Lester Landrum's Holder tractor
Lester Landrum of Ft. Myers, Fla., first set eyes on his vintage, 2-cylinder 1950s Holder garden tractor eight years ago, abandoned in the woods. Years earlier, a bearing had gone bad in it, and when the owners couldn't find a replacement, they junked the whole tractor. Lester made his own new bearing and got the Holder running again. 'It's German,' he says, 'and it's almost identical to the VW.'
Although this Holder came from a small Florida farm, Lester said the little tractors found great favor among commercial garden and nursery operators, in part because of their center pivot (or articulated) steering, which offers the tightest possible turning radius. Also, they have four-wheel drive, which is especially useful in Florida's sandy soil.
Lester's tractor is missing its tag, which showed the model number, but by comparing it to a photo in operating instructions a friend helped him acquire from Germany, the tractor appears to be an A12. It has a Sachs 2-cycle, air-cooled diesel engine, also made in Germany.
Lester got the tractor running again about four years ago. 'I bet it sat at my place three or four years until I figured out how to fix the clutch.' The previous owners had pulled it apart just enough to get the bearing out, and when they couldn't find a new one, left the machine disassembled.
After studying it for some time, Lester figured out that the Holder's bearing looked just like those on Volkswagen cars - except it was smaller. After that, he was able to easily repair the tractor.
Finding tires proved a bit of a challenge, too. The tractor uses 5.50-16 Michelin tires, which are hard to find in the United States, so Lester substituted some slightly larger 7.00s. Recently, he turned up some 6.00s, which he expects to eventually put on the tractor.
Someday, he says he hopes to do a complete restoration. The tractor needs a wiring harness, original headlights and turn signals -' little things like that,' he says, and some body work. In Germany, Holders are driven on highways just like automobiles, so they have a number of highway-type options. The original colors are dark forest green with yellow trim.
Even without a new paint job, Lester's Holder is an eyecatcher. He likes to take it to area shows, including Pioneer Park Days in Zolfo Springs and the Florida Flywheelers' Antique Engine Show at LaBelle, Fla., both held in early spring. One of his favorite showtime activities is to drive the Holder around the grounds with a cart attached, from which his old dog Junior gravely takes in the sights.
Since Lester has had his Holder, he's discovered only three U.S. locations where they were sold in the 1950s and '60s -Jacksonville, Fla., Tacoma, Wash., and somewhere in Maine. He hasn't been able to trace any of them and thinks none remain in operation today.