IH Cub Cadet Prototypes: Garden Tractor Trio Showcases Cub Cadet History

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Tim DeLooza’s reproduction Cubette is absolutely faithful to the original experimental model – which may not have ever actually run.
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This color scheme on a 1960 Cub Cadet garden tractor prototype never went into production. Two design committees rejected it in favor of a yellow-and-white version. Tim DeLooza built this reproduction.
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This 1960 prototype (No. 409) of the Cub Cadet garden tractor is the only one of 10 similar prototypes known to exist. The tractor’s Kohler engine is tagged as an experimental unit.
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Tim DeLooza.
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The Cubette in its earliest stages.
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The photo that launched a project. Tim DeLooza built his prototype reproduction from this photo.
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The Cubette in its earliest stages.

Utterly captivated by the history of International Harvester’s Cub Cadet garden tractor line, Tim DeLooza set his heart on owning design prototypes.

There was just one little glitch in his plan: The prototypes in question had long since been destroyed. That slowed him down but didn’t stop him; Tim just went to work building his own.

With skills well beyond those of the weekend hobbyist, Tim crafted two stunningly perfect, totally accurate reproductions of two early Cub Cadet prototypes. The pair makes handsome bookends to the one surviving Cub Cadet prototype that is the star of Tim’s collection. The fascinating trifecta tells the story of International’s entry into the lawn and garden arena in 1961.

The first prototype

Until Tim rolled up his sleeves, the Cubette prototype was little more than a chapter in the history book. International Harvester built at least three different pre-prototype Cub Cadets. All that survived of the first one – christened the Cubette – was a photo, but that was all it took. “When I saw the photo of the Cubette,” Tim says, “I wanted one. I knew the original didn’t exist, so I would have to build it.”

The original prototype, constructed in 1960 using Farmall Cub parts, was rejected by the committee charged with overseeing design, and presumably was dismantled and reworked in subsequent versions. Tim worked from the only known photo of the prototype in creating his reproduction. But the photo provided only part of the story. Stumped by what he couldn’t see in the photo, Tim tracked down Keith Burnham, one of the original design engineers on the project. Keith gave invaluable counsel on details pertaining to the rear section of the Cubette’s hood.

Tim’s Cubette features a 7 hp Kohler engine with recoil start. Engine placement is the reverse of subsequent Cub Cadet design. “It’s natural to drive off the PTO side,” Tim notes, “and with addition of the reduction housing to the rear end, the differential was set up to run that direction.” The yellow-and-white color scheme is an exact duplicate of the original prototype.

The real deal: No. 409

The second unit in Tim’s trifecta is a bona fide original prototype: Cub Cadet, serial no. 409. One of 10 prototypes built with 7 hp Kohler engines at International’s Louisville works, it represents the design International came to after nine months of design and testing. In October 1960, the 10 were sent out for field-testing. When the tests were complete, No. 409 was purchased by Frank Majer, the International engineer who put it through its paces. He logged 71 hours of testing, including mowing at full throttle with the tractor in third gear. No. 409 is the only one of the 10 prototypes known to exist.

In May 2003, Cub Cadet historian Paul Bell bought No. 409 from Frank’s son, Ken Majer, and performed a full restoration. In August 2005, Tim bought it from Paul.

Enthusiasts will note subtle differences between Tim’s 409 prototype and production models. “The rear fenders are more rounded on the production model,” he says, “and the center pan is a lot more shallow on the production model. Also, the footpads on the prototype were smooth. They realized that was a problem immediately, and the production footpads have perforations.”

One of a kind, in red

Dispatching 10 prototypes to field tests wasn’t the only thing on the minds of International Harvester executives in October 1960: They were also wrangling with the decision of what color to paint the new Cub Cadet garden tractor.

On Oct. 13, two committees viewed a pair of Cub Cadet prototypes. One tractor was painted yellow and white; the other was red and white. Both met with an enthusiastic reception. By the end of the month, the tide had turned and the red-and-white scheme was abandoned. That version lives on, however, in the final piece in Tim’s trio: a reproduction prototype he’s dubbed “No. 410.” It is a reincarnation of one of the prototypes IH executives would have been looking at as they decided on color schemes.

“Other than the industrial line, yellow was kind of a change for Harvester,” he says. “Maybe they thought it would set the Cub Cadet apart from other garden tractors.”

The next project

The process of delving deep into International prototypes has fueled Tim’s interest in the company’s history. Next up: another version of the Cubette that never advanced to production. “I know of three versions,” he says, “but until recently no good pictures of the second one had come to light.”

So, he’s started on what would be International’s third version of the experimental Cub Cadet. “The biggest visual change in the third one is the grille and the hood area. It will have a cast iron front grille, but it’ll be more rounded on the back of the hood,” Tim says. “Also, the engine had been turned around like production Cub Cadets and the front axle was then made of cast iron.”

That kind of attention to detail is the hallmark of Tim’s fabrications. He blends his passion for the machine with a researcher’s persistence. “The history takes some digging,” he says, “but I get a lot of help from my friends.” FC

For more information: E-mail Tim DeLooza atdelooza@gmail.com.

Read more about garden tractors: Garden Tractors: Deere, Cub Cadet, Wheel Horse, and All the Rest, 1930s to Current by Oscar H. Will III, available through Farm Collector Books.

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