Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The case of the tractor and the Kansas Supreme Court appeal

Allis-Chalmers Model E tractor, 1929

Through Mike's diligence down at the courthouse, we have an abstract from a lawsuit involving his grandfather Paul Harden from 1939, filed in Clark County District Court and appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

It seems he had agreed to trade an Allis (sic) Model E tractor to B.J. Herd of Coldwater for a newer model (one assumes) but arranged to keep the tractor until a prospective buyer could come and look it over. The buyer, one H.W. Estes, a farmer near Sitka, came to look at the tractor, and Paul gave his assurances as to its working order.

According to the abstract, Paul made the following statements about the tractor: “I have overhauled this Allis tractor and it has not been run more than 10 or 12 days since it was overhauled. When I overhauled it, I put in new sleeves and pistons and rings, also a new water pump, also one new drum with new pinions to prevent it from wearing, and also everything else which would make this tractor in tip top shape. Nothing needs to be done to it except felts on the drums, and gaskets for the oil pan. This tractor is in No. 1 shape and you won’t need repairs for it for 2 or 3 years. It is ready to go to work and you cannot overload it in the field.” When the tractor did not crank readily and ran with a miss, Harden stated to the defendant (Mr. Estes): “When you put in a new spark plug instead of the imperfect one in the tractor it will go right off and be ready to hook onto.” Harden further stated to the defendant: “Other than what I have told you this tractor is in good shape, and I will guarantee that I have told you all that is wrong with the tractor.”

An antique farming website says that this particular model tractor was made in 1929, so it would have been about 10 years old at the time.

The defendant told Paul and Mr. Herd that he knew nothing about tractors and that, relying on what they had told him, he would take the tractor. He was to pay Mr. Herd $100 by check and give him a promissory note for $100 at 10-percent interest. Also, he had a Wallis tractor he agreed to trade to the Allis dealer for a $100 credit. He told Mr. Herd that he had a great deal of farming to do and needed a better tractor in good repair.

Now, the details are a little unclear, but it seems Paul delivered the tractor to some designated location in Sitka. Mr. Estes claimed in his countersuit that the tractor was not in good repair, that it would not crank when a new spark plug was installed, and was a piece of junk.

When Estes did not pay what he promised, Mr. Herd took him to court, in November 1939, with Paul as a witness. As often happens, Mr. Estes countersued, saying he had been cheated, that Paul and Mr. Herd connived and colluded between them “with a purpose to blind, cheat and deceive this defendant, by means of false representations…” He denied receiving the tractor, as it was apparently left, inoperable, wherever it had been delivered to, and he was unable to do the planting and farm work he needed to do, now having no working tractor. The damages he claimed amounted to $100 for his Wallis tractor, $35 for repairs, $370 for damages to his crops, and $300 in punitive damages.

He further asked that Paul be made a party to the suit, claiming Paul arranged to get a deal on a new tractor if he helped Mr. Herd sell the used one, and so convinced the buyer it was worth more than it really was. Paul filed a demurrer on Dec. 12, 1940, basically saying the defendant had no basis to bring suit against him.

Mr. Herd won his case against Mr. Estes in Clark Country District Court, but Estes filed for an appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court. He lost his appeal in a Feb. 17, 1941 decision.

We don’t have our grandfather’s opinion on this case now, but it seems likely that Mr. Estes was correct when he said he didn’t know anything about tractors and simply was unable to get it running. The abstract states that Mr. Herd had done some repairs on it on July 4, 1939, but Estes probably felt he bought a lemon. To our knowledge, there has never been any rumor that Paul Harden was less than scrupulously honest in his business dealings.

I like to imagine that the tractor was left on the Sitka corner and that it sat out there for three years rusting while the case wound its way through the courts...

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