Dream of Owning International Harvester Cub Cadet Becomes Reality

Minnesota man holds on to boyhood dream of owning an International Harvester Cub Cadet.

Steel Wheeled Cub Cadet

Loren’s steel-wheeled Cub “Original” — a one-of-a-kind modification — is his favorite so far.

Photo by Loren Ritter

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Boyhood dreams don’t always become reality. But rural Minnesota-born and -raised Loren Ritter is the happy exception to that rule. He was so young when International Harvester Cub Cadets first captured his imagination that he cannot today remember his exact age at that time. His fascination with these early lawn and garden vehicles goes back to the 1960s, when Cub Cadets were a key feature in IH showrooms.

“Growing up on the farm, my twin sister and my brother and I made weekly trips to Freeport, Minn., with Dad when he delivered oats and corn to a feed mill so they could grind it and deliver it back to us,” Loren says. “When we stopped at the IH dealer, I couldn’t resist sitting on the seat of one of the Cub Cadets. It really caught my attention. I never forgot that experience.”

Building a collection

Years passed before Loren — who lives in Pequot Lakes, Minn. — could make his dreams of owning an International Harvester Cub Cadet a reality. In 2000 he learned that a co-worker had replaced his 1964 Cub Cadet Model 70 with a new lawn mower. The well-used but still running Cub Cadet was for sale. “That was the first Cub Cadet I restored,” Loren says. “After that I really got the bug to find more.” Then came a 1968 Cub Cadet Model 124. The unit had engine problems, but its owner wasn’t interested in repairing it. Loren was happy to add it to his growing collection.

Later, he found a 1966 Model 122. Loren added it — and a Brinly plow — to his collection. Today he uses the 122 at a spring plowing event in Little Falls, Minn. “You don’t see many events where the Cub Cadets plow,” he says. “We usually draw a nice crowd.”

A one-of-a-kind Original

Three of Loren’s Cub Cadets were in rough shape when he got them, so he buckled down and went to work, rebuilding engines on each. A fourth unit got special treatment. “I modified my first Cub Cadet when I put steel wheels on my 1962 ‘Original,’” he says. (The line’s first release, built from 1961-’63 had no model designation and is now referred to within the hobby as “the Original.”) “I noticed at Cub Cadet shows that so many of the models look exactly the same. Most have rubber tires. Some of them have decks on them. But I wanted to do something original with mine. Adding the steel wheels made my Cub Cadet Original look like a turn-of-the-century piece. It gets a lot of attention.”

To make the modification, Loren measured his Original’s wheels and began searching for steel wheels that would fit. He found the perfect match at the Le Sueur, Minn., swap meet. “One of the vendors there had hundreds of old steel wheels at his scrap yard,” he says. “I visited the yard and walked around until I found the right size. I had to adapt them a little to make them fit. I added cleats so when I use the tractor it won’t just sit and spin. The change gave the model an interesting old-fashioned look.

“As I’ve been collecting, I’ve tried to find each of the models IH produced in the 1960s,” Loren says. “They introduced a new series every two years. I don’t have the original one they manufactured in 1961. I do have models from 1962, 1964, 1966 and 1968. Each of them has unique features.”

Seeing red

International Harvester started selling Cub Cadets in 1961 after a couple of years of testing prototypes. The reduced tractor size was intended to fill a need for a growing population of people living on small acreages. Gardening, plowing, moving snow and general farm duties could be accomplished with the 7 hp Cub Cadet. A related line of implements was very popular during the Cub’s heyday. When financial troubles plagued IH in the early 1980s, Modern Tool and Die Co. (MTD), originally based in Cleveland, bought the Cub Cadet line, operating as Cub Cadet Corp. (CCC) to build and deliver the tractors to IH for several years.

Cub Cadet underwent a noteworthy early design change late in 1963 with the release of Model 70 and Model 100 Cubs. In those models, a belt was eliminated from the drive train and the frame was raised to allow more room for the mower. The new full-length, ladder-type frame had parallel rails and bolted to either side of the transmission case above the axle housings instead of just to the front of the transmission. With that redesign, the crankshaft aligned directly with the clutch and driveshaft and the clutch was no longer off-center. It made the Cub Cadet seem even more like a tractor.

“Another great aspect of those first Cub Cadets was the strong engine,” Loren says. “It was pretty trouble-free. The fact that the Cubs looked so much like a tractor is probably why they were so popular. I think one of the early sales pitches was that once you bought a Cub you’d never need another tractor.”

Cub Cadet Series 8 tractors were manufactured by International Harvester from 1979 through spring 1981. With that production run, Cub Cadets were painted red for the first time. Loren wouldn’t mind adding one of those models to his collection. “They’re hard to find,” he says. “They were only manufactured for 18 months. The red ones manufactured from 1982 through 1985 were made by MTD and are not as desirable for collectors. The ones with the IH symbol on the grille are the ones IH made.”

Small wonders

As he’s worked to restore the tractors in his collection, Loren has been surprised by the simplicity of the Cub Cadet’s design. Parts — including many that are interchangeable — are still available through a number of sellers, including most IH dealers. Another plus? They’re easy to work on. “The small size helps,” Loren says. “Each model has its own unique features, but the various models are very similar. And they’re getting harder to find. Some fully restored machines bring as much as $3,000. With their work clothes on, $400 to $500 is a pretty average cost.”

But he’s not deterred. “When people see them at shows they always have a lot of questions,” Loren says. “And kids still love them. You often see kids driving Cubs in parades. I’ll keep looking for additional models, restore and keep them. They’ll always have special meaning to me.” FC

For more information: 

— Loren Ritter, phone: (218) 821-3525; email: rtwins27@charter.net.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.