Uncommon Garden Tractor Collection

A Minnesota man assembles a set of rare and unusual garden tractors.

| September 2015

Ron Gittins’ goal in life is to procure unusual old iron. By most accounts, he’s achieved his goal. Between the garden tractors he uses and those he restores, he’s built a collection of 20 rigs – and there’s nothing common in the mix.

Ron, who lives in Buffalo, Minnesota, launched his collection innocently enough. While sifting through an online auction in April 2005, looking for parts for his 1994 Wheel Horse 520-H garden tractor, he saw something unusual. “I found a 1971 Wheel Horse Bronco garden tractor with two 8 hp Kohler engines,” he says. “I decided I had to have it, and that’s the one that started my collection.”

The out-of-the-ordinary Bronco (built by Wheel Horse Products Co., South Bend, Indiana) was a good fit for a man with a preference for what he refers to as “the odd stuff.” And having worked on a farm as a kid, Ron found that relics like the Bronco are a tangible link to days gone by.

The Bronco’s front engine has an electric start that powers a centrifugal clutch. “When that engages,” Ron says, “it starts the front engine, which runs the hydro transmission. You can have one or both engines running at any given time, but to move the tractor, the rear engine must be running.”

David Bradley Tri-Trac

Ron’s introduction to his 1955 David Bradley Tri-Trac also had a certain random quality. His first glimpse of the unit, which was built by David Bradley Equipment Co., Bradley, Illinois, for Sears, Roebuck & Co., was in reprinted manuals he found online. “When I saw those line drawings,” he says, “I had to have one.” After finding one advertised online, he hooked a 16-foot enclosed trailer onto his Dodge 3/4-ton pickup and set out for California, Kentucky.

When Ron’s Tri-Trac was built in 1954, it was sold by Sears for $495 (about $4,320 today). “I heard it took them seven years to sell all of them, because the Tri-Trac was a 3-wheeled machine, and the people they were intended for – small farmers mostly – felt that it was a little tippy. And because of the three wheels, it is. Otherwise, it drives very well and is easy to turn. I use mine just for shows, although it does run.”