In 1948, Albert Scholtens bought a new Grand Haven Model CC garden tractor (serial No. 910). Seventy years later, the garden tractor remains in the same family, although it is now owned by Albert's son, Sam.
Sam's grandfather and father raised onions in "the Grant muck" — once a marsh near Grant, Michigan, drained to create farmland — for many years using the Grand Haven for cultivating and other tasks. "Before that, Dad used a Bolens Huski walk-behind," Sam says. "He was happy when he got something he could sit on."
The small tractor was designed by Ben Poll in 1941. He and his two brothers owned Holland Transplanter Co., Holland, Michigan, where a few tractors were built. Prior to World War II, Grand Haven Stamped Products (now GHSP) bought the rights to the tractor. The Grand Haven, Michigan, metal-stamping plant manufactured about 1,400 of them between 1946 and 1953.
A photo of Albert shows the GH in hi-crop configuration. A "duster" attachment on the rear was used to spread a powdered insecticide on plants. Dave Mitteer, an engineer at GHSP, said the company never sold rear wheels like those shown in the photo.
In fact, the wheels were custom-built for Albert, who needed a way to elevate the tractor. With 4:00x36 Firestone Implement tires, the wheels have flat centers made from 1/4-inch diamond plate. Spacers 8-1/2 inches wide helped the wheels clear the ends of the drive shafts. Modified front spindles kept the tractor level. Ingenuity was, and remains, a common trait among farmers. Sam still has these wheels and spindles in storage.
Building a collection
In 2008, Sam decided to get serious about restoring the old Grand Haven. He replaced the tired 8 hp Briggs and Stratton Model ZZ engine with a newer 10 hp Briggs and Stratton and repainted the tractor. That was the beginning of a collection of Grand Haven tractors that now numbers seven. The original garden tractor is one of four in Sam's collection that is in running condition.
The engine on Model AV8 (serial No. 152) is painted olive drab. Its serial number does not match the one on the tractor's ID tag. At some point, Sam speculates, it may have seen use in a military application.
The other two are Grand Haven BC models. One (serial No. 203) has a mounted front blade. Sam and a friend, Milt Barr of Grant Welding, built the reproduction blade assembly based on illustrations in original Grand Haven promotional material. The other Model BC is serial No. 418.
Foot-operated brakes on these tractors are located on each axle. On sharp turns, one brake is applied automatically. Rods run from the brakes forward and the ends extend upward through brackets on the steering-link assembly. When the steering bar is moved far enough to one side, the rod is pulled and the brake is actuated on that side. The power then goes to the other wheel and the Grand Haven becomes a variation of a zero-turn tractor.
At a May 2018 auction, Sam bought three more Grand Haven tractors: a Model CC (serial No. 807), Model BC (serial No. 319) and Model AV8 (serial No. 132). The three were mostly complete, but not in running condition. The kneeaction front suspension and steering components are seized on the Model CC. The AV8 has a Wisconsin engine. For ease of moving and storage, Sam uses a forklift to place them in his barn.
Deciphering tractors' secrets
Some early Grand Haven tractors were equipped with Briggs and Stratton engines; others had Wisconsin engines. How did the company determine which tractor would have which engine? According to Dave Mitteer, it was just luck of the draw. Whatever brand of engine was next on the storage rack went into the tractor being assembled.
Model AV8 tractors have a Ford Model A transmission connected to a narrowed A rear end. At some point, Ford Motor Co. cut off supply of parts to GHSP. After that, Grand Haven tractors were equipped with a 3-speed Clark transaxle produced in Buchanan, Michigan. That unit was also used on other makes of small tractors. Sam found a PTO unit from a Massey-Harris Pony and mounted it on the rear of one of his tractors.
The large, half-link drive chains on the early tractors had 42 links. Even if he could locate the hard-to-find chain, Sam figured it would be an expensive proposition to replace the worn chains.
After much searching, he found CA620 conveyor chain would work — almost. The tractor's upper sprockets were shot, so he had new ones made at a machine shop. Then, he found the teeth on the lower sprockets were just a little too wide and had to have a few thousandths removed on a lathe. After that modification, the chain worked fine.
With the introduction of the CC models, rear chain guards were added along with 78-link, #60 drive chains.
Unique connection to designer
Now 75, Sam lives on 40 acres of land his grandfather bought in 1926. The land was used as a base camp while the family farmed onions about 3 miles away near Rice Lake. Sam's earliest recollection of being on the Grand Haven tractor was when he cultivated the 1/2-acre seed-onion patch. "I was only about 6 or 7 at the time," he says. "I could hardly lift the cultivator and I wasn't sure if I could pull the rope if I ever stalled it."
A chance encounter 30 years later is a unique addition to Sam's Grand Haven history. When he was growing celery in 1979-80, he visited Holland Transplanter Co. to buy parts for the family's 1930s-era transplanter. The person assisting him at the counter was Ben Poll, the tractor's designer. When Ben learned that Sam was using his Grand Haven to cultivate celery, he launched into a discussion about the tractor's development.
Over the years, improvements were made on the Grand Haven tractors, including moveable control pedals. Vern Markley, GHSP sales engineer who eventually became company president, is credited with designing adjustable pedals for the tractors. The modification was driven by feedback from customers' wives, who complained they could not reach the pedals and they wanted to be able to drive them.
The Grand Haven heritage
A Jan. 1, 1948, price sheet listed the retail price for a Model CC tractor at $595 (about $6,221 today). Several implements were offered: A 6-row cultivator (less clamps, tool holders and shovels), $87; snow plow, $45; and fertilizer attachment (complete with tubes), $80.
A full line of attachments was available for Grand Haven tractors. The offering also included a Model EC3 high-clearance nursery tractor. An undated price sheet lists a Model CC2 four-wheel tractor and a Model DC2 tricycle-type tractor, each priced at $645. A three-wheel conversion kit was priced at $15; a combination belt pulley and PTO cost $98.50.
"Many exclusive features make the Grand Haven outstanding," promotional material boasted. "Rear engine mounting permits clear, unobstructed vision ahead and below for better, closer cultivation — weight is concentrated at the proper point for better traction. Direct action steering gives quicker response to the cultivating tools than is obtained by conventional type steering."
A GHSP team restored a Model BC tractor in 2007 for display at the plant. The Model BC tractor was also displayed at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven for more than 10 years, and was featured in the city's annual Coast Guard Festival parade. GHSP remains proud of the company's history with the small tractors.
Strategic Services Specialist Cathy Collins has worked at GHSP for 18 years. When she was hired, the serial numbers of about 20 tractors were on file. Being inquisitive, with collectors seeking tractor information, her list has expanded to 102 serial numbers. A total of 83 have been identified by model; 19 are "orphans," missing their serial number plates. The lowest serial number on her list is 132 (it is one of Sam's) and the highest is 1,437. She is always ready to add more to her list. FC
For more information: Sam Scholtens, 4531 E. 120th St., Grant, MI 49327; (616) 293-7244; email: email@example.com.
Cathy Collins, GHSP, (616) 847-8597; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance writer Jerry Mattson has written several articles on both full-size and smaller lawn and garden tractors. Email him at email@example.com.