Written by Mike Brazeau
General Motors, then headed by Billy Durant, noticed the success that the Ford Motor Company and others were having with their tractor business, so in 1917 they purchased the Samson Sieve-Grip Tractor Company of Stockton, California. The Samson Sieve-Grip Tractor Company had started business in 1900 as the Samson Iron Works and after building farm tractors for a number of years, changed their name to Samson Tractor Company in about 1916 and changed it again to the Samson Sieve-Grip Tractor Company in 1917. GM had also purchased the Janesville Machine Company of Wisconsin (a farm implement producer) for $1,000,000.00 in 1918 and moved the whole Samson operation to Janesville in 1919, phasing out the Stockton, California operation. It then became the Samson Tractor Company Division of General Motors. Plans to build Samson cars and trucks along with tractors and horse-drawn implements were made. The 1919 Samson Whole Family Car was a 9 passenger touring car designed with quick removable rear seat and jump seats so it could be converted to pickup use. The idea being that a farmer could by one vehicle that could haul the whole family or produce and supplies, thus eliminating the need for both a car and a truck. Although 2,599 units were planed for 1919 and 5,000 units for 1920, only one was ever produced and was never marketed.
Samson trucks were produced from 1920-1923 with limited success. They built both a ¾ ton and a 1¼ ton model. Since being part of the GM family, the Samson car (like the truck) used a Chevrolet 4 cylinder engine. The car used the FB Series 37 H.P. engine and the trucks used the Series 490 26 H.P. engine. These cars and trucks should not be confused with the Sampson cars and trucks built by Alden Sampson Manufacturing Company from 1905-1910 in Pittsfield, Mass. and relocating to Detroit from 1910- 1913.
The main reason for buying the Samson Sieve Grip Tractor Company was to build tractors. While still in California, Samson built the Sieve-Grip tractor. It was a heavy 3-wheeled tractor with a low center of gravity. It had steel Sieve-Grip skeleton wheels that allowed the soil to fall through the rims. The tractor carried both the Samson name and the GMC trademark. It was discontinued in favor of a 4-wheel model when operations were moved to Janesville. Records indicate that 2 of these were built at the GMC truck plant in Pontiac.
Then came the more conventional 4 wheeled Model M. It was put into production in May 1919 at the rate of 10 units per day and advertised at $650.00 but General Motors soon decided they could not make a profit at this price. The price was then raised to $840.00 but at this price they were not competitive. Ford applied his mass production technique to the Fordson tractor allowing for greater output at reduced cost. Although the Model M was a well-built, well-engineered tractor, Samson could not compete with Ford.
The Model D Iron Horse was another tractor being produced in 1919 by Samson. It was also powered by the Chevrolet Series 490 4-cylinder engine. The idea here was it was guided by reins tied to levers, just as a horse would be, so there was no need for the farmer to have to learn to drive a tractor. There was no seat so the operator either walked behind it or rode on the implement. Also the old horse drawn implements could be used, saving the farmer the expense of purchasing more new equipment. This all sounded good on paper. Other manufacturers were producing similar products but the Iron Horse was a dismal failure for General Motors.
$33,000,000.00 was lost on the Samson venture and the plug was pulled on the whole operation in 1923 and the Janesville assembly plant was turned over to Chevrolet where full size Chevrolet and GMC SUV’s are still built today.