Wheel Horse Garden Tractor: The Horse of a Different Color
(Page 3 of 4)
Kim Frock (Christopher’s mom) says they have been collecting for more than 15 years and have nearly 50 garden tractors. “Christopher is a fourth generation collector,” Kim explains as she points out her son driving his RJ-58 in the parade.
Spanning the generations
Organized Wheel Horse collecting might be a relatively new pastime for many folks, but not for the Byers family. “It was really our uncle Paul M. Byers who introduced us to Wheel Horse,” Marvin explains about how he and his brothers Alan, Gary, Marlin, Larry and Mark became so interested in Wheel Horse equipment. “He was an Oliver dealer and sold Wheel Horse.” However, it was the boys’ maternal uncle Ralph Seylar who really turned them on to collecting. “I bought my first Wheel Horse new in 1960. … It was a Suburban 400,” Ralph recalls. “And we have had them ever since.”
Ralph brought his 1976 Model D250 to the show, much to the delight of the crowds. Designed for heavy estate use, this tractor featured a 10-speed transmission and a 20 hp 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled gasoline engine built by Renault. “1976 was the first year for the D250,” Ralph explains. “It’s relatively new, but still quite rare.” Though the D250 remains one of Ralph’s favorite tractors, his collection corrals at least 11 other machines, including Models 954, RJ-59 and B-80.
The Byers men aren’t sure exactly how many Wheel Horses they have. However, their impact at the annual show is substantial in terms of numbers and diversity. For example, Marvin had his 1962 Lawn Ranger on hand, complete with polished aluminum fuel tank. Gary had his 1966 Model 606, and Mark proudly displayed his 1958 RJ-58 Ride-Away Junior. “That was the first year for the cast iron Unidrive transmission,” Mark says. “And it was powered by a 4 hp Kohler.” In addition, the Byers family showed a 1965 Model 1045, 1970 Raider 10 (complete with 6-speed transmission) and a 1976 Model B-60 with a 4-speed transmission.
Alan, the youngest of the Byers brothers, has been collecting for less than 10 years, but has already involved his children with the hobby. “My son Bryan and step-son Daniel helped restore the (Model) 701,” Alan says as he wipes a speck of dust from the beauty’s hood. “And my daughter Brooklyn likes to drive it.”
The horse’s mouth
On May 23, 1974, Cecil Pond sold Wheel Horse Products to the American Motors Corporation, who ran the business as a wholly owned subsidiary, Wheel Horse Products Inc., a Delaware corporation. The daily operations of the company were little changed initially, and even a deal negotiated before the sale (to AMC) to purchase and market General Electric’s outdoor power equipment division went through as planned.