Vaughan Tractor a Treasured Heirloom

Man restores Vaughan garden tractor that his father gave to him in 1971.

| April 2015

I think Dad bought the little walk-behind garden crawler tractor in 1955 or ’56. The Japanese were truck-farming the Redmond, Washington valley, then (it has since been mostly paved over) and I remember riding over there in the pickup truck with Dad. While Dad spoke with some of the men, I picked up handfuls of rich, black loamy soil.

The next thing I knew, we had the Vaughan tractor in our garden. It came with a plow, cultivator, harrow and disc, though I have lost the disc over the years. Dad used the tractor to plow his gardens. In 1971, he gave it to me to plow my gardens.

I remember an old-timer watching Dad plow with the Vaughan. He said that the outfit did about the same amount of work that a horse would do. My sister, brothers and I would stand next to the furrow where Dad was plowing. When the tractor came by us and we felt the exhaust hit us in the chest, we would fall backward as if the exhaust was strong enough to knock us off our feet. The engine could make some awesome smoke rings, too.

Series launched in 1936

Vaughan Motor Co., Portland, Oregon, apparently began making walk-behind garden tractors in 1921, with the water-cooled Model K. The company began producing air-cooled models in 1932, with the letter designation “S.” My reprinted instruction manual and partial parts list covers Model W and Model WS tractors.

My tractor, technically called a Flex-Tred Tractor, is a Model WS. The WS went into production in 1936, beginning with serial number 6049. The identification plate on my tractor is stamped “8690.” I believe it was built in the late 1930s. Model WS tractors have two steering levers on the handle; Model S and Model W tractors have just one lever. The two levers correspond to four clutches, two for the right track and two for the left track.

In addition to forward and reverse modes, the Model WS can complete a neutral steer (driving one track forward and the other in reverse). That maneuver, I learned, should be done at slow speed and on smooth ground, as the operator needs to be nimble of foot to keep up with the swinging 5-foot handles.