Garden Classics


| September 2002



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Eshelman garden tractor

When Dustin Scott of Russellville, Ohio, goes shopping for a garden tractor, he has Panzers only on his mind. When Danny McCloskey of Walton, Ind., heads out, it's 'something different' that catches his eye.

At a swap meet in May 1997 in Jones, Mich., Danny and his brother, Allen McCloskey, saw something different indeed. 'Actually, there were two of them there,' Danny recalls, 'and we'd never seen one before.' They were Eshelman garden tractors, made by the Cheston L. Eshelman Co. of Baltimore.

The brothers ended up buying one. With a hood and grille, Danny says, theirs is considered a 'Deluxe,' but despite that designation, it's rather crudely made. For starters, the frame has a lot of torch work on it, instead of more finished, fitted pieces, and there's only a simple roller chain running back to the gearbox. To go forward, the driver engages a clutch lever. There is no reverse gear; to back up, the driver pulls the clutch lever back and pushes down on a 'reverse' pedal, which sets loose 3/8-inch ball bearings in the hubs. When the bearings fall into grooves on the axle, the wheels start to turn again. 'It takes two or three seconds to change directions,' Danny says, adding the brakes work off that reverse pedal too.

The only identifications on the tractor are the name 'Eshelman' and 'Riding '56 Tractor' cast into the grille, and the number '1956' on top of the gear case, under the seat. Danny takes that to be the year the machine was made.

When the McCloskeys bought their Eshelman, it had been painted red and the paint had faded over time. As they began the restoration, they uncovered both yellow and gray paint too. In addition to repainting all the parts in yellow with red trim, they replaced the tractor's mismatched engine with a model 23 Briggs & Stratton engine, 'which is what it should be,' Danny says, and put on four new tires. The two front tires that were on the tractor when they bought it also were mismatched, giving the machine a sad and disheveled look.

Danny says the grille appears to have a broken tooth, 'but that's the way it should be.' Photos of another Eshelman product, a mini car called a 'Sportabout,' show the same grille pattern too.