Historic Golf Course Mowers: A 1939 Toro Tractor
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Birth of the resort
Meanwhile, destination resorts also began to grow in popularity. Increasing numbers of people had the resources to vacation in luxurious, out-of-the-way places created for that purpose. One of the earliest in the western U.S. was Sun Valley, Idaho, America’s first wintertime destination resort, created by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1936. Before long, visitors also traveled there in the summer months and a professional golf course was built to help entertain them. In 1939 the resort purchased its first golf course maintenance tractor – a 1939 Toro Model AL.
Decades later that Toro tractor still exists, against all odds. Along with several other old vehicles, it was slated for salvage in the early 1970s. Claude Ballard, my brother who lived in Bellevue, Idaho, about 20 miles south of the resort, recognized the tractor’s historical significance and saved it from destruction. With my help, the Toro has been repaired mechanically and is in running condition. The tractor is believed to be exceedingly rare; if others exist, they’ve kept a low profile.
Tractor built to last
Handling multiple reel mowers on varying golf course terrain required a pretty heavy-duty machine. The Toro tractor has a 4-inch channel frame of 1/4-inch thick steel, doubled from the driver’s compartment rearward. The rear axle is from a 2-ton truck, suspended by short springs with eight leaves. The front axle is an unsprung heavy I-beam. Both the foot brake and hand brake work on an external contracting drum at the rear of the transmission.
Power is supplied by a Hercules QXB3 flat-head 6-cylinder engine with a 3-1/4- by 4-1/8-inch bore and stroke. Like a Model A Ford, the Toro’s gas tank is located in the cowl. Gravity feeds the gasoline to an updraft carburetor. The heavy 4-speed truck transmission is apparently a General Motors unit with a lock-out lever that must be lifted to shift into reverse, which is toward the driver and down. Seating is provided for the driver and one passenger.
On the rear is a large high-sided dump box designed so the majority of the weight is behind the pivot point. That makes it possible for the driver to dump it by pulling a release without leaving his seat. When empty, a heavy spring tips it back up to its original position and a latch secures it automatically. Dual rear wheels make it possible to carry heavy loads so the tractor is not only a mower propulsion unit but a small dump truck. Those duals and additional weight in the box (if needed) provide adequate traction on slick grass often found on a golf course.