National Summer Tractor Show: A Gaggle of Garden Tractors

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Below: This 1924 Shaw Du-All T-25 was a first-year model. “I’m only aware of six or eight others,” says owner Joe Franklin. “They’re not real common.” To change speeds on the 2-speed tractor, you’d change the length of the chain.
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Left: Mike Harper, Macomb, Ill., showed a pair of Red E power cultivators produced by Pioneer Manufacturing Co., Milwaukee. The Red E (far left) was a gear-driven garden tractor with no belts or chains. This original unit dates to the 1930s; the unit at left, to 1927. The Red E used Model T Ford parts: pistons, valves, springs and carburetor, with a flywheel on the front. The line was produced in the 1920s and ‘30s for use on truck farms. The appeal for Mike? “I like garden tractors because they’re still cheaper to buy, they’re easier to handle and work on,” he says.
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Left: A 1951 3 hp Choremaster Model C. Part of Joe Franklin’s collection, the piece includes a sickle bar mower that moves in two directions. Right: Joe’s 1950s-vintage Chain Tred Model C, built in Portland, Ore. “Actually, to me it looks worthless. But it runs great. And I have a blade for it. You could push snow with it,” Joe said wistfully, on a day last July when temperatures neared the century mark.
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Above: Don Miller and his son, Byron, with their Agro-Util. The tractor has a 2-speed belt; top speed is 3 mph.
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Right: Gene Niesen’s Amigo Model 99. Produced by Demco, Dowagiac, Mich., the 1960s-vintage unit has a 6 hp Lauson engine and hydrostatic transmission. “It’s a real smooth-running tractor,” Gene says.
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Left: The David Bradley Fred Lewis’ father bought in 1949 generated a revenue stream for Fred. “I plowed gardens all through high school,” he recalls. “I got $2 or $3 a garden.”
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Left: A rare pair owned by C.K. Curtiss. What’s believed to be a 1970s-era Buffalo prototype on left. Just 28 were shipped to Central America, C.K. says. The Schield Two-Way tractor, circa 1980, that never went into production.

If it’s the odd and unique you crave, take in a show put on by the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America. When the group held its annual gathering last July at the Central Hawkeye Gas Engine & Tractor Show at Waukee, Iowa, rare units came from all over the Midwest. Even those in the hobby remain amazed by what they find at shows.

“I don’t know if I ever go to a show that I don’t see something new, something I’ve never seen before,” says Joe Franklin, Dixon, Ill.

Joe displayed a 1924 Shaw Du-All T-25, a family piece he brought back from the grave. “Dad got it in the 1940s, probably at a junkyard,” Joe recalls. “Later, it was dumped in a hole in the woods behind our place.” As time passed, loads of dirt buried the Shaw. Years later, Joe happened to remember the old Shaw.

After exhuming the Shaw, Joe discovered the engine was missing. Three years passed before he could put his hands on a 1924 Briggs & Stratton Model PB engine. Then restoration began in earnest. All the cast iron was intact, but most of the steel had to be replaced. The unit’s wooden handles are a particularly nice touch: Joe got them from a relative of the Shaw family.

In addition to garden tractors, Joe also collects planters, outboard mowers, chainsaws and blacksmith tools. “Show me something that weighs a lot,” he says with a smile, “and I’ll collect it.”

C.K. Curtiss, Dallas, showed an unusual pair: a 10 hp Buffalo said to be a prototype, and a Schield Two-Way tractor that never went into production.

The Buffalo was designed for export to missions in Central America. Because Kohler light plants were then common in Central America, the Buffalo was designed with a Kohler engine that could utilize the same parts. The rear wheels were designed with a “boot” to accommodate tires from literally any old truck, again maximizing replacement options in an underdeveloped area.

The Two-Way, with a 23 hp Kubota engine, was designed to operate in two directions. With hydrostatic drive tracks and turret turnaround, simply remove four bolts, move the seat and steering wheel, and back she goes.

Don Miller, Bentwater, Mich., and his son, Byron, showed what may be a related piece: an Agro-Util, produced in the 1970s, and also intended for export to missions in the southern hemisphere. Originally intended as a production pattern model, Don’s Util was little more than a pile of pieces when he got it. Perhaps 50 were produced; only six made it to South America. The rest were sold at auction.

A collector for 10 years, Don is attracted to rare pieces, but he likes them all. “I have 200 garden tractors,” he says. “Garden tractors are easier to haul than full-size tractors, and we can put a show on all by ourselves right in the middle of a big show.”

Fred Lewis, Pleasant Hill, Mo., knew the history of his exhibit: a 1948 David Bradley. After all, he accompanied his father when he originally bought the unit in 1949. “We looked at this one and one at Montgomery Ward,” Fred recalls. “The Ward’s unit had little wheels; we weren’t impressed. We got the Sears (for $169.98: Fred has the receipt), and I’ve been glad ever since.”

Using the David Bradley, Fred plowed gardens for hire all through high school. Then his dad upgraded to a rototiller, and the David Bradley was abandoned to a shed until four years ago, when Fred restored it. “The Briggs engine is hard to find, so I rebuilt the original engine and put it back on,” he says. “It’s fun to play with something you can work on in the basement in the winter.”

Gene Niesen, Roxbury, Wis., also enjoys the ease of working on garden tractors. “It takes more time to tear them apart and get them to look right than it does to get them running,” he says. “These engines are not complicated: If it runs good and doesn’t smoke, that’s all you need.”

For more information: Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America, c/o Jim Cunzenheim Jr., 412 W. Chestnut, Pardeeville, Wis., 53954; (608) 429-4520; e-mail: 

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