Letters and Miscellanies

Farm Implement Garden Tractor

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To David Baas, author of Vintage Garden Tractors, 2nd Edition:

I received a copy of your book as a Christmas present, and am writing this on the assumption you would be interested in some more information about a tractor shown on page 20. You refer to it as a Busy Bee, but it is really a Farm Implement with a Busy Bee engine.

The engine shown is a 5 HP Busy Bee made by Gladden Products Corp., Glendale, Calif. They manufactured two engines: a Model BB, a vertical cylinder rated at 2-1/2 to 4-1/3 HP (depending on RPM), and the Model AB, a horizontal cylinder rated at 3 to 6 HP at 1,800 to 3,000 RPM - 5 HP at 2,000 RPM. At first the engines were designed and built by Kinner Motors, manufacturers of aircraft engines for 27 years. Gladden Products Corp. was the successor to Kinner, and their main product was the midsized Mustang motorcycle. My Model AB engine has an aluminum gas tank and shroud, but I have seen others with steel tanks and shrouds. It has a two-piece cast aluminum crankcase and head, and the bolt-on cylinder is cast iron. The crank bearing and mains are pressure lubricated, and it has an air vane governor. I think that Gladden was out of business by the mid-1950s, but don't know that for a fact.

Original decals on the tractor itself say it was manufactured by the U.S. Tractor & Engineering Co., but there is no address. I have a flyer from the Farm Implement Co., San Francisco, Calif., describing the tractor and stating the price was "$575 delivered anywhere in California." Perhaps they were just an advertising agency, or maybe the fabricator/distributor.

I first saw one of these little tractors running in a very tight circle without a driver at the California State Fair in the late 1940s. I was about 12 at the time and thought it would be really nice to have one - my dad didn't think it was necessary.

In the mid-1970s, a junk man pulled into my ranch yard looking for scrap metal; I recognized the frame of a Farm Implement on his truck and traded him for it with two or three times its weight in scrap iron. He told me who he got it from and I was able to acquire the engine. A decal was still intact and I took a photo of it that I later used to create an accurate duplicate.

I made it run in the 1970s when my son was about 12. It just sat around until a couple of years ago when I cleaned it up and rebuilt the engine, painted the frame and wheels, polished the aluminum, and put on new tires.

It's a classy-looking thing, but it is easy to explain why there aren't many around - it's a poorly designed machine! It has only one forward speed; reverse is a friction drive that works poorly; because the engine tilts to tighten the belts (clutch), you have to pull the starting rope from the opposite side and can't reach the choke. This one has an air vane governor that is less than good. The driver's left foot rests in the flow of hot air coming from the engine's cooling fan - it gets hot!

I almost added a transmission and a better clutching system, but decided to keep it original; unfortunately, I didn't have the original fenders and made some that serve the purpose. They are very necessary for safety reasons, as it uses open chains for the final speed reduction.

Don Winn, a garden tractor collector from Stockton, Calif., had a couple of these tractors, and gave me copies of the engine and tractor flyers. Another friend searched the Internet and came up with the information about Kinner Motors, Gladden Products Corp., and the Mustang motorcycles. I hope this information is helpful.

Don Wood
2900 Camino Tassajara
Danville, CA 94506
(925) 736-8216