International Harvester Cub Cadet compact garden tractors were built to last.
A 1967 Cub Cadet Model 124 owned by Dan Will, of Hopkinton, N.H. Note the plate where the optional headlights would’ve been installed, the quare fenders, which bolt to the footrest, and the grille shape, which was continued to the end of the narrow-frame line. Neither the cutsom snowplow nor the wheel weights are original Cub Cadet equipment.
These tough "titans of the turf" were the result of less than two years of intensive development and filled a significant gap in the lawn and garden equipment market. Equipped with a farm tractor transmission, differential and Kohler-made engines, the machines were clearly built to last and hold a special place in the hearts of many equipment collectors and tractor collectors.
Cub Cadet garden tractors were expensive at the time ... but they were inexpensive over time. In the original advertising campaign, IH noted that the Cub Cadet was the "most advanced compact tractor of its day."
No doubt that was true, but they remain popular to this day — thousands are still in daily service and even more are preserved in private collections.
By late 1958, IH executives recognized a potential market for a small, four wheel tractor equipped with an air cooled engine. The largely suburban post-war market demanded a multi-purpose tractor that was capable of easing lawn and garden chores year round. While the Farmall Cub was considered an ideal choice to fill the niche, the popular farm tractor was far more expensive than the $500 price that successfully sold other garden tractor brands.
As a result, by mid-1959, IH designers envisioned the Cub Cadet garden tractor as the "Cubette." The tractor would sport a 7 hp Kohler engine, an off-center disc clutch, all-gear transmission and differential borrowed from the Farmall Cub, as well as cam and follower steering. In early 1960, IH engineers completed designs for a high-quality machine that could withstand the rigors of heavy use and ground-engaging implements.
By June 1960, three experimental Cubette tractors were built and tested exhaustively. The engineers concluded that these Cubettes performed as well as or better than the competitive models in all tests, and moved forward with the project.
Encouraged by early tests, IH built 10 prototypes in October 1960. Six of these tractors were placed in the hands of potential customers for testing, two were used for implement development, one was used for owner and service manual production and the last was used for photographs to generate marketing materials.
Paul Bell of Louisville, Ky., owns prototype number 409. The locations of the other prototypes remain a mystery.
The company then built 25 pre-production Cub Cadet (note the name change) tractors in November 1960. These machines were sent to potential customers in the field, each slated for 50 hours of testing with mowers and/or blades. These pre-production field-test machines had consecutive serial numbers beginning with 501.
Pre-production field-test Cub Cadets with serial nos. 510, 515, 516, 518 and 520 are owned by Paul Bell, James Bowen of Amory, Miss.; Herb Kroger of Deputy, Ind.; Jim Chabot of Norton, Mass., and Ken Kieger of Suffolk, Va., respectively.
Pre-production Cub Cadets with serial nos. 526 through 589 were produced before the end of 1960 to work out bugs in the assembly line and to establish piece prices for the line workers. Paul Bell recently obtained a Cub Cadet with serial no. 556, but the whereabouts of the others are currently unknown.
Regular Cub Cadet production began in January 1961 with serial no. 590. IH conservatively projected initial annual demand for the machines to be in the 5,000-10,000 range. Lucky for IH, those numbers were seriously underestimated. In fact, just less than 49,000 units were actually delivered in the first two years of production, and about 65,000 units were sold by late 1963.
"The product had been a greater success than anyone had dreamed of," Harold Schramm says when describing IH's entry into the lawn and garden tractor market. As a young engineer for IH, Harold designed the Cub Cadet’s drive-line from the engine to the transmission input shaft.
This initial Cub Cadet – built from 1960-1963 – is called the "original" by enthusiasts today. To identify subsequent models, IH attached model numbers to the Cub Cadet name and regularly changed the numbers with new line introductions.
By March 1963, Harold and his team had designed a new, improved line of Cub Cadets. While there was no pressure from the top to change the highly successful original, Harold had worked to incorporate a shaft-powered mower drive into the design to eliminate the mule belt, which connected the mower to the PTO on the front of the engine.
"We wanted to bring the frame up to make more clearance for the mower," Harold explains about why he designed a new full-length, ladder-type frame with parallel rails. This frame bolted to either side of the transmission case above the axle housings instead of just to the front of the transmission.
That single change strengthened the frame-to-transaxle connection and allowed the 7-hp engine to be mounted low enough that the crankshaft aligned directly with the clutch and drive shaft. The clutch was no longer off-center, thus IH could eliminate a belt from the drive train.
"The original Cadet met the requirements for a tractor as far as design specifications were concerned," Harold says, "However, the belt drive detracted from the feeling that this was a true tractor."
The IH team convinced Kohler to change its 10-hp engine's mounting base so that it would fit between the new frame rails. Add styling changes – including a new grille, hood and brake system – and in late 1963, the Cub Cadet models 70 and 100 were released – ironically without the shaft-driven mower, which proved too expensive for most consumers.
In July 1965, IH replaced the Model 70 with the Model 71, the Model 100 with the Model 102, and introduced a new 12-hp Model 122. The new models retained the narrow frame, but styling changes included a new hood and grille for all three versions. The Model 102 and Model 122 also received two-piece angular fenders that bolted to the footrests as standard equipment. Fenders for the Model 71 were optional and resembled the older, rounded two-piece design.
By fall 1965, IH added the Model 123 to its garden tractor line. This 12-hp tractor was the first with a hydrostatic drive. The Model 123 had a Sunstrand Co. hydro system coupled to the Cadet's differential through a reduction gear. The cast iron transmission case served as the hydraulic fluid reservoir.
International Harvester introduced a new line in 1967, with a modified hood, instrument panel and grille. A quick-attach system for mounting implements was the key addition to the line. The Model 72 replaced the Model 71, while Model 104 and Model 124 replaced the gear-driven 102 and 122 models. The Model 125 replaced Model 123, and the Model 105 was added as a 10-hp hydrostatic version. Again, fenders were standard equipment on all but the Model 72.
Additionally, Cub Cadet models 73, 106, 107, 126 and 127 were introduced in 1970 to replace the 72, 104, 105, 124 and 125 models. This line featured a one-piece stamping that integrated the fenders and footrests into a single piece, and a raised panel stamped into the hood. A new 14-hp hydrostatic Model 147 was also introduced, which required frame modification to accommodate the larger-sized flywheel and blower housing of the 14-hp Kohler engine. This trend toward larger engines spelled the end of Harold Schramm’s narrow-frame design when the series was replaced in late 1971.
Harold says that the styling changes were generally made to update the Cadet's look and to call attention to the line's updated or new features. Narrow-frame Cub Cadets were introduced on a 24-month cycle, but the latest significant change to the Cub Cadet had to be completed within 20 months. Needless to say, Harold and his dedicated design group met the deadline.
After nearly a decade of narrow-frame machines, IH relied entirely on a wide-front design after 1971. "Once the fender change was made on the 73-147 line, the frame change was not difficult," Harold explains about the genesis of the wide-frame Cub Cadets. "The new, formed frame had more space and it also made the tractor look beefier."
The sixth line of Cub Cadet tractors was introduced in late 1971, and included models 86, 108, 109, 128, 129, 149 and 169. The tractors sported new hoods, grilles, instrument panels and many safety and convenience updates. Of course, the frame was wider up front to accommodate larger engines. For the first time the grille casting was painted white, and the grille was constructed of black plastic.
The gear-driven models – 86, 108, and 128 – used the Farmall Cub's transmission. The other models were hydrostatic, including the Model 169, which was the first with a 16-hp engine. All models used the original Cub Cadet's cast iron rear end and differential. The hydrostatic pumps on the two highest horsepower Cub Cadets were fitted with auxiliary ports to serve the machine’s lifting and remote hydraulic needs.
In the fall of 1974, IH introduced a new series called the Quietline. These wide-frame Cub Cadets had a new numbering scheme, rubber isolation of the engine from the frame and an enclosed engine compartment. Initially, the Quietline Series included three gear-driven units in 8-, 10- and 12-hp called the 800, 1000 and 1200, respectively. Cub Cadet Model 1250, Model 1450 and Model 1650 were the 12-, 14- and 16-hp hydrostatic models. All three still used Kohler engines. In order to remain competitive in the lower price range, IH introduced the Model 1100.
The Model 1100 was a significant deviation from the rest of the wide-frame Cub Cadets. IH dropped the Farmall Cub transaxle, opting for a less expensive four-speed Peerless brand lawn tractor transmission, which was standard for most competing models. The Model 1100 was powered by an 11-hp Briggs & Stratton engine. To further cut costs, engine compartment side panels weren't included ... which meant that it wasn’t a true Quietline, because the side panels were the main noise-abating component of the Quietline Series.
Although it wasn't planned, the 1977 design was based on what would become the last of the IH Cub Cadet lines scheduled for release two years later.
In 1979 – Cub Cadet's most profitable year – IH again introduced a significantly redesigned line of Cub Cadets. Styling included an all-enclosed engine compartment. However, the tractors were updated with safety and comfort changes, enhanced hydraulics and many more engine sizes and brands. After 19 years of yellow and white paint, IH painted the new Cub Cadets red and again changed the numbering scheme.
The red 82 Series Cub Cadets included two 8-hp gear-driven models, Model 182 and Model 282, two 11-hp gear-driven models, Model 382 and Model 482, and one 16-hp gear-driven version, Model 582. All the gear-driven tractors offered Briggs & Stratton engines, but not all had Farmall Cub transaxles.
Model 682 and Model 782 were hydrostatic and powered with 17-hp, twin-cylinder Kohler engines.
The largest tractor in the line was the 19-hp Model 982 Super garden tractor, which was based on a longer frame than the other models of the 82 Series and featured an optional Category 0 three-point hitch.
The 782 hydrostatic model was also available with an optional water-cooled, three-cylinder Kubota diesel engine, and designated the Model 782D. Not surprisingly, these tractors are highly sought after by collectors and those who want to work the machines as they were built to be used.
The last Cub Cadet built by IH was most likely a Model 782 with serial no. 694248, built in May of 1981. According to the serial numbers, IH manufactured 693,658 regular production Cub Cadets in a 21-year span. With so many out there, IH Cub Cadets make an excellent, often inexpensive collectible – not to mention a useable, heavy-duty lawn and garden tractor.
High quality notwithstanding, IH fell into deep financial trouble by late 1980, and sold the Cub Cadet line to Machine Tool & Die Co., as the Cub Cadet Corp. in 1981. Red-painted 82 Series IH Cub Cadets continued to be built by CCC for delivery to IH dealers. At the same time, CCC built yellow and white 82 Series tractors, which were sold as Cub Cadets – without IH insignia – by lawn and garden dealers.
Within a few years, CCC was dissolved and the now-exclusively yellow and white Cub Cadet was manufactured directly by MTD, which remains the case today.
None of the Farmall Cub components remain in the new Cub Cadets, but the name lives on for these titans of the turf – as does their reputation of quality, dependability, versatility and power.
From its introduction in 1961, many useful attachments were available to make the Cub Cadet even more versatile. The basic list in the early 1960s included front-, mid- and rear-mounted mowers in rotary, reel, gang, sickle-bar and flail styles. There were front-and mid-mounted grader blades, front-mounted snow throwers as well as front- and rear-mounted carriers.
Manufacturers such as Brinly-Hardy Co. and Planet Jr. made a host of gardening implements for the Cub Cadet, such as rotary tillers, moldboard plows, planters, cultivators, harrows, discs and spray rigs. Others, like Sweepster Inc., Lambert Inc., and Parker Co., made rotary brooms, floor sweepers and lawn sweepers used for everything from snow removal to parking lot sweeping, feed barn isle cleaning to yard leaf raking.
For turf care, there were many aerators, pluggers, fertilizer spreaders, rollers and rakes produced. Cub Cadet-size front-end loaders were available from Danuser Machine Works Inc., Kwik-Way Manufacturing Co. and Johnson Manufacturing Co. There was even a golf ball retriever available from the Wittek Coif Range Supply Co., and a fiberglass fender and seat attachment that converted a Cub Cadet into a golf cart.
Owners worried about processing yard and garden debris could choose from several styles of front-mounted chipper-shredders, and Onan Co. even produced a front-mounted generator so the Cub Cadet could be used to remotely power electric tools. Naturally, several manufacturers produced Cub Cadet-size trailers and carts to help with the hauling chores.
The variety of available attachments ensured that the Cub Cadet garden tractors could live up to their reputation of providing 365 days of work each year.
Because of their widespread availability, mowers, blades, carts, tillers and moldboard plows help collectors today get as much seasonal work out of their vintage Cub Cadets as possible. Searching out the more unusual attachments adds even more depth to the vintage Cub Cadet hobby. [Back]
Harold Schramm worked as an engineer for IH during 1958-1985 and was directly involved with the Cub Cadet product line for most of those years. He splits his time between his home in Downers Grove, Ill., and his place in Winamac, Ind., where he stores his fleet of vintage Cub Cadets.
Oscar “Hank” Will III is an old-iron collector and restorer who retired from farming in 1999 and from academia in 1996. He is now the editor of Grit magazine.