Rediscovering the Sears Handiman Line

Sam Moore runs across a Sears, Roebuck & Co. sales brochure advertising the Sears Handiman tractor line at an antique shop.

Sears Handiman

A like-new Sears Handiman R-T at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a few years ago.

Photo by Sam Moore

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Some time ago, in an antique shop, I was rooting through a pile of books, magazines and other “paper ephemera,” as it is called by collectors. Occasionally, I find a real treasure at these places, and this was one of those times. Among the old Motor flat rate manuals and Hot Rod magazines was a 20-page sales brochure put out by Sears, Roebuck & Co. for their line of Handiman tractors.

Dated 1941, the booklet thoroughly describes the Handiman Jr. and the All Purpose Handiman walk-behind machines, as well as the 4-wheeled Handiman R-T riding tractor. There was a price list from 1941 for Handiman tractors and attachments, and even a blank order form.

A size for every need

Sears introduces the machines thus: “From the alert little Handiman Jr. to the amazing new 4-wheel Handiman R-T Riding Tractor, there is a power unit built to meet the requirements of every truck gardener, orchardist and small-acreage farmer. Besides plowing, preparing seed beds, planting, cultivating, spraying, mowing, etc., a Handiman provides power for dozens of belt jobs ... operating feed grinders, corn shellers, cream separators, light plants, pumps, saws, concrete mixers, lathes and other machine shop and belt-driven equipment.”

The Handiman Jr. was advertised as a Triple-Purpose Unit, meant for garden work, mowing lawns, and cutting hay and weeds, and was said to be “so easy to handle (that) any boy can do a good job of cultivating.” It was powered by a Briggs & Stratton, 4-cycle engine, and “air-cooled by blower fan ... No worry about boiling or freezing. Rated at 1 hp, but actually develops considerably more.”

The Jr. walk-behind tractor came equipped with a 6-shovel cultivator and was priced at $82.50 with 24-inch steel lug wheels. For $12 more, one could get neat spoked wheels shod with new 4 x 18 Goodyear tractor lug tires. For $86.40, you’d get the machine with 6 x 16 disc wheels and two used auto tires (for $82.50, you’d get the tractor with just the bare 6 x 16 wheels and put on your own old car tires). A front-mounted, 3-1/2-foot cutter bar mower cost $19.50, a 20-inch pull-behind reel lawn mower sold for $17.50 and a 1-row Columbia seeder with fertilizer attachment and row marker went for $26.65.

Unbeatable performance

The larger, Handiman All-Purpose walk-behinds were meant “for extra heavy duty in toughest soil conditions. Unbeatable in performance compared to any other make of garden tractor. Has modern refinements such as regular gear shift, fully enclosed roller chain final drive and simple controls.” These tractors had Briggs & Stratton engines, transmissions with two forward and one reverse speeds, individual wheel brakes for steering and a 2-inch flat belt pulley. Steel wheels with A-style lugs were standard, while cast disc wheels and 6 x 22 Allstate Traction-Grip tires were extra. The All-Purpose machines came with hand-lift cultivator frames that could be set up to cultivate one, two or three rows. The tractor wheels were adjustable from 22-1/2 inches to 36 inches with steel wheels, or 27 to 36 inches with rubber tires.

Implements that could be mounted on the cultivator frames (besides an assortment of cultivating shovels) included disc gangs, a 4-1/2-foot spike-tooth or a 3-foot blade harrow, and a 1-, 2- or 3-row Columbia seeder. An 8- or 10-inch plow was available for the All-Purpose, as were a 3-foot single disc-harrow, a 31-inch combination harrow-cultipacker, a power spraying outfit, a 3-unit reel mower that cut a 56-inch swath, and a 2-wheeled cart with a 2-1/2- by 5-foot wooden box. A riding sulky that could be used with most of the implements was available as well.

The 3 hp Handiman All-Purpose tractor on steel wheels cost $259; the 4 hp model cost $269. Rubber tires added $26 to the price.

The Handiman R-T: A powerhouse on wheels

Finally, there was the Handiman R-T, a good-looking riding tractor that weighed 1,049 pounds and sold for $339. The R-T had a 5 hp Briggs & Stratton engine, a 2-speed and reverse transmission, an oscillating front axle that doubled as a tool bar; individual, hand-operated rear wheel brakes; a swinging drawbar, and 6 x 22 rear and 4 x 8 front tires (Allstate, of course). Front and rear tread was adjustable from 27 to 36 inches.

Easy terms could be arranged. A Handiman R-T on rubber tires with plow, cultivator, 3-row planter, wheel weights and belt pulley would cost $443.29 and could be bought for $45 down and $25 per month. Of course $40 in carrying charges would be added to the total.

Sears claimed that “A 15-year-old boy with a new 4-wheel Handiman R-T Tractor ... can do more field work than 12 men with hand tools” and asked readers to “Let this new Handiman tractor be your powerhouse on wheels.” Photos show the R-T pulling a heavily loaded tractor manure spreader and a 4-wheeled box wagon piled high with ear corn, both loads that I’d guess would keep the little tractor, and its driver, pretty busy.

Packed with versatility

Various combinations of front and rear cultivator attachments were available for the R-T, as well as a 10-inch plow and a 2- or 3-row Columbia seeder. Extra equipment included wheel weights and a V-belt pulley or a 4-inch flat pulley for driving belt-driven machines. The R-T could be equipped with either a 3-unit, 56-inch, or a 5-unit, 92-inch reel mower for large lawn mowing jobs. Standard David Bradley pull-behind harrows, dump rakes, mowing machines and other light duty implements were available for use with the R-T as well.

I noticed that there are no front- or rear-mounted blades listed among the attachments offered for the Handiman tractors. I guess in 1941, folks still used shovels and wheelbarrows to move dirt and shovels to clear snow.

I’ve seen a few of the Sears Handiman tractors at shows, but they’re not nearly as common as the postwar David Bradley machines, also sold by Sears. It would sure be great if I could just fill out my blank order form, send it in and have a brand new Handiman R-T, with all the attachments, shipped to me for less than $500. FC


Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at letstalkrustyiron@att.net.