Last fall, while participating in parades at Historic Prairie Village near Madison, S.D., I was intrigued by a strange-looking garden tractor. Between parades, I wandered around the grounds looking at all the nicely finished and unusual pieces on display, finally finding Bob Adamek, Braham, Minn., who owns the garden tractor I’d seen, a 1952 Standard Twin Convertible.
In operation from the 1930s to the 1950s, Standard Engine Co., Minneapolis, has an interesting and rather convoluted history. The Standard line included the 3-1/2 hp Standard Twin and the Viking Twin, a high-quality 2-cylinder garden tractor. The Viking was built by a sister company, Allied Motors Corp., Minneapolis. It would appear that much of the technology proven in the Viking — 2 cylinders, 5 hp, two speeds and reverse — was also used in the Twin.
Initially a builder of small engines, Standard launched Allied Motors in 1929 to build garden tractors. Some believe the subsidiary was created to limit Standard’s liability should things go wrong, as well as establish a place to sell Standard engines. Viking left the Standard line-up in the 1930s. By then, Standard was comfortably established. Allied Motors ceased production in 1942 and all machine work and castings were then done in-house. Carburetors, magnetos and other parts were provided by external vendors. Allied rallied briefly after the war, resuming tractor production for a short time.
As time went on, more units were added to the line, including the Monarch, a 3-1/2 hp unit, and the Walsh (via Walsh Garden Tractor Co.), with a 2-1/2 hp engine, creating a line with a range spanning 2-1/2 to 5 hp — still not broad by today’s standards.
These garden tractors were all similar, 2-wheel units with the engine in front for balance. Most of the line’s implements were rear-mounted, but Standard also offered a front-mounted reel, sickle mower and blade. With simple adjustments, the Twin Convertible could be converted from a steerable sulky to a walk-behind unit. The Twin weighed more than 600 pounds. The next one down weighed 400 pounds, and the smallest unit, the Walsh, weighed 350. None of these engines are anything you’d pick up and toss into the back of a pickup!
Slow, but still better than a horse
Standard offered several attachments, including a cultivator, plow and multiple drag/disc setups and mower units. Plowing was touted as a viable option with the Standard Twin. The company claimed that you could work all day on one tank of gas, a pretty impressive feat as the Twin’s fuel tank does not seem that large. Still, you’d have to walk right smartly (top speed, 3 mph) to get 2 or 3 acres plowed in one day with a single 10-inch bottom. Other units were offered with either a 7- or 8-inch bottom. Plowing would be tedious, one would think. Still, as opposed to horses, you would not have to shovel feed in one end and fertilizer out the other in order to plow!
Innovative engine design
The Twin’s 2-cylinder engine is impressive even by today’s standards. It was a rather typical flathead, but it did have Timken tapered roller bearings on each end of the crankshaft, ensuring less friction as well as longer life. The unit’s crank is heavily counterweighted, as both pistons arrive at the top at the same time, similar to the design of an 18-36 Hart-Parr tractor.
The rig’s connecting rods have dippers; oil is pumped to troughs in the pan’s false bottom. The resultant splashing oils the rest of the engine’s vitals. The manufacturer strongly suggested that the oil pan be removed and washed now and then: Remember, there were no full-flow filters then. As a side note, Chevrolet oiled its connecting rods on 6-cylinder engines up into the 1950s in the same manner. It worked well so long as you didn’t lug the engine, as rpms were needed to force oil into the bottom end of the connecting rods. My well rig employs a 1952 Chevy 6-cylinder and it has worked well with this system, even though often there is very little oil pressure, as the engine runs from 3 to 15 pounds, depending on how hot it is.
Unusual brake system
Another interesting feature of this tractor is its braking system. Apply one brake and the other wheel travels twice as fast. That’s no problem on a tractor. But with the operator sitting on the trailing unit on the Twin Convertible, a pinch could result if he didn’t pay attention on a faster-than-anticipated turn at the end of the field. Reverse was engaged via a small gear case bolted on the side of the transmission, allowing for a gear change to back up at about 0.2 mph. It was probably not a heavily used feature.
Planter units, up to three rows, could be set on the tool bar and seed of almost any size could be accommodated. Cultivating was made easier by high clearance beneath the unit, as well as the ease with which wheels could be set at various widths to accommodate, for instance, plants on raised beds.
The final Standard Twin came off the line in 1959. Practically speaking, Standard ceased to exist in the 1950s, trying to stay alive by building electric fence posts and boat trailers. Deere & Co. did not enter the garden tractor market until the 1960s. That created plenty of room for others to stay in the game. Possibly we were not ready for this tractor in the early 1950s, although Gravely had been producing its Model L since the late 1930s. So it goes. FC
For more information: Bob Adamek, 1236 Royal Heights Lane, Braham, MN 55006; (320) 396-3645.
Jim and Joan Lacey operate Little Village Farm, a museum of farm collectibles housed in 10 buildings at their home near Dell Rapids, S.D. Contact them at (605) 428-5979.