Pennsylvania tractor license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Pennsylvania tractor license plate

A Pictorial History of Pennsylvania License Plates

Farm tractor and mobile equipment plates dated 1914 to present

 

This page provides a narrative history, with accompanying photos, of various types of farm-type tractor and mobile equipment license plates issued by Pennsylvania from 1914 to the present day. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • June 22 2013  –  Added a photo of an undated blue-background Implement of Husbandry plate. 
  • October 19, 2012  –  Added a photo of a 1998 special mobile equipment plate.  Replaced photo of a second 1953 tractor plate with that of a 1956 tractor plate. 
  • January 27, 2012  –  Brand new page! 

Introduction

From 1906 until 1979, Pennsylvania license plates displayed the year of issuance.  Plates dated from 1941 through 1957 also showed the exact expiration date in addition to the year of issue. 

Generally, Pennsylvania tractor plates followed the same color scheme and dimensions of passenger car plates.  Because this information is covered in detail on the passenger plate pages, I'll just point out when there were deviations from passenger car plates. 

My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives.  I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate.  When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here.  I sincerely hope that you find this information useful. 

If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a plate or a photo of a plate that I'm missing, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page.  Please note that all plates shown that are credited to another person are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Pennsylvania tractor plates

As best as I can tell, tractor plates were issued to self-propelled vehicles primarily used off-road, but which on occasion needed to be driven on public roads.  Such vehicles include farm-type tractors, regardless of whether they were actually used for agricultural purposes, construction equipment, and the like.  Tractor plates were issued and used from 1914 to 1984 or so, when they were replaced with two new plate types that distinguished between agricultural and non-agricultural uses.  Those plate types are also addressed on this page, following the tractor plates. 

Although I don't usually show dealer plates on pages other than dealer plate pages, I make an exception in this case, because Pennsylvania had a specific tractor dealer plate type which in many years had only a Tractor legend and were not obviously dealer plates. 

Tractor plates, 1914-1919
1915 tractor
(Francis plate)

1918 tractor
(Moore photo / plate)
Regular tractors

In Pennsylvania, tractors were first registered in 1914, and so there were two years of porcelain-coated tractor license plates issued before the state switched over to embossed plates.  Tractor plates did not have the keystone attachment with the maker's number (today know as the VIN) on them like car and truck plates did.  Instead, the state abbreviation Penna, the four-digit year, and the word Tractor were stacked on the left side of the plate.  Tractor plate serial numbers had a "E" prefix, and probably started from E1. 

Beginning in 1916, tractor plates were embossed like all other Pennsylvania plate types, but the basic design of the plates were otherwise unchanged from the previous years' porcelain plates.  In 1919, similar to other plate types, the state abbreviation, the year, and the Tractor plate type legend were relocated to the right side of the plate. 

Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates are known to exist as early as 1916.  The 1916 to 1919 tractor dealer plates looked like regular dealer plates except that they had a "TX" serial prefix rather than just "X".  The plate type legend simply read Dealer and did not say anything about being specifically for a tractor dealer. 

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Tractor plates, 1920-1923

(no picture available)

Regular tractors

Like most other non-passenger plate types, tractor plates from 1920 to 1923 had the state abbreviation Penna, the Tractor plate type legend, and the four-digit year relocated to the bottom edge of the plate.  Tractor plates again had an "E" serial prefix.  Even for plates with low serial numbers, the plate length was 16 inches long, necessary for the bottom text to fit on the plate. 

Some 1920 non-passenger plate types, particularly the Commercial (truck) plate type, were made with the plate type legend at the top edge of the plate, while the state abbreviation and year were at the bottom; resulting in a plate that was taller than the normal 6 inches.  I don't know if any 1920 tractor plates were made this way, but the possibility does exist. 

Tractor dealers

It's been reported that tractor dealer plates bore the legend Tractor Dealer during these years, and were also identifiable by the "TX" serial prefix.  I don't know that both words Tractor Dealer spelled in full would have fit on the plate, however. 

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Tractor plates, 1924-1927

(no picture available)

Regular tractors

During these years there was no legend to identify tractor plates; they were identified only with the "E" serial prefix.  Serial numbers apparently began at E1. 

I've only seen a very few examples of tractor plates from these years, but it would seem that, like truck plates, serial letters were the same size as the numbers from 1924 through 1926, and then since 1927, always noticeably smaller than serial numbers.  It also appears that in some years and with some numbers of serial characters, a dash separator was used between the third and fourth characters from the right, while in other situations no dash was used.  This was also the case with other plate types from the 1920s, but again, I haven't seen enough tractor plates to really nail down when the dash was used and when it wasn't. 

Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates were distinguishable only by the "TX" serial prefix during these years. 

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Tractor plates, 1928-1933
1930 tractor
1930 tractor
Regular tractors

In 1924, Pennsylvania passenger car plate registrations exceeded one million for the first time.  Passenger car license numbers had been all-numeric until then, but rather than go to seven-digit serial numbers, the state began issuing plates with a single prefix letter, followed by a number of up to five digits.  The letter "A" was used in 1924 for plate numbers exceeding 999-999.  In the subsequent years, one additional letter was needed per year to accommodate growth, and by 1927, the state was issing passenger car plates with the prefix letter "D".  Anticipating that this trend would continue (which it did), for 1928 the state decided change the prefix used on tractor plates to "TE", thus freeing up the letter "E" for use on passenger car plates. 

Tractor plates during these years could have up to a four-digit number following the prefix letters.  The plates with four digit, such as the one shown at left, were 15 inches in length.  There was no legend identifying the type of vehicle to which these plates were issued. 

Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates were distinguishable only by the "TX" serial prefix during these years. 

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Tractor plates, 1934-1937
1935 tractor
(O'Connor photo / plate)
Regular tractors

Beginning in 1934, and continuing to the present, all Pennsylvania non-passenger plates bore a legend that clearly identified vehicle type or plate type.  During 1934 and 1935, tractor plates had the legend Tractor at the bottom edge, flanked by two embossed keystones, the four digit year running vertically down the left edge, and the state abbreviation Penna running vertically down the right.  The 1936 and 1937 plates were basically flip-flops of the 1934-1935 plates; they had the Tractor legend with the keystones along the top edge, and the positions of the year and state abbreviations were reversed.  During all four years, tractor plates had serial numbers that were all-numeric and up to four digits. 

Tractor dealers

Apparently tractor dealer plates looked similar to regular tractor plates, with a vertical state abbreviation and year, but with the legend Tractor Dlr across either the top or bottom of the plate, depending on the year.  Based on the what was done with regular dealer plates during these years, I'm guessing that 1934 tractor dealer plates didn't have the "TX" serial prefix, but that the 1935-1937 plates did. 

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Tractor plates, 1938-1957
1953 tractor
(Burr plate)

1956 tractor

1957 tractor
Regular tractors

Starting in 1938, tractor plates bore the state map outline that was introduced on passenger plates in 1937.  The legend was yy#Tractor#Pa with "#" indicating embossed keystones.  During the years when passenger car plates came in two different sizes based on the number of serial digits, tractor plates apparently were all made in the longer size due to the length of the plate type legend. 

Through 1956, serial number formats were always four characters, with lead zeros used for low serial numbers.  Serial formats 0000 and x000 were used.  The first year I've seen a tractor plate with a letter prefix is 1945, though of course this format might have made its debut earlier than that.  For 1957, tractor plates were given six-digit, all-numeric serials, apparently starting at 100001.  These did not have any dash separator. 

It seems unimaginable to us now, but during all of these years, passenger car, motorcycle, trailer, and tractor plates all used at least some of the same serial formats, and therefore their serial numbers duplicated each other.  For example, there would have been four different plates in use at any given time with plate number A101 – one for each vehicle type listed above.  I suppose the thinking was that these vehicle types were different-looking enough that there should be no confusion. 

Like all other plate types, the registration period was changed from the calendar year to end on March 31 of the year following the year indicated on the plate, beginning with the 1941 plate.  Starting with this plate, the actual expiration date was added in very small characters along the top edge of the plate.  Effective with the 1953 plates, the expiration date on several non-passenger plate types was changed again to be May 31 of the year following the year indicated on the plate, but tractor plates continued with March 31 expirations. 

1952 tractor dealer
1952 tractor dealer
(Burr photo / plate)
Tractor dealers

This is not a common plate type, and I've only seen two tractor dealer plates from this time period, dated 1952 and 1955.  They both bore the legend Tractor but don't say anything about being a dealer plate.  They were identifiable as dealer plates only by the serial format TX000.  I can only assume that other 1938-1957 tractor dealer plates have similar characteristics. 

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Tractor plates, 1958-1964
1964 tractor
Regular tractors

Like passenger car plates, multi-year tractor base plates were issued in 1958 and renewed with stickers through 1964.  Continuing the serial format introduced in 1957, all tractor plates had a six-digit, all-numeric serial number, apparently starting at 100-001.  A small keystone separator was introduced, located between the third and fourth serial characters.  Once again, this format was the same as, and serial numbers overlapped with, both passenger car and trailer plates. 

The 1958 base plates were yellow on blue.  Stamped along the top was the legend Pa Tractor 58 .  Renewal stickers were applied in the upper left corner of the plate, and for tractor plates, were the same color as passenger car stickers.  The exact expiration date was no longer indicated, but it continued to be March 31 of the year following the year of the plate or sticker. 

Tractor dealers

1958 plates issued to dealers of farm tractors bore the legend Tractor but didn't say anything about being dealer plates.  They were identifiable as dealer plates only by the serial format TX-0000.  However, new tractor dealer plates were issued in 1962 and 1964 like other dealer plate types, with the colors, legend, and serial format the same as the 1958 plates. 

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Tractor plates, 1965-1970
1966 tractor
Regular tractors

The multi-year tractor base plates issued from 1965 to 1970 were more similar to passenger car plates than to trailer plates or any other plate type.  They bore the legend Pa Tractor below the top edge of the state map outline.  This base plate was undated, and was used without stickers in 1965.  Stickers were used in 1966 through 1970; the sticker colors were the same as was used on passenger car plates.  The serial format remained 000-000, and this format also continued to be used on passenger car plates, and on trailer plates through 1967.  This plate type continued to expire on March 31 of the year following the year indicated on the sticker. 

1970 tractor dealer
1970 tractor dealer
Tractor dealers

Between 1965 and 1970, tractor dealer plates were reissued annually.  Like passenger car, motorcycle, regular tractor, and regular dealer plates, and unlike most other plate types, tractor dealer plates switched to an undated blue-on-yellow map base in 1965.  However, the embossed date returned again for 1966. 

Dealers of farm tractors and similar equipment continued to be issued with the serial format TX-0000.  As you can see, the 1970 plates had a Dealer legend, as did the 1967 and 1969 plates.  I believe, but am not certain, that the undated 1965 plates bore the legend Pa Tractor, and that the word "Dealer" replaced the word "Tractor" beginning in 1966. 

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Tractor plates, 1971-1976
1976 tractor

These plain, yellow-on-blue plates were introduced in 1971, the same year as were Bicentennial passenger plates, but one year earlier than most other non-passenger plate types.  This base was used through 1976; again, the same year as the Bicentennial passenger base, but one year earlier than most other non-passenger types. 

A new serial format TR-00000 was used on the 1971 tractor base.  This was quite similar to the Tx-00000 format used on trailer plates, with the second letter variable, but trailer plates did not get anywhere near the TR series on either the 1968 or 1972 bases.  Tractor plates had the legend Tractor at the top and the state name at the bottom.  Sticker wells were in both upper corners.  Like the Bicentennial plates, early issue tractor plates had a lightly etched "71" in the left sticker well. 

Starting in 1971, tractor dealer plates looked completely like other dealer plate types, and were distinguishable from these other types only by the letter "D" used in the serial prefix and suffix letters.  Since there was no longer anything that could cause tractor dealer plates to be confused with regular tractor plates, I do not address them any further on this page.  All years of tractor dealer plates are fully documented on my History of Pennyslvania Dealer Plates page. 

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Tractor plates, 1977-1984 (yellow base)
1979 tractor

These blue-on-reflective-yellow plates tractor plates were introduced in 1977, the same year as the corresponding Keystone State passenger plates.  The state name was now stamped at the top, between sticker wells located in the upper corners, and the Tractor legend was moved to the bottom.  The tractor plate serial format was again TR-00000, now with a dash separator rather than a keystone. 

These tractor plates were undated and were used without stickers during 1977, the first year of issuance.  I believe that expiration dates continued to be March 31 of the year following the sticker year.  Red-on-white 1979 stickers were therefore valid apparently through March 31, 1980, and then the state converted to staggered registration periods.  As far as I know, tractor plates were converted to staggered registrations just like passenger car plates were.  If so, then upon expiration of the 1979 sticker in March 1980, tractors were assiged a new month that fell in the range of September 1980 to August 1981.  Single stickers bearing both the month and year of expiration were used subsequently. 

I'm reasonably certain these yellow tractor plates were not used beyond 1984.  In 1984, the state created some new plate types that effectively replaced the tractor plate type.  Those new types were only issued on the yellow-on-blue base and are addressed immediately below. 

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Pennsylvania farm implement and mobile equipment plates

In about 1984, Pennsylvania introduced two new plate types that together essentially replaced the tractor plate type.  The Implement of Husbandry type was used for tractors and other off-road equipment specifically used for agricultural purposes.  Special Mobile plates were issued to tractors and other equipment used for purposes other than farming.  I'm reasonably certain that all tractor plates were replaced with one of these new types when they expired in 1984 or so. 

Farm implement and mobile equipment plates, 1984-2000 (blue base)

Yellow-on-blue Pennsylvania plates were issued from late 1983 to June 2000; however, not all plate types began at the same time, and I don't know exactly when yellow-on-blue farm implement and mobile equipment plates were first issued or the previous blue-on-yellow tractor plates were last issued.  It's been reported by others to have been in 1984, and it was certainly no later than 1986.  These blue plates had a single sticker well in the lower left corner. 

Despite the fact that these plate types were blue, they were replaced along with yellow versions of other plate types between September 1999 and February 2000, without waiting for the expiration dates shown on the stickers. Blue farm implement and mobile equipement plates with January 2000 expirations were replaced first, and those with December 2000 expirations were replaced last, during this six-month replacement period. 

undated implement of husbandry
(McDevitt plate)
Implements of husbandry

This plate type was introduced in about 1984 for tractors and other off-road equipment specifically used for agricultural purposes, and which were only incidentally operated on public roads.  The legend Implement of Husbandry ran across the entire top of the plate, and the serial format was IMP-0000.  Initially, at least, this plate type had the mixed-case state name also used on the You've Got a Friend passenger car base.  It's possible that later issues used the normal, all-caps state name, but I don't know this for a fact. 

Commercial implements of husbandry

A second "implement of husbandry" plate type was introduced circa 1997.  Presumably, then, non-commercial farm implements continued to use the original plate type, while commercial farm implements got this new type.  The difference between the two escapes me.  I'll guess that "commercial" implements are for hire, or in other words, owned by a business that rents them out, rather than an agricultural enterprise. 

This plate type had legend Comm Imp of Husbandry with mixed-case letters.  The only version of this plate type on this base of which I am aware had the all-capitals state name also used on the blue Keystone State passenger car base.  Serial format was CI0000H

1998 special mobile equipment
1998 special mobile
equipment (version 1)
Special mobile equipment

This plate type also made its debut in about 1984; it was issued to tractors as well as other types of primarily off-road equipment not involved in agriculture.  Tractors used for landscaping come to mind as an example of a non-farm tractor.  A 1986 document produced by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles gives examples of other types of equipment that qualify for this plate type, which include earth-moving and road construction machinery, cranes, and well-boring apparatus.  I gather that this plate is issued only to self-propelled equipment, but I'm not certain. 

This plate type bore the legend Special Mobile across the top of the plate.  Originally, the state name was in the mixed-case font used on the You've Got a Friend plates and the serial format was SME-0000.  On later version of this plate, the sate name was changed to all-capital letters, and the serial format became 0000-SME.  I'm not clear whether these two changes occurred simultaneously or at different points in time.  Then, towards the end of the life of this base, the serial format changed again to SME-000x, with the suffix letter changing after the numbers.  The highest number issued on this base is reported to have been in the SME-000C series. 

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Farm implement and mobile equipment plates plates, 2000-present (tri-color band bases)

(no picture available)

Tri-color plates with blue and yellow bands that fade to white were introduced in September 1999 with 2000 expirations.  Although tri-color plates with solid navy and yellow bands were introduced for many plate types in 2005, so far this style has not been used for farm implement or mobile equipement plates.  The original fade-band design continues to be the only tri-color plate used for farm implements and mobile equipment. 

Tri-color plates are blue at the top, white in the middle, and yellow at the bottom, with embossed serial characters painted dark blue.  The state name is screened on in the blue band in white capital letters.  There's a single sticker well in the upper left corner. 

Implements of husbandry

The legend Implement of Husbandry spans the entire bottom of the plate on this base, and the serial format continues to be IMP-0000, with the lowest serial starting after the highest serial on the previous base.  So far, this plate type has been spotted only on the tri-color fade base, and not on the tri-color solid band base. 

Commercial implements of husbandry

Again, I'm not clear on the differences between commercial and non-commercial farm implements.  In any case, this plate type continues with the legend Comm Imp of Husbandry with mixed-case letters, but it's now moved to the bottom of the plate.  Serial format continues to be CI0000H, with the lowest serial starting after the highest serial on the previous base.  So far, this plate type has been spotted only on the tri-color fade base, and not on the tri-color solid band base. 

Special mobile equipment

This plate type is issued to non-agricultural tractors as well as other types of off-road equipment such as road construction machinery.  The legend Special Mobile continues, but was relocated to the bottom of the plate.  The serial format SME-000x also continues, with the suffix letter changing after the numbers.  The lowest number issued on this base is reported to have been in the SME-000D series, picking up where the previous base left off.  So far, this plate type has been spotted only on the tri-color fade base, and not on the tri-color solid band base. 

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Related links

Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Clayton Moore and Ed Burr. 

O'Connor photograph © copyright by Tim O'Connor.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission. 
Moore and Burr photographs are presumed to be copyrighted by Clayton Moore and Ed Burr, respectively, and are used with permission.  Francis and McDevitt plates are from the collections of Jeff Francis and John McDevitt, respectively. 


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