The Story Of A Sentimental Garden Tractor

Grand Haven garden tractor

Content Tools

Box 109, Phoenix, NY 13135

Grand Haven garden tractor #269 is a BC model, probably made in 1946. According to company records the BC was manufactured between 1946 and 1948. From 1948 to 1955, a CC model was made. The BC was powered by a Briggs &. Stratton 22 engine while the CC had an AEH Wisconsin. The tractors were sold through Allis Chalmers, Ford and Farmall dealers, and probably no more than a total of 1,000 were made.

It was in the late spring of 1982 when my neighbor, Mark Stockham, came over for a visit. At the time, I was working on an old engine, which is a hobby that doesn't interest Mark.

He said to me, 'Would you be interested in an old garden tractor? This old tractor belongs to my aunt, who is a widow in Syracuse. She is going to be selling it soon.'

Mark explained what it looked like, but it didn't make sense to me. He stated that it had two large chain drive wheels on the back of it, which led me to believe it was a homemade tractor.

'Sure, I'd like to have a look at it,' I said. 'You never know what one will find in other people's back yards. I never pass up an opportunity to look, anyway.' I stopped working on my project and cleaned up a bit, while Mark called his aunt to tell her we were on our way to see her.

On arrival, Mark introduced me to his aunt, Mrs. Edna Bonoffski. She was a very pleasant woman to chat with. She led us out behind her house where her tractor was, and uncovered it to show me the whole unit. I sure was amazed at what I saw. It had a rear Briggs &. Stratton 6 HP engine, with a Clark transmission3 speed, and two large chain driven wheels.

I asked her the make of the engine. She replied, 'I don't know too much about the tractor. My husband purchased it from a Farmall dealer in Syracuse several years ago. It was his pride and joy.'

From a distance it looked like a homemade tractor, but as I studied the uniqueness of how it was built, I then knew it was not homemade. I also noticed a manufactured plate riveted to the frame work. It read: 'GH Tractor Model B C serial #269 Grand Haven Michigan.' By that time I was really interested. I asked Mrs. Bonoffski about the last time it had been running. She said it hadn't run since her husband passed away three years before. I then asked if Mark and I could try and get it started. She said, 'Sure, go ahead, but I don't know too much about it.' Mark and I went to get some gas and oil, and an hour later we had the old girl purring.

The more I looked at this strange machine, the more interested I became, and realized what a show piece it would make. I had no idea of its value. It was getting late in the day, so Mark and I left for home with an understanding that I was serious about buying, and that when Mrs. Bonoffski decided on a price, she was to call me.

A few weeks later I received a phone call from Mark's aunt and we agreed on a price for the tractor. That weekend, I hitched the trailer to my car, picked up Mark, and headed to Syracuse. On the way, I said to Mark, 'You know, this is going to be just as hard on me as it's going to be on your aunt.'' He asked why. I told him that I would be taking away a sentimental memory. I knew, because my mother was that way, and I too carried that sense of feeling.

After I backed the trailer toward the antique tractor, I started the old girl up and proceeded to load her onto my trailer. I was right. I glanced over towards his aunt, and her face showed an emotion that words could not express. I knew I had to do something to cheer her up.

After safely tying up the tractor, I walked over and said, 'Don't worry, your husband's pride will always be remembered in my care. You will see it again soon, I promise.' I spent the rest of the summer taking this odd-looking machine to my gas and engine meets, hoping someone would recognize it and fill me in on more data and info about what year it was made, where it was made, the correct color, etc. No luck. No one in the area had ever seen such a rig.

In 1983, I sent in an ad to Gas Engine Magazine for information. It ran in Vol. 18, #3 on page 71, along with a picture of the G.H. Tractor. During this time, I also called the library in Syracuse asking if a company called Grand Haven Stamped Products Co., was still in business. They called back and said that they were, and gave me their address and phone number.

I wasted no time placing a call to the company. A pleasant-voiced woman answered, 'Can I help you?' I said, 'Yes, I hope you can. I have a tractor called a Grand Haven garden tractor that has your company's name stamped on it.' She said, 'You have one of the tractors? What a surprise. You are talking to the wife of the man who bought the rights and began manufacturing this type of tractor in the early 1950s.' The woman told me her name was Gloria LeMaire, and that

She was very happy to hear from me. She was very helpful in sending me all the information I needed. Within ten days I received a maintenance manual, literature, and a nice letter thanking me for the phone call.

Now that I had all the info I needed, I started stripping every nut and bolt to the bare frame. I sandblasted and primed and painted every little piece the correct color, even hanging them on a wire line to dry. The neighbors thought I had gone nuts.

Finally, I finished assembling this beautiful chain driven Grand Haven garden tractor in August, 1983. I sent two colored prints of my red and green tractor to Gloria LeMaire, the woman who was such a help to me.

I must also add my thanks to all the people who answered my ad in GEM.

In conclusion, I want to mention that I didn't forget my promise to Mrs. Edna Bonoffski, and I also sent her a colored print of her husband's pride and joy.

On August 10, 1983, I received this thank you message from Mrs. Bonoffski: Dear Earl,

Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness in sending the article and picture of the tractor, it sure looks beautiful. I'm sure my husband would be happy to know that you are taking such good care of his tractor. He was very proud of it himself. Thank you again for your interesting note.

God Bless You Always, Edna

In closing this story I want to say, 'Thanks, Mark.' The history of this machine has made me a proud owner. I, Earl W. Hilsinger thank you all.