The Sears Suburban Goes Urban

With a new outlook on life, a 1976 Sears Suburban garden tractor is back in business.

| April 2017

For those dwelling in urban areas, space can limit what kind of equipment you may have, and maintaining such property can require extensive personal time just to keep things in order. I had been having just such reflections on the farm-sized equipment at our farm in Kansas and found my solution to be that very kind of equipment – except on a much smaller scale.

‘Tractor for the suburban farm’

On a spring afternoon in the late 1980s, Dad and I attended a farm equipment consignment auction. The sun was setting in the west as the auctioneer hurriedly auctioned off three remaining garden tractors at the close of the sale. I recall wanting the John Deere 110 hydro. However, a Sears Suburban SS18 Twin would become my prized possession (and mental therapy for many years into the future) for the price of $260. Dad paid the cashier and instructed me to stay with his purchase until he returned with the pickup.

The Suburban tractor, manufactured by Roper under the Sears name, was available with a variety of attachments. These seem to have been marketed to small-acreage residents who chose a self-sufficient lifestyle. In period advertising, they were even marketed as a “Shortcut to Leisure.”

I had always wanted a John Deere 110 patio tractor (so named for the line’s white belly and hoods in Spruce Blue, April Yellow, Patio Red and Sunset Orange, marketed to match colors popular at the time). But the Suburban won out after I saw a vintage Sears ad that read, “The Tractor for the Suburban Farm.” As steeped as I am in all things farm-related, this struck a chord in me. Plus, the availability of more than 30 attachments (some like their full-size counterparts) – including a dump rake, front-mounted generator and chipper shredders – offered wide versatility to one piece of powered equipment.

Rescued from long neglect

After the auction, the tractor spent the next 35 years circling the 1-acre farmyard as the resident mower and towing bale trailers loaded with fallen tree limbs. About 15 years ago, it developed a stubborn traveling miss and the steering stiffened up, leading to major drivability issues. Eventually it entered a long period of disuse.

In May 2014, with my small Holsclaw utility trailer in tow, I headed to Kansas to rescue the Suburban from the weeds and eight years of neglect. By the time my interest and need were rekindled, the tractor was a complete loss by most standards. The only things that weren’t seized up were the engine, transmission and ignition switch. Disappointment settled in as the Bakelite steering tower, weakened by years of exposure to sun and moisture, shattered like a sheet of ice falling off a tin roof.