scrambolas, Jitterbugs, Field Crawlers, Ruxells, and many others, as well as the most common, The Doodlebug, which was a nickname for the aftermarket tractor kit made by David Bradley, “The old DB”. Initially, the idea of the homemade tractor came from several catalog and implement companies in the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, such as New Deal, Peru Plow Co., Thrifty Farmer, Sears, Montgomery Wards, Pull Ford, and Johnson Manufacturing Co.
The conversion kits were expensive, some as much as $300, and farmers, hit hard by the Great Depression were a resourceful lot. Magazines like Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated provided instructions for building a “Handy Henry” from that “old Ford sitting in your back yard, using simple tools anyone would have”. The cost to build a “Handy Henry” made from an old Model T car or truck was about $20, according to the 1936 edition of the Handy Man’s Home Manual, and this provided a serviceable vehicle with rubber tires, a big truck rear end and two transmissions to make up for the gear reduction with which the kits came.

These doodlebugs were used for farm work, odd jobs and recreation and can occasionally still be found in use today. To do all this, the doodlebug needed good ground clearance for use in any conditions, going under trees, and climbing almost any terrain. For protection they had a hood, cowl, radiator, a small seat, some had a small truck bed, and most had a hitching point with which to tow. Many of them were built by backyard mechanics from whatever parts they could scrounge up.

This is how you make a doodlebug. You just take a pile of parts, add some ingenuity, a little luck and there you have it! They don’t have to be fancy, just fun to build and use.