Fratzke owes his pedal tractor collection to a dumpster. “People cleaning out a
house were throwing a lot of stuff into a dumpster,” he recalls. “As we were
going by, we saw this old pedal tractor in there.”
talking to the people who’d pitched the pedal tractor, Ron (who lives in Mora, Minn.) offered $10 for
his dumpster dive, figuring the old pedal tractor might prove interesting.
“When I pulled it out, I thought it was an old Allis-Chalmers,” he says, “but
when I took it to a guy who knows pedal tractors, he said, ‘No, that’s a
not just any old Case, either. Ron had stumbled onto a rare and valuable Case
VAC pedal tractor. Once he realized what he had, he decided to have the piece
restored. It is the only piece in his collection of more than four dozen pedal
tractors to get that treatment. “I don’t usually do that because often they
lose value if they’ve been restored or repainted,” he explains. “But I had a
guy who really knew what he was doing and I wanted the Case to look really
out a category
lucky discovery set Ron on the hunt for more pedal tractors. Despite the fact
that he hit the jackpot with his first pedal tractor, he’s since veered away
from those made by big manufacturers like John Deere, International Harvester
and Ford. Most of those are built of cast aluminum; Ron’s taken a different
direction. “I like the tin or steel pedal tractors because they are different
from what everybody else is collecting,” he says. “And nowadays it seems like
it’s harder to find the tin ones than the cast aluminum ones” — although the
pedal tractor hardest for him to find was what’s called a John Deere small 60.
of the pedal tractors Ron unearths at auctions, flea markets and garage sales
are produced by now-obscure manufacturers he’s never heard of. “When I find a
new and different one, I do research on it so I know something about it,” he
Power Trac Model 502 pedal tractor is a classic example of that. Made by
Universal Mfg. Co. Inc., Olney,
Ill., the tractor sold for $37.95
($293 today) when it was produced in 1961. It was promoted as the companion to
the Deluxe Go Trac and a Buggy Buddy with trailer. According to an old catalog
Ron found, the company also made scooters, trailers and a palomino horse model.
Universal also manufactured Ron’s AMF Power Trac pedal tractor, which is
identical to the Go Trac.
Powerama pedal tractor is an unusual piece. Like most of the other pedal tractors
in his collection, this one is chain-driven from the pedals to the back wheel.
many others, though, this one is finished in a two-tone scheme, white over
orange. It has a single front wheel and small fenders over the rear wheels.
Almost nothing else is known about it. A recent online auction ad showed an
identical “Antique — rare — Garton Powerama” pedal tractor, along with photos
of a child at the wheel.
has four Murray
pedal tractors: a Murray Big 4 (mostly yellow with green), two Murray Diesel
2-tons (one is mostly green with yellow highlights, the other is maroon) and a
2-ton (green). “They all have different lettering and different colors, and
some of the hoods are different,” he says. “I don’t know how many variations were
of Ron’s unusual steel pedal tractors is a BMC Kiddie Tractor, which he picked
up at a Mora garage sale. Old advertising literature for the Bike & Motor
Club shows that the company also made bicycles, dolls, teddy bears and model
cars. No other information is known.
also has a pair of Castelli pedal tractors made by F.C. Castelli Co., Philadelphia, in the
1950s and perhaps into the 1960s. Other than that, little is known of the
company. “One of the pedals has a chain drive for the rear tires and the other
one’s got the old push dial, with the axle on the back offset,” Ron says. “When
you push one foot, the wheels turn.”
his Kubota M-120 pedal tractor isn’t rare or unusual, the way Ron got it is. A
waitress at a café he and his wife, Betsy, frequent knew of his hobby. Sharing
his interest for antiques, she began keeping an eye open for pedal tractors and
other items. “She goes to a lot of auctions and flea markets too, so we’ve had
this agreement that we’d find stuff for each other. It’s like trading, you
know? I found out she was into old dressers. When I found one, I called her and
she went and bought it. With the Kubota, she called me to tell me what she’d
found at a garage sale, so my wife went and bought it.”
tractors were only the tip of the iceberg for Ron. Wanting to create a more
complete and realistic display, he built a set of implements to go with the
pedal tractors: a disc, plow, hay wagon and hay rake.
the disc, I took a 4-inch saw, cut out the metal pieces for the discs, made a
jig on my press and bent the disc out double so it would look like a real one,”
he says. “The frame of the disc is half-inch angle iron. I made it a wheel disc
so I can pull it without having the discs down on the ground.”
used wheels from a push-style lawn mower for the hay wagon. For the frame, he
cut wood to make slats resembling small boards. “Then I nailed and glued it all
together and made my wagon,” he says.
make his disc plow, he copied a full-size John Deere disc plow. He repeated the
process he followed in making the wheel disc so the discs wouldn’t drag on the
ground. “First I made a jig and made steel wheels on the plow,” he says. “Then
I started building them, welding and grinding, welding and grinding, so I have
solid steel wheels.”
made his hay rake from scratch. “I used a picture and it turned out like a real
one,” he says. “I made teeth rakes and everything for it out of springs.” In
the future, he hopes to make a silage wagon and a hay chopper. “Then I’d have
all the implements I worked with when I was a kid on the farm,” he says.
and Betsy attend nine tractor shows a year. It only makes sense to take some
pedal tractors along. A pair of retrofitted relics makes it easier to get
around large show grounds and show off the collection at the same time.
of a pedal tractor into a unit driven by a gas engine is not an activity for
the faint of heart. “They took a very long time to make,” Ron says. He began by
setting a weed whip grass cutter alongside the body of the pedal tractor. He
traced the size of the engine and began cutting the pedal tractor open to get
the engine to fit, hard and exacting work.
a belt formerly connected the pedals and the rear wheels to make the
foot-powered pedal tractor go, Ron added a jackshaft with two sprockets (one
small, one large) to get the gears to turn slower under power from the weed
whip. A second chain goes down to the rear axle to get it geared down low
enough for the 1-speed machines. “To get them right, I did a lot of
experimenting,” he says. “I’d try one sprocket and if I didn’t like the speed
of it, I’d take it all apart and put a different sprocket in. I kept changing
sprockets until I was finally comfortable with the speed.”
too much fun
it comes to collecting, Ron prefers a category like pedal tractors that’s a
little off the beaten path. But he has one thing in common with others in the
farm collectibles hobby: He really enjoys the people he meets. “Talking to
people about the different kinds of pedal tractors, and getting additional
information on the ones we have, that’s really neat,” he says.
takes every opportunity to share his hobby. “There’s a lot of enjoyment in
this,” he says. “Like the little kids: They see the pedal tractors and want to
sit on them. I generally let them, to a certain point. It depends on the size
of the kids.” He even lets adults sit on the motorized units.
gravitate to the Case VAC that started his collection; an Allis-Chalmers WD-45
is another crowd pleaser. But the tin pedals are the main attraction. “People
like them because they’re all so different from anything else,” Ron says.
“Those who remember them from childhood really enjoy the display.”
gets plenty of offers to sell tractors in his collection, but they’re not for
sale. “Not yet anyway,” he says. “When I get older I’ll probably sell them, but
not now. I’m having too much fun.” FC
more information: Ron Fratzke, 2195
270th Ave., Mora, MN 55051.
Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm
tractors and toys. Contact him at Box
372, 400 Caroline
Ln., Rockville, MN
56369; email: email@example.com