A few months ago, I visited the Tractor Museum at Kibbutz Ein Shemer, located about 25 miles (40 km) south of Haifa. Among these old, vintage tractors, two that were made by the German company Stock attracted my attention. From a conversation with the museum director, Ran Hedvati, and by reading the display cards, I learned that they are the oldest tractors in Israel!
One was built in 1910 in Germany by the industrialist Robert Stock. The tractor consists of an engine in front, and has a plow attached to it by two handles which it pulls through the fields in place of a mule, giving it the name – “mechanical mule.” This tractor was brought to Israel in 1912 by a farmer who used it on his land in the Gedera colony for about 20 years.
In the mid-1930s, the farmer sold his farm and left the settlement. The tractor was stored in a warehouse under a pile of debris. Forty years later, in the mid-1970s, the owner decided to demolish the warehouse and the tractor was found there in its entirety. It was transferred to the Gedera Museum and from there to the Ein Shemer Museum, where it was renovated and repainted and where it stands today, enjoyed by museum visitors.
The second tractor was also made by Stock, in 1912. It, together with a similar tractor, was brought to Israel in 1915 by Rudolf Wieland, a member of the Templars, a Lutheran sect that established communities in Israel in the 19th century. Wieland lived in the Beit She’an Valley on the “Red House” farm. The farm is so named because of the red tiled roofs of the houses. In 1938, Wieland sold his farm to the Jewish National Fund, apparently because of harassment by his Arab neighbors, among other reasons, and left the area. The two tractors were abandoned on the farm and eventually made their way to nearby Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, where they were nicknamed “Hayekim” due to their German origin. The Hebrew word “yekki” is slang for Jewish immigrants from Germany, which refers to the tendency of German Jews to be fussy and exacting about everything they do.
One of these tractors was used as the engine of a thresher. About twenty years ago, after lengthy negotiations, the second tractor was moved to the Ein Shemer Museum where it was discovered that it had no engine. It turns out that sometime in the 1940’s, the members of the kibbutz had removed the engine to provide a hiding place for illegal arms and ammunition. The location turned out to be ideal because the metal detectors used by the British soldiers searching for illegal weapons were unable to locate the hiding place due to the fact that the metal body of the tractor masked their presence. A new engine was brought from Germany with the help of the Israeli company Shmerling and today the tractor runs like new.
Robert Stock was born in Hagenow, in the state of Mecklenburg on April 4th, 1858. His father was a locksmith who taught him the secrets of his profession while instilling in him values of diligence and accuracy. During his military service, between 1878 to 1880, he worked in a cannon factory. In 1882 he moved to Berlin, worked for various companies and revealed himself to be both an inventor and business entrepreneur.
Stock moved from the field of metalworking to the field of telephone technicians. The telephone, which was invented in the US in 1876, and was becoming widespread in Germany by 1883, was a major technological advancement. That year Stock founded the company Deutsche Telephone Werke. He first worked out of his apartment with his wife Sophie assisting him. In 1900, Stock began to divide his time between Berlin and Sophienwalde in Prussia, close to the city of Kolberg (which is today is called Kolobrzeg and is located in Poland).
Stock began to help his brother Franz develop the “mechanical mule,” and took an interest in crop cultivation. In 1909 he patented this tool and began producing it at the rate of two units a day! This initial tractor was very popular with German farmers. But its success was short-lived: within a few years, especially by 1918, following the end of World War I, the “mechanical mule” had been replaced by more powerful modern tractors that were much more efficient at handling plows and other agricultural attachments like today’s tractors. Robert Stuck died on July 13, 1912 at the age of 54.
Editor’s note: Next time you are in Israel visit this fascinating museum to learn more about the early pioneers that built the Land of Israel.
The editors would like to thank Edgar Zahn, Berlin, for his help in preparing the article.