Vaughan Tractor a Treasured Heirloom

Man restores Vaughan garden tractor that his father gave to him in 1971.

David Loranger

David Loranger restored the Vaughan Flex-Tred garden tractor that his father bought in the mid-1950s.

Photo courtesy Orrin Iseminger

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I think Dad bought the little walk-behind garden crawler tractor in 1955 or ’56. The Japanese were truck-farming the Redmond, Washington valley, then (it has since been mostly paved over) and I remember riding over there in the pickup truck with Dad. While Dad spoke with some of the men, I picked up handfuls of rich, black loamy soil.

The next thing I knew, we had the Vaughan tractor in our garden. It came with a plow, cultivator, harrow and disc, though I have lost the disc over the years. Dad used the tractor to plow his gardens. In 1971, he gave it to me to plow my gardens.

I remember an old-timer watching Dad plow with the Vaughan. He said that the outfit did about the same amount of work that a horse would do. My sister, brothers and I would stand next to the furrow where Dad was plowing. When the tractor came by us and we felt the exhaust hit us in the chest, we would fall backward as if the exhaust was strong enough to knock us off our feet. The engine could make some awesome smoke rings, too.

Series launched in 1936

Vaughan Motor Co., Portland, Oregon, apparently began making walk-behind garden tractors in 1921, with the water-cooled Model K. The company began producing air-cooled models in 1932, with the letter designation “S.” My reprinted instruction manual and partial parts list covers Model W and Model WS tractors.

My tractor, technically called a Flex-Tred Tractor, is a Model WS. The WS went into production in 1936, beginning with serial number 6049. The identification plate on my tractor is stamped “8690.” I believe it was built in the late 1930s. Model WS tractors have two steering levers on the handle; Model S and Model W tractors have just one lever. The two levers correspond to four clutches, two for the right track and two for the left track.

In addition to forward and reverse modes, the Model WS can complete a neutral steer (driving one track forward and the other in reverse). That maneuver, I learned, should be done at slow speed and on smooth ground, as the operator needs to be nimble of foot to keep up with the swinging 5-foot handles.

Complete restoration

I think I stopped using the tractor in the late 1980s. I did not begin the restoration project until 2009. I am mechanically inclined, but do not consider myself a mechanic. However, I wanted to restore the little tractor in memory of my dad and so, with a little fear and caution, I took the unit completely apart and had many parts welded, straightened and repaired. The clutch assemblies were the hardest. It took me two months to figure out how they worked and learn that they were adjustable.

When I began the restoration, I did all my work without the aid of manuals, literature or fellow Vaughan tractor owners. I did have a lot of help along the way from machine shops and a body shop. The engine was rebuilt for me, as it needed a babbitt bearing poured. I made handles out of hickory; I believe they are the tractor’s third set.

How sweet the sound

Discovering the Lewis-Clark Antique Power Club at the Nez Perce County Fairgrounds, Lewiston, Idaho, in September 2011 was a godsend; I soon became a club member. The value of membership in such a club is priceless. The club abounds with knowledgeable and supportive tractor and engine enthusiasts. With club members’ generous gifts of time and expertise, particularly with the carburetor and magneto, the Vaughan engine eventually came to life. Oh, how sweet the sound that brought back a flood of rich memories for me. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction in being able to complete a project I started and finished with so many of my friends and fellow club members. I think my dad would be proud. FC


Vaughan also known for lightweight drag saws

Elbert Vaughan went into business for himself fulltime in 1913, when he opened his first business. In 1922, according to an account published in 1928 (History of the Columbia River Valley, From The Dalles to the Sea, by Fred Lockley), the business was incorporated as the Vaughan Motor Works, Inc., with Vaughan as president.

“At that time extra equipment was installed, including an electric steel furnace for the making of cast steel,” Lockley notes. “The company at that time was manufacturing drag saws and ice machines, and doing a regular line of jobbing, employing from 60 to 80 men.

“In 1923 and 1924, Vaughan designed a small garden tractor which, with the assistance of his associates, he perfected into the present garden tractor that is known under the trademark as the FLEX-TRED and is being exported as well as used locally,” Lockley continues. “The company is still engaged in the manufacture of drag saws and ice machines and doing general jobbing, including gear and sprocket cutting. Vaughan Motor Works, Inc., is the largest manufacturer of light-weight drag saws in the world.”

For more information:

— David Loranger, 1975 New Hope Loop, Lenore, ID 83541; phone: (208) 949-6104; email: dsloranger@hotmail.com.


Photos and information for this article originally appeared in the Lewis-Clark Antique Power Club newsletter and are gratefully acknowledged here.