Shopping Spree

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Antique garden tractors

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Vintage garden tractors are his game and 'One-Wheel Bill' is his name.

One-Wheel Bill, aka Bill Huff of Sun City West, Ariz., is a retired Los Angeles city firefighter and now a collector of engine-in-wheel garden tractors and hand-powered garden equipment 'with at least one wheel.' This summer, he embarked on a cross-country shopping spree in a modest RV with a tag-a-long trailer, and he netted a heavy load.

'It was a fun trip,' he said during a brief stopover at Farm Collector offices in Topeka, Kan. (Bill's also a FC sales agent in the field). 'I've been planning this for two years.'

He says he started collecting Antique garden tractors and other garden equipment about three years ago. 'All the truck gardens had these garden plows: the strawberry and flower growers, and orchards too,' he says. 'Now that the price of big tractors is so far out of sight, the old garden tractors are really coming into being.'

In most cases, when they were first introduced, these machines individually replaced many hours of hand labor, and often one horse, he says, adding that beginning in the late 1940s, manufacturers began to make garden equipment more cheaply, so it didn't last as long. As a consequence, the older equipment, like Bill's, often has endured while the '50s-era models have not.

On the lookout for the earliest offerings of such brands as Unitractors, Suburbanites and Kinkades, Bill left home and hearth, and his wife, Lynda, on April 18, and headed west. First stop was the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America's Southwest Spring Show, held in conjunction with the 10th annual California Antique Farm Equipment Show on April 20 and 21 in Tulare.

It was a lucky pick; Bill met 87 other garden tractor owners and laid out his first funds - for a 1930s Kinkade. 

Next, he headed east for a sentimental visit to the town where he grew up, Hobert, Okla., where coincidentally, the Great Plains Antique Tractor Club Show was under way April 26 and 27. In Hobert, Bill says, he also had his biggest surprise of the trip: he reconnected with three school chums and learned they all were into antique tractors and engines too.

Not able to linger, he motored on northeast to Jerseyville, Ill., for the Tri-County Antique Club's Spring Gas-Up and Swap Meet on May 4 and 5. Here, Bill turned up a hand-powered Planet Jr. planter and two hand-powered cultivators. Next on his itinerary was the Tractor and Engine Swap Meet May 10 and 11 at Adkinson, Ill., where he bought two small tractors to resell later.

Then it was on to the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association's 19th annual Swap and Sell May 16 to 19 in Portland, Ind. Despite the rain and the mud, he sniffed out the top prize of the trip, the tractor he had searched three years to find. It is a well-kept 1941 Unitractor engine-in-wheel tractor and it completes Bill's collection of that brand. These machines debuted in 1939 and were manufactured by R.D. Eaglesfield in Indianapolis.

In Portland, he also picked up a 1946 Kinkade 'L,' made by the American Farm Machinery Co. in Minneapolis, and then he started home.

Scheduled stops along the return route began with the Central Hawkeye Gas Engine and Tractor Association's Waukee Swap Meet, May 22 to 25 ('Week seven'), in Waukee, Iowa. There, Bill found two more hand-powered Planters; three cultivators; three iron-wheel push mowers; a 1927 Cinch lawn trimmer and edger, which is very rare; a National walking lawn sprinkler, circa late 1930s and made in Lincoln, Neb., with its wands intact, and a Jari blower.

'Week eight' found him at the 36th annual Southeast Iowa Antique Gas Engine, Tractor, Car, Motorcycle and Hobby Show and Flea Market, held Memorial Day weekend in West Burlington, Iowa. That show turned exceedingly memorable for Bill when he discovered a 'barn-fresh' 1952 iron-wheeled Suburbanite with five implements: a coveted sickle-bar mower, two plows, a disk and a cultivator. Besides the Suburbanite package, a 1947 Unitractor of lesser quality went home with him from that show, too.

On to Topeka he drove for a visit with the Farm Collector 'family,' and then only one stop remained between him and home, the Four Corners Antique Power Association Show, which ran June 7 to 9 in Farmington, N.M. His trailer was full by then, but as southwest director for the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America, Bill stopped in at Four Corners to meet fellow members and recruit new ones, and to sell magazines. 

He says when he got home with all his 'new stuff,' Lynda still let him in the door. However she says if he buys one more tractor, she's going to leave him and take the dog. She knows he'll really miss that dog.

Bill says he used the Steam & Gas Show Directory to pick out his itinerary and if he went again, he'd go to the same places 'except drive harder and make the LeSueur County, Minn., Pioneer Power Swap Meet on the fourth weekend of April too.'

Despite the trip's success in terms of old garden iron, Bill says he hasn't found everything he dreams of owning. Still on his wish list are a wooden-handled model 'K' Kinkade and two earlier Kinkades that have no model designations. He already has five iron-handled model 'L' Kinkades, most of which he bought just to get the implements that went with them.

Bill says he may one day repeat his 'dream trip,' but for now, he has enough at home to keep himself busy for quite some time. FC

-For more information about Bill's collection, contact him at 17210 N. 125th Ave., Sun City West, AZ 85375; (623) 556-9745; e-mail: onewheelbill@aol.com

-For more information on the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America, contact Bill, or Jim Cunzenheim, 412 W. Chestnut, Pardeeville, WI 53954; (609) 429-4520.