Lessons Learned

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Below: Mark Bookout’s Model K, manufactured from 1928 to 1935.
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Mark Bookout’s first generation Kinkade, manufactured 1921-23.
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Far Left: Mark Bookout with a pair of Kinkades from his collection. Left to right: Kinkade Suburbanite owned by Derek Watt, Glenmont, Md.; second generation Kinkade and first generation Kinkade, both owned by Mark Bookout.Left: Kinkade Model L, manufactured 1935-52, owned by Derek Watt.
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Mark Bookout’s second generation Kinkade, manufactured 1923-27.

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.

“They were produced in real small volumes, but in terms of
garden tractors produced at the time, Kinkade was competitive,”
Mark says. “The garden tractor industry of the twenties mirrored
the tractor industry in the teens. Many manufacturers each made a
small amount of product.” Kinkades were sold primarily in
truck-farming areas such as Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland’s
eastern shore, and near Minneapolis, where the line was built. “You
don’t see these very much out West,” Mark says.

Kinkade offered five design variations between 1921 and 1955.
The first model (Kinkade models received no formal designations
until the Model K in 1928) was produced from 1921 to about 1923. It
featured a twist-grip throttle, dog clutch, and choice of either
gear-driven magneto or battery-box ignition. It used overhead
valves, a unique feature in garden tractors of that era. It had
external oil pipelines and a separate oil tank mounted behind the
cylinder, inside the wheel.

Mark suspects that every one of the first model produced was
hand-built. The first model was primitive, he notes, but it was a
huge step up from using a hoe. “It basically replaced manual
labor,” he says. “People who had to hire labor to cultivate their
truck gardens snapped it up for $150-$180.”

The next model, produced from 1923 to 1927, likely had more
out-sourced parts and was greatly improved. It had fewer moving
parts than the first model, and featured improvements in the
carburetor, cooling system and oiling system. “The second one is
sealed better, runs faster, is more powerful and nimble,” he says.
“It’s actually pretty surprising how easy it is to run along. It
idles at 800 to 1,200 rpm. It’s not loud or obnoxious at all.” Like
the first model, this tractor was also available with either
gear-driven magneto or battery ignition.

The third model (and the first Kinkade to have formal
designation) was the Model K, produced from 1928 to 1935. “It was
an engineering marvel compared to its predecessors,” Mark says. It
used a one-piece crankcase casting, flywheel blower for cooling, a
smaller F head cylinder, and had an improved oil pump, clutch
system, drawbar attachment system, implement attaching system, air
cleaner and crankcase vent, and a Tillotson carburetor and
coupling-driven magneto.

The Kinkade Model L was produced from 1936 to 1952. Tagged by
Mark as “the big daddy of them all,” at nearly 300 pounds, the
Model L utilized advanced design features (such as valve lifters
and easy crankcase access) for air-cooled engines of 1936. All
engine parts were enclosed, and an improved blower and housing were
adopted. The clutch was more robust. It was the first of the line
to use metal handles, and the first to depart from the
grip-controlled throttle and clutch system. Some Model L’s even had
a hard rubber tire instead of pyramid lugs. The Model L was also
built under license in the U.K. during World War II.

Closing out the line with something less than triumph was the
Kinkade Suburbanite, produced from 1950 to 1952. Also sold as the
“Viking Suburbanite,” this model was a cost-cutting exercise that
reflected poorly on Kinkade’s reputation. A small, two-cycle
tractor featuring a lightweight, rubber-lugged wheel, the
Suburbanite sold for $99. “It was poorly designed,” Mark says.
“Company records indicate that many of these tractors required
frequent rebuilds of the cylinder, piston and rod components. And
it sounded like a chainsaw at full throttle when operating.” The
Suburbanite was the “homeowner’s model,” in contrast to the others,
which were intended for many years of use in commercial
applications.

“The design of the five models ranged from quite primitive to
very sophisticated,” Mark explains. Still, he says, “if you were
using a wheel hoe in 1925 to keep the weeds in your market garden
under control, and you had the option of using one of these
machines, you would take it in a second.” He recalls reading a
testimonial from a grower who raised 100 acres of onions in 1926
with only a second generation Kinkade to help. “Even with the
tractor,” Mark muses, “that would be quite a chore.”

For more information: Mark Bookout, 15090 State Route BB,
St. James, MO 65559; online at
http://web.umr.edu/˜markb/farming/gardentractors.htm

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