As a boy, Curt Smith had dreams of grandeur. His natural inclination was set on designing, creating or modifying things. When he was 6, Curt requested a bag of mixed nails for Christmas, a most unusual gift for a youngster. But on Christmas morning he found a bag full of nails under the Christmas tree. Curt quickly went to work cutting wood and pounding pieces together using his assortment of nails. “I don’t recall making anything useful,” he says now, “but I sure had fun making stuff.”
Curt’s mind was constantly contemplating something he could create, especially things mechanical or motorized. In 1941, at age 13, he scratch-built a motor scooter. An old Briggs engine from the family’s washing machine was mounted on a 12-inch oak board (he had first rigged axles and wheels to the board’s underside). He then connected the engine to a pulley on a rear wheel with a V-belt. A simple steering mechanism with friction on the V-belt provided all the power a kid needed. “That ol’ scooter was a lot of fun,” he says.
By 1946, Curt had acquired shop tools to accommodate his growing aptitude. By then a high school student, he scratch-built a second motor scooter, this one a little more sophisticated than the first.
Curt’s first job, working at a local machine shop that specialized in farm tools, aligned neatly with his interests. During a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he worked as a mechanic and welder in a military motor pool. After completing training in television repair at Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio, he taught electronics at Mansfield (Ohio) High School for 24 years.
Today, Curt — who lives in Hayesville, Ohio — is the rare person able to envision a completed project. The idea of converting a Cub Cadet garden tractor into a wrecker was just such an instance. “I thought it would be unique to make a fully operational wrecker from a garden tractor,” he says. “I’ve always been a fan of the early Cub Cadet garden tractors built by International Harvester. They were heavy-duty with good mechanics. But I wanted something unusual, something that had not been built before. I also wanted to see how authentic I could make it.”
Curt located a garden tractor built in 1975. The tractor — a Cub Cadet Model 1200 — was in rough shape; its engine, shot beyond repair, had to be replaced. He completely disassembled the tractor and removed all rust and paint down to bare metal. Next, he stretched the frame 12 inches, accommodating a wrecker platform he fabricated and mounted on the rear. Larger 12-inch wheels and tires were installed on the rear to give the rig a realistic, brawny appearance. Front fenders salvaged from a boat trailer were decked out in chrome (the only work he didn’t do himself). All the bolts and the battery cover are polished stainless steel, giving them a chromed appearance as well.
The wrecker’s mechanical boom is raised and lowered by two hydraulic cylinders. The cable winch is powered by a 12-volt engine. The working air compressor came from a GMC motor home. “It’s equipped with a 15-foot hose so I can provide service as needed,” Curt says. He installed a fully functional oxygen/acetylene welder, jumper cables and a fire extinguisher. “I can even take a friend along on service calls, as the seat is built for two,” he says.
Finishing touches — a meticulous paint job and International Cub Cadet Model 1200 decals — set the piece apart. He even included the iconic “AAA Approved” logos, complete with a bit of a pun: “No job too small.”
The Smith Cub Cadet fleet includes two additional rigs. Curt’s 1970 Cub Cadet Model 107 has a stake rack on a bed behind the bench seat. Duals were installed to support the wide body, bed and rack. Two people can scoot about on this fancy Cadet decked out with chrome front wheel fenders and Curt’s professional paint scheme.
Curt’s third unit is a 1965 Cub Cadet Model 122. This tractor is used to transport tools or equipment in a metal-grated box at the rear. Larger rear wheels and tires were installed to support the beefed-up garden tractor. The operating compartment is covered with a canopy. Drop curtains on three sides are tucked under the canopy’s edge for use during inclement weather.
Curt loves to show off his craftsmanship. Visit a farm show in north central Ohio and there’s a good chance of seeing Curt and his custom Cadets. He’s also displayed his garden tractors at shows in Portland, Indiana, and Hickory Corners, Michigan.
Curt says his hobby is more than just a creative outlet. “I dearly love the thought processes that go into designing and building things,” he says. “I’ve felt all along that it kept my mind active during these past years. I’m fortunate to have a hobby that captured my interest outside the regular work routine for so many years.”
A hobby, he notes, also provides a smooth way to make the transition into retirement. “I encourage people to develop an interest or hobby during their active working career,” he says. “That provides motivation and purpose during retirement.” Well into his own retirement years, Curt’s opted for a slower pace. “Right now, I’m enjoying my Custom Cub Cadets,” he says. FC
For more information:
— Curt Smith, (419) 368-3039.
Freelance writer and farm toy enthusiast Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd. of Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. Email him at: email@example.com.