All collectors have that special brand name or model or type of item that we seek out, and we’ll go to great lengths to put our hands on a piece that fits our collection. Denny Schimmoeller – or “Mr. REO,” as many of his friends know him – is no exception.
Denny, who lives in Delphos, Ohio, is an avid collector of REO lawn and garden equipment and memorabilia. His REO collection started more than 10 years ago, when he bought a 1951 REO Royale De Luxe at an auction. For $2, he got a mower in need of restoration – and the original packet containing instructions and a manual.
After that, he began scouring the Internet for information on REO. And that led to additions to his collection. “I started buying various models REO built over the years,” he says, “and I also began buying REO memorabilia, mostly magazine ads and sales brochures.”
Denny’s daughters had the magazine ads framed for him as a Christmas gift, and then things really took off. “I started thinking it’d be neat to make a display of memorabilia to take to engine shows,” he says. “With my daughters’ help, we laminated photocopies of the ads and put them on a display board.”
Display showcases unique line
That display board creates a colorful and informative backdrop for his display, which includes Denny’s favorite REO piece: a 1953 REO Trollabout inboard trolling motor kit used to convert a rowboat to an inboard-powered craft.
His friend Doug Tallman discovered the NOS kit (still in its original REO packaging) when the two collectors were looking for a tire for Doug’s Shaw tractor at a swap meet. “I was very excited by that find,” Denny says. “It’s the pride of my collection.”
Today, that collection of about 25 REO items includes a 1954 snowblower, 1963 725 rider, 1953 REO with sulky, 1954 rider built by Motor Wheel, 1951 Royale, 1953 Townhouse Flying Cloud, 1952 REO Electric, 1967 REO Rider and 1946 REO Motorless push mower.
And it can all be traced back to that first chore of boyhood: mowing the family lawn. “When I was 9 or 10, I learned to mow grass using a REO Royale De Luxe,” Denny says. “It’s funny how things from the past get a person started on an obsession!”
Denny also remembers his dad’s garden tractor. “When I was a kid, he had a Garden-All walk-behind with a reel mower, cultivator and sickle bar mower,” he recalls. “I’m still looking for one, but I’ve never seen another.”
A 1963 REO 725 garden tractor is another of his favorites. An auction find, it was also the solution to a problem. “We had attended a national garden tractor show in Indiana,” Denny says, “and we were supposed to drive our garden tractors to a restaurant for breakfast one morning. I didn’t have a tractor to ride, and the late Jim Cunzenheim (then president of the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America) gave me a very hard time about being a club member and not owning a single tractor. Well, I had to put a fix to that problem.”
As fixes go, this one was a dandy. “This tractor is very rare,” Denny says, “as it was only built for one year.” The tractor was built by Bready Co. in 1963 for Motor Wheel Corp., Lansing, Michigan, which then owned the REO line.
“A second-year build was in the works when Motor Wheel sold the REO line to Wheel Horse Products, South Bend, Indiana,” Denny says. “But Wheel Horse already had lawn and garden tractors in their line, so they didn’t need the Bready production.”
Bringing collectors together
When he began acquiring vintage mowers, Denny joined the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America (VGTCOA). There he found collectors with similar interests and, just as important, access to information about manufacturers and equipment. “I really like to find as much information as I can about pieces in my collection,” he says. “When people at shows ask me questions, I want to be able to answer those questions as accurately as possible.”
That information is also part of his decision-making process when it comes to restoration. He likes to leave nice original pieces alone, preserving that condition. But if he adds a piece to his collection that needs restoration, he does the work himself. “That way, people who come to a show can see a very nice representation of the brand of equipment displayed,” he says.
Club and collector contacts have also led him to some of his best finds. Denny put the word out that he was looking for a REO motorless reel push mower. “When we let others know what we’re looking for,” he says, “we never know when or where or if the piece will show up. That’s just part of the fun.
The other part of the fun? When it does show up. Denny’s friend Erv Troyer found a 1946 reel mower for him at a Shipshewana, Indiana, auction.
Always on the hunt
Denny’s display of unique and odd pieces is always a popular attraction at shows. Most people have never seen these pieces, and that always generates a lot of discussion. But he’s not finished yet. He enjoys the hunt and is a regular at farm auctions. “I usually find something for myself or somebody I know,” he admits.
“I’d still like to find a red-and-black REO Holiday walk-behind,” he says. “I’ve only seen one. I’d also like to find the gang mowers and snow blades for a REO Trim-a-Long mower, a REO Revo-Lawn rotary mower and a REO Electra-Lawn rotary mower.” FC
REO mower’s heritage linked to automotive genius
The REO mower line’s roots stretch back to R.E. Olds, founder of Olds Motor Works and REO Motors. In 1916, Olds won a patent for a large powered roller that propelled the mower forward as it rolled the turf. Powered by an air-cooled gas engine produced by his Ideal Motor Co., the resulting product found strong support in the marketplace, leading to the formation of Ideal Power Lawn Mower Co. in 1922.
Initially clumsy, with a heavy, front-mounted apparatus, Ideal’s mower evolved over time. By the 1940s, it resembled a modern reel-type mower with a vertical air-cooled engine purchased from an outside source.
REO Motors, Lansing, Michigan, entered the lawnmower market in 1946, boosted by the expertise of personnel from Ideal. For its mowers, REO initially used engines produced by Clinton and Briggs & Stratton, but in 1949 began producing its own engine, one with a unique slant-head cylinder.
Based at least partially on the success of the new engine, REO mowers soon became the world’s leading builder of power lawnmowers, with sales of nearly $10 million in 1950. By 1951, the company had produced 500,000 mowers, with daily production nearing the 1,000 mark.
In 1954, the REO Mower division was sold to Motor Wheel Corp., Lansing. Motor Wheel continued production of REO mowers, although the company discontinued use of the REO engine in the mid-1950s. In 1963, Motor Wheel sold the line to Wheel Horse Products, South Bend, Indiana. Wheel Horse continued production of the REO line for several years before dropping the REO name from its line. – Farm Collector staff
For more information:
– Denny Schimmoeller, 6135 Kiggins Rd., Delphos, OH 45833; (419) 695-7655; firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America will hold its national show Aug. 5-7 at the Loyalsock Valley Antique Machinery Assn. grounds in Loyalsock, Pennsylvania. For more information, contact Doug Tallman, (419)-542-2609; www.VGTCOA.com.
Dennis Merlau represents VGTCOA in Michigan. Contact him at email@example.com.