From Akron Aircraft to Kansas Tractor Collectibles
Joe and Howard Funk were born just 30 minutes apart on September 17, 1910, in Akron, Ohio. The brothers seemed to have a knack for all things mechanical, and both excelled in drafting and shop classes in school. They took an immediate liking to flying machines, which were becoming quite popular in the Akron area. Their folks, however, had other ideas and set them up in the retail grocery business. But that just provided them the financial platform needed to pursue their interest in aircraft.
The boys finished their first flying aircraft on July 2nd, 1934. It looked much like a redesigned piper cub, a popular aircraft of the day. The engine the boys chose for their airplane was an Szekely three-cylinder radial engine, which was not known for its reliability. Nevertheless, building a flying aircraft proved that the boys could design and build a flying aircraft from scratch.
The Szekely engine proved so unreliable it was quickly replaced with a highly modified water-cooled Ford four-cylinder automotive engine, which was mounted in an inverted position. The Ford engine was modified by the Funk brothers, and proved reliable enough to power the next 60 aircraft the brothers built.
In 1940 the brothers went to the Akron business community and asked for financial help. They could no longer work out of the back of their grocery store. The community responded raising $78,000 in capital, and the Akron Aircraft Company was incorporated. The Funk's aircraft manufacturing business was moved to an old abandoned four-story schoolhouse on the northwest corner of the Akron Airport.
Production slowed in the later part of 1940 when it was determined the modified Ford engines required an excessive amount of maintenance The Funk brothers switched to 75-horsepower Lycoming air-cooled engines. The Lycoming engine later proved to have a design flaw that caused the assembly line to be shut down for a time until the problem could be fixed. During the shut down one of the creditors got nervous pulled his money out of the company and forced the boys into bankruptcy.
Help came from two Kansas oil field suppliers. Bill and Raymond Jensen of Coffeyville. As a condition of the financial bailout the Jensen’s insisted that the Funk brothers move the aircraft company to Coffeyville. The Funk brothers were anxious to resume building aircraft so they agreed. Production began in Coffeyville in November of 1941. Three planes were built and shipped to South America before the bombing of Pearl Harbor halted private aircraft production.
The brothers obtained a few war contracts and continued to build a few aircraft from left over parts. After the war was over, the brothers had plans of resuming full production. Full production resumed, but quickly declined. There were numerous problems ahead.
By 1945 the cost of a new Funk airplane was $3,700. Competition was keen from a host of newly formed civilian aircraft companies and from the government who was selling surplus aircraft for $200 each. Another problem arose when the government took away the flight training money from the G. I. Bill. The returning soldiers from the war could no longer learn to fly free. Consequently the Funk brothers sold just a dozen planes in 1947. At the end of 1948 Funk aircraft production ceased for good.
When the Funk brothers found they could no longer sell airplanes, they turned their efforts to farm tractors. In 1948 Ford, tractor owners were looking for more horsepower. A standard 8N Model Ford tractor was only 30 horsepower and could pull only a two-bottom plow.
The Funk brothers began fitting the 8N Ford tractors with 6-cylinder Ford industrial engines that produced 95 horsepower. It was soon after, that the Brothers began offering tractor conversions using the 100 Horsepower Flathead Ford V8's. Now a farmer could easily pull a three-bottom plow.
The Funk brothers ran ads in farm journals with coupons. The ads advised that if a farmer wanted a new tractor converted he was supposed to take the coupon to his local Ford tractor dealer and have the dealer call the number in the advertisement. Ford, of course, soon found out about the conversions and immediately sent memos to all of their dealers saying if the conversion was performed to immediately tear up the factory warranty.
In fact Ford was preparing to sue the Funk brothers when several of the conversions developed rear-end failures. Further testing by Ford showed them to be defective from the factory. In later years the Ford tractor dealers were authorized by Ford to make the conversions at the dealerships.
The kits were ordered from the Funk Aircraft Company with either the Flathead Ford V8's or the Industrial 6 cylinder engines. The original tractor four- cylinder engine was removed and sent back to Ford in the same shipping crate as the conversion engine came in. Ford then sold the engines as replacement engines for industrial applications with full factory warranty.
The Funk brothers converted about 8,000 tractors with the majority of them being the 6-cylinder. Funk conversions can be easily identified by their raised and extended hoods. Production of the conversion kits was stopped sometime during 1953. No one knows for sure how many total conversion kits were actually sold, most all of the company records were lost in a fire sometime in the late 1950's.
Today, the Funk Conversion tractors are highly collectible, especially those with the Flathead Ford V8's installed. When you visit one of the many tractor shows held in Kansas each year be on the look out for a Funk Tractor conversion. They are out there and are a unique part of Kansas History.