Wheel Horse Collectors Group Off and Running

The first-ever Wheel Horse collectors show was held in southern Pennsylvania


| August 2000



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A trio of historic tractors at the first-ever Wheel Horse Show. Center: a 1954 Wheel Horse Ride Away, which owner Dan Messinger, East Berlin, Penn., found in North Carolina. At left: Mary Pence of Houston, Ohio, on her 1947 Pond. At right: Joe Papke, White Pigeon, Mich., on his 1947 Pond, which he's owned for 30 years. The Ponds - forerunners of the Wheel Horse - were made by Elmer Pond, who constructed them from spare parts, including Ford Model A transmissions and a lot of channel iron. They had tiller steering, no hoods or brakes, and were powered by Wisconsin gasoline engines.

First-ever Wheel Horse show: It all started with the Internet.

Well, not quite. But most tractor owners at the Wheel Horse show held in southern Pennsylvania in June agreed that the magic of online communication was the driving force behind the event.

"This is the second year we've done this," said Don Kane, a longtime Wheel Horse enthusiast. "We decided it would be nice to get together, and we were going to have it at our house, but we were able to use the South Mountain Fairgrounds here at Arendtsville. My father was a Wheel Horse dealer in the '60s and '70s, so I grew up with them. My son Jeff got interested and we restored a couple of tractors together. He had a website on the Internet and this brought people together. This is actually the first exclusive Wheel Horse meet."

Don, who was born and raised and still lives in Biglerville, Perm., is a project engineer with Pfaltzgraff, the country's oldest pottery manufacturer. He is also the first president of the newly formed Wheel Horse Collectors Club, elected during an organizational meeting held at the two-day show. A dozen of the Kane family's collection of Wheel Horses ranging from a 1957 RJ 35 through a 1963 33-R and a 1967 Lawn Ranger L107 to a 1976 D-160 were on display at the fairgrounds for visitors to admire and enjoy.

One of the many Wheel Horse fans who traveled a long distance to attend the show was Eric Van Loock of Mobile, Ala. Eric, a 28-year-old pre-law student at the University of South Alabama, had his first encounter with a Wheel Horse when he was barely more than a toddler.

"My grandfather had a Wheel Horse, and I used to ride with him when I was about 3 or 4," he said. "When he got sick a few years ago, I started fixing it up and I got hooked. The Internet caused the explosion. I've learned about Wheel Horses by listening and doing research. The story is that the horse closest to the wagon wheel does the most work. Wheel Horse symbolizes strength and reliability."

Wheel Horse origins trace to the "Ride Away" tractor

Eric's research unearthed information on the early development of the Wheel Horse in South Bend, Ind., in the 1940s. It seems that Elmer Pond, a construction worker in South Bend, had been helping his brother Harold, who was building small two-wheel Walk Away tractors from auto and motorcycle parts. Following World War II, Elmer assembled some of the tractors in his two-car garage and sold them in the neighborhood.