Wheel Horse Garden Tractor: The Horse of a Different Color

Wheel Horse Collectors Club meets annually to celebrate the unique garden tractor


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    On parade at the South Mountain Fairgrounds.
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    This impeccably restored 1958 RJ-58 Ride-Away Junior with sickle bar mower and moldboard plow is the pride and joy of young Christopher Frock.
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    The Ride-Away Senior is one of the most collectible of all Wheel Horses. This beautifully restored 1956 model belongs to Eric Mettle and is particularly rare because of the near-perfect condition of the fiberglass hood. These early and optional hoods were hand-formed using a wooden mold in the Ponds' shop.
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    Don Kane's original condition Ride-Away Senior was well taken care of. Don uses the tractor now to haul his grandchildren on wagon rides. The tractor?s fiberglass hood has aged more brightly than the steel, but it has never been re-painted.
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    Detail of Christopher Frock's RJ-58-mounted sickle bar mower. Christopher meticulously prepped each of the mower's guards, frame and pitman prior to painting and assembly.
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    Do you think these kids are having a good time? Bryan Byers (left), Daniel Willumsen and Brooklyn Byers all had a hand in helping Alan Byers get this 1961 Model 701 ready for the show. They all got to drive it around, too.
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    The Lauers' beautifully restored Model 603 shows how the Wheel Horse engine eventually was mounted forward in the tractor, which greatly improved front ballast even though it necessitated a longer clutch belt.
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    Bill Pearson restored this Lawn Ranger with parts obtained from eight states. The Lawn Ranger had smaller tires than contemporary garden tractor models.
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    Detail of Bill Pearson's cut-away model of Wheel Horse's 3-speed transaxle with high and low ranges. With stout components and no ring and pinion gears to set up, this transaxle proved long lasting and efficient to manufacture.
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    Wheel Horse founder Cecil Pond spent hours signing autographs and talking to Wheel Horse Collectors Club members at the 2004 show. Rather than have a piece of paper autographed, Bill Pearson asked Pond to sign the top of the steering pedestal on his Lawn Ranger.
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    Dash and steering wheel detail on Bruce and Anthony Lauer's 1963 Model 603 tractor. Note the sector-shaped steering wheel.
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    Detail of a fully functional LMR-3072 reel mower mounted on the front of a 1963 Model 753 tractor.
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    Very rare 1976 Model D250 owned by Ralph Seylar. This Renault-powered tractor is particularly unusual because the four rubber hood latches are intact. The part has been "NLA" for years, so Ralph generally leaves them unlatched except for photos. Note the front PTO shaft on this liquid-cooled model.

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Just as domestication of the four-legged horse revolutionized the development of ancient civilizations, Cecil and Elmer Pond’s Wheel Horse tractors revolutionized how post-World War II America cared for its suburban lawns and gardens.

From a small, neighborhood garage in South Bend, Ind., the father-and-son team developed an accessible, innovative, purpose-built, four-wheel tractor that really stood out, and whose descendants are still produced today.

This horse of a different color not only spurred generations of garden tractor designers of virtually all makes, but also captured the fancy of a group of loyalists who now meet once a year in Pennsylvania to celebrate the little red horses.

Members of the Wheel Horse Collectors Club (WHCC) met at the South Mountain Fairgrounds west of Arendtsville, Pa., in June for their seventh annual all-Wheel Horse show. “It was our largest turnout ever,” says founding president Don Kane. “We started with about 40 tractors in 1999 and had about 500 in attendance this year.” The club boasts more than 500 members from the United States, Canada and Great Britain, and the two-day show attracts hundreds of spectators and soon-to-be Wheel Horse enthusiasts.

Just horsing around

The WHCC was formed by a group of enthusiasts who made connections via the Internet. “My son Jeff put together a website devoted to Wheel Horse tractors as part of his senior project,” Don explains proudly. “Many of us (who visited the site) then became friends and decided to have a little show in 1999.” Shortly after, the friends incorporated as the WHCC.

Chris Sutton traveled to the ’05 show from Brighton, Sussex, in the U.K., and though he didn’t haul a tractor with him this year, doing so in the future isn’t out of the question. “I am a Wheel Horse fanatic, really,” Chris explains with a wink. “I even have some U.K.-unique stuff that was built at the plant in Belgium.”

Dan Messinger, East Berlin, Pa., discovered that restoring Wheel Horses was a great way to stay connected to his son Dustin when he hit his early teens. “The tractors gave us a way to communicate,” Dan says. “And the time we spent together was quality time.” Sixteen years later, Dustin is grown and on his own, but the father-and-son team still mess around with Wheel Horse tractors. A beautifully restored Model 401 with 32-inch front-mounted sickle bar mower really made their display shine at South Mountain.



Bruce Lauer, Canton, Ohio, and son Anthony have been collecting Wheel Horse equipment for 11 years. “We brought our 1963 Model 603 because it was a rare transitional model,” Bruce explains as he points out some of the tractor’s unique features. “This was an entry-level tractor pieced together with remaining parts from older models.” Among the machine’s unusual characteristics is the sector-shaped steering wheel, and older style hood.

Eric Mettle, Hartville, Ohio, has also been collecting Wheel Horse equipment for about a decade, although he was around the machines for many more years than that. “I grew up with Wheel Horse,” Eric explains. “My dad worked at the dealership when I was a kid, and I worked there part time too.” Eric is the proud owner of a beautiful Ride-Away Senior tractor. According to Don Kane, this model represents the pinnacle of Wheel Horse collecting as it is rare and relatively difficult to find intact – particularly the models with optional fiberglass hoods from 1955-56. “An intact hood is more difficult to find than the tractor,” Eric explains.

Phillip Earle
8/31/2020 2:58:42 PM

I have a 1975 red wheel horse with Tecumsah 12Hp 48 inch cut C120 series but it will not start I've replaced coil. starter. and just bought a updated magneto ignition module for $165 I'm all up now outlay $850 and still can't get it running ? help !


Dwayne
8/3/2018 10:03:12 PM

In search of a mower deck for my 80s 312-8 wheel horse please help email dbhauck75 @gmail.com


Dwayne
8/3/2018 10:02:04 PM

In need of mower deck for 312-8 wheel horse




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