Garden tractors have come a long way. And as anyone who has acquired a few acres knows, these are the machines that do the work: the tilling and mowing and pulling and plowing that make a small farm or a vast garden grow. The illustrated history in Garden Tractors: Deere, Cub Cadet, and All the Rest (Voyageur Press, 2008) features the brands that have endeared themselves to landowners everywhere — the Cub Cadets and John Deeres, Simplicitys and Fords, Ariens and Kubotas that, in their can-do engineering, dependability and bright good looks, are more than mere machines around the yard and small farm. In this excerpt, read more about the history of the Allis-Chalmers Model G, International Harvester Cub, John Deere Model L and Massey-Harris Pony.
Farm Tractor Manufacturers
It would be incorrect to suggest that only the tiny single-bottom plow tractors built by farm machinery manufacturers shortly after the war ever made it into the suburban garden or mowed suburban lawns. Many larger machines lived out their lives with such relatively light duty, but the few discussed in more detail below were particularly suited to working in larger gardens.
Allis-Chalmers Model G
The Model G, which was built from 1948 through 1955, might well be the most recognizable tractor out there.
It was originally designed for small farms, nurseries, truck gardeners, and others with the need for a precision planting and cultivating machine. It also had excellent capabilities as an all-around acreage tractor. Early marketing materials suggested that the Model G and its implements at the most offered everything some farms required by way of machinery and at the least had something that every farm required.
What really set the G apart from other tractors of its day was that the engine was mounted behind the rear axle and the remaining tubular frame offered unprecedented visibility for the operator. The little tractor weighed in at around 1,200 pounds and offered about 9 drawbar horsepower and 10.33 horsepower at the PTO.
Since Allis-Chalmers didn’t make an engine small enough for the tractor, it sourced a four-cylinder 62-cubic-inch gasoline mill from Continental. This so-called N-62 engine was used by many machinery makers and proved itself again and again over the years.
Although the basic design never caught on in a big way, the Model G proved its worth and continues to be collected, cherished, and worked today. In fact, the tractor is so good in the garden that at least one North American business is based on repowering the machines with small, efficient Kubota diesel engines and refurbishing their chassis for another 60-something years of work.
Modern garden tractor owners might scoff at the G’s seemingly tiny horsepower ratings. After all, the major makers today all boast lawn tractors with over 20 horsepower. Of course, that rating is net engine horsepower, and only a fraction of it will be transferred to the ground with the 400-pound lawn cutter. If you hook your Allis-Chalmers Model G to a laden wagon, you will be able to move it long after the lawn tractor hooked to the same weight spins its wheels or, more likely, burns up its transmission.
International Harvester Cub
Harvester’s mighty little Cub was announced during a 1945 press event at the company’s Hinsdale, Illinois, test farm. When it entered production in April 1947, the versatile little tractor was billed as the perfect machine for he small farmer and gentleman farmer and a chore boy or larger operators. The tractor featured IH’s offset operator station, which was called Culti-Vision. Compared with the Allis-Chalmers Model G, this little workhorse looked like a fairly conventional row-crop tractor with the engine up front and transaxle to the rear.
The Cub was rated for a single-plow bottom and could be fit with any manner of cultivators, planters, mowers, grader blades, rakes, utility carriers, and much more. The tractor was powered with IH’s four-cylinder C-60 60-cubic-inch gasoline engine and offered about 9.76 PTO horsepower initially, with almost 9 horsepower at the drawbar. As the machine evolved through its approximately three decades of production, its engine power increased to about 15 horsepower gross, which delivered about 13 horsepower at the PTO and 12 horsepower at the drawbar.
First known as the Farmall Cub, and later as the International Cub, some iteration of the Cub design played a direct role in IH’s garden tractor lineup from 1961 through 1981. The initial design (with some changes over the years) was built from 1947 to 1978.
The Cub in all of its forms continues to provide the power for gardens large and small all over the world. It is also one of the most desired collector tractors because it is easy to haul and easy to handle. As with the other tractors considered in this category, the 1,500- to 1,800-pound (depending on options) Cub had a drawbar pull of well over 1,200 pounds.
John Deere Model L
Although John Deere’s Model L family of tractors fits the bill for this category with less than 10 horsepower at the drawbar and PTO and an approximate 1,500-pound mass, the machine was first built about a decade earlier than the Cub and its production ended in 1946, with no model replacement. First produced in about 1936 when Deere’s Wagon Works built a tiny experimental eight-horsepower tractor called the Model Y, this tractor at first was powered with Novo two-cylinder engines.
Folks seemed so pleased with these first 24 Model Y prototypes that Deere made 80 more the summer of 1937. These tractors were powered with two-cylinder Hercules engines and given the Model 62 designation.
In late 1937, the Model 62 evolved into the Model L. This machine had very little sheet metal, which matched other Deere and Company offerings of the day.
The first-generation Model L tractor was still powered with the two-cylinder Hercules and boasted a little more than 10 horsepower at the engine. In late 1938, the Model L got a facelift that included modern styling and eventually a 10-horsepower two-cylinder Deere and Company engine. The Model L was a fairly stripped-down machine that lacked hydraulics, but it could be fit with a number of lever-lifted attachments and pull or push-type implements. It had about 7 drawbar horsepower, with 9.25 horsepower at the PTO.
In 1941, a slightly more powerful Model LA joined the Model L as a small Deere tractor. The LA offered a 540-rpm PTO, more ground clearance, and about 10.5 drawbar horsepower with almost 13 horsepower at the PTO. By the time both the L and LA were discontinued in 1946, the engine power in the LA was about that of the larger, more conventional-looking Model H. Deere and Company wouldn’t re-enter the garden tractor niche again until the 1960s.
Massey-Harris released the Pony 11 for the 1947 model year in a package that looked strikingly similar to the Farmall Cub, except that the tractor’s driveline wasn’t offset from the operator’s station. The Pony came on the heels of the company’s earlier offering in the small tractor arena, the General CG. Unwilling to commit to the small tractor market before the war, Massey-Harris had the General built by Cleveland Tractor Company. After the war, it was clear that the market for single-plow tractors was growing, so Massey introduced the Pony.
The Pony 11 was powered with Continental’s N-62 four-cylinder gasoline engine and offered an 11-PTO horsepower rating, with 10 horsepower at the drawbar. The tractor tipped the scales at slightly over 1,500 pounds and could be equipped with hydraulics from the beginning. The Pony 14 replaced the Pony 11 in 1950. It had a 69-cubic-inch version of the N-62 engine, which produced a couple of additional horsepower. The Pony 14 was replaced with the heavier, more powerful Pacer in 1954. This tractor was powered with Continental’s Y-91 engine and bridged the gap between single- and two-plow tractors at the time. The Pacer was discontinued in 1956, and within about a decade, Massey had a line of modern garden tractors to offer the market.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Garden Tractors: Deere, Cub Cadet, and All the Rest by Oscar H. Will III and published by Voyageur Press, 2008.