Lessons Learned

Collector says Kinkade collection is about more than machinery

| January 2005

For some, history is something contained in library books. For Mark Bookout, though, history is found in old iron and primitive machines. Mark, who collects Kinkade garden tractors, is intrigued by machinery and the tales it tells.

"Most collectors focus on the machine," he admits. "For me, though, the historical environment becomes much more important than the machine itself. For instance, I never learned about the Agricultural Depression (1920-21) in my education."

In the course of researching the Kinkade line, which was manufactured from 1921 to 1952 in Minneapolis, Minn., by American Farm Machinery Co., Mark came to realize the lowly garden tractor's historical significance in the 1920s. "These garden tractors fed us," he says. "They made the industrial revolution possible. The guy working in the city couldn't have been there unless there was food for him. After World War I, because of the migration of young people to the city, there was a great reduction of affordable manpower on the farm."

Developed within this context, the Kinkade was a simple, clever machine. All Kinkade garden tractors were one-wheeled, one-cylinder, air-cooled cultivating tractors. What put them in a class apart was the engine's location: It was mounted inside a hollow steel wheel. Patented in 1921, that unique design made Kinkade a market leader for years.

"Putting the motor inside the wheel puts the center of gravity real low," Mark explains, "right over where you're trying to get a grip." The downside? "It put the engine right in the middle of the dirt, and the wheel's action on the soil would have caused a lot of dirt to fly around," he notes. "And the first engine was not well sealed."

As an agricultural implement used by often non-mechanical people, Mark says, the Kinkade-which needed frequent maintenance-was "a total disaster." And in comparison to today's garden tractors, the early models from the 1920s seem quite primitive. But in its prime, Kinkade was a player.