Historic Golf Course Mowers: A 1939 Toro Tractor

A 1939 Toro tractor evokes the early days of destination resort golf courses and golf course maintenance equipment.

| August 2010

The U.S. has so many different landforms and climates that it took early tractor manufacturers quite some time to settle on the basic tractor categories we know today. The standard tractor continued to be made even as the row-crop type became predominant in many parts of the country. Tracked tractors appeared early and are still being built to the same formula. Variations of the common versions – like orchards or high crops – are highly prized by collectors.

At one time it seemed that almost every enthusiastic entrepreneur in the agricultural sector tried to manufacture and sell his vision of what he thought farmers needed. Although almost all such efforts eventually failed, some of the machines that reached production have survived. The names of the defunct companies and their products often sound exotic to our modern ears. And, boy, are they interesting!

Carving out a niche 

Companies that still thrive in other fields of endeavor periodically dabbled in tractor production. Sometimes it was in an attempt to compete in the mainstream farm machinery market, and sometimes it was an attempt to meet a need in a “niche market,” an extremely small part of a market overlooked by other manufacturers.

One of those companies was Toro. Created as the Toro Motor Co. in 1914 to build tractor motors, its first customer was the Bull Tractor Co. In 1919, it introduced the To-Ro cultivator. The game of golf was gaining in popularity in the early 20th century, and in 1921, Toro was one of the first companies to fasten gangs of reel mowers to one of its power units to maintain golf courses. From that point on, Toro was a leader in lawn maintenance products: first commercially and then in residential applications.

Until Toro got involved in golf course maintenance there is no record of any special tractor made to handle gangs of mowers. Model T Fords were sometimes modified for that purpose but were only marginally successful because considerable power was needed and the T’s somewhat fragile drive train was taxed beyond its capacity. Toro developed a specialized power source and continued to improve it as the years went by. By the late 1930s, Toro pretty much owned the golf course maintenance equipment and tractor niche market.

Birth of the resort 

Meanwhile, destination resorts also began to grow in popularity. Increasing numbers of people had the resources to vacation in luxurious, out-of-the-way places created for that purpose. One of the earliest in the western U.S. was Sun Valley, Idaho, America’s first wintertime destination resort, created by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1936. Before long, visitors also traveled there in the summer months and a professional golf course was built to help entertain them. In 1939 the resort purchased its first golf course maintenance tractor – a 1939 Toro Model AL.