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Ever Wondered About GARDEN TRACTORS?

| May/June 1998

  • K Cross motor Case
    Ray Hoffman of Box 85, Blanchard, Iowa 51630 sent this picture of Bruce Wilson of Bolton, Ontario on his model K Cross motor Case. Ray is editor of the J. I. Case Heritage Foundation.
    Ray Hoffman

  • K Cross motor Case

15090 State Route BB St. James, Missouri 65559

I have noticed at shows that there are often a few collectors who have one or two wheel tractors that get paraded or put on static display. I have also noticed that collector interest in these machines is less frantic than that surrounding stationary engines (which is good for me, with engine prices where they are), but I wonder if many collectors are aware of some of these facts. For example, in 1925, while 169, 196 internal combustion engines were made for farm use (about 145,000 of them under 5 horsepower), just 3,456 motor cultivators and garden tractors were made and sold.* Production of garden tractors grew in later years, but look at the collect ability of any one or two wheel machine sold prior to 1925. Some of these birds are rare indeed.

By understanding the times in which these machines were produced, it is easy (now) to see that the garden tractor (or walking-tractor) was a natural for replacement of Dobbin, and not on just the smallest of farms. Consider this: in 1919, truck farms, some in excess of 100 acres, largely used hand labor to plant and cultivate due to the sensitive nature of their crops. Development and application of the garden tractor was, for them, directly translated into a huge reduction in production overhead.

I have developed a warm spot for these tired old one and two wheelers. Show me one resting in the weeds and my pulse beats just a little faster. Recently, while on a photo expedition, I was casually examining a pile of rust surrounded by tall grass and car parts when my wife came over and started asking embarrassing questions about the state of our finances. Her intuition is uncanny.

At any rate, of particular interest to me are the machines manufactured in Minneapolis. Several walking-tractor companies flourished in this city. One of the pioneers of the walking-tractor industry, the Beeman Garden Tractor Company, was getting things rolling here as far back as 1917. While Mr. E. R. Beeman only controlled the company up until 1925, his tractor continued on well beyond that into the late Thirties. By the end of his tenure, Mr. Beeman had placed over 25,000 of his machines around the world. Consider another pioneer, Harold L. Downing of Minneapolis. Mr. Downing was the father of four production companies, all making garden tractors: the American Farm Machinery Co. (AFM), the Standard Engine Co., the Allied Motors Corporation, and maybe the Walsh Tractor Co. (Mr. Downing may not have been the father of Walsh Tractor, but he was surely the rich uncle). I think of these four companies as a syndicate, and together they churned out machines by the thousands. It is a pretty impressive record considering that AFM was founded with a meager $60,000 worth of stock for capital.

In my mind, there are two major distinctions in these old walking tractors: those which used pre-built engines and those which didn't. My interest runs largely to the latter. All of the syndicate machines used syndicate-built engines. The first syndicate-built machine was a one wheeler called the Kinkade. This machine, and the patent that guarded it, was built in no less than 10 different variations. Syndicate two wheelers included the Walsh (2.5 HP), the Standard (later transformed into the Monarch 3.5 HP), the Viking Twins (the B, F, and CF series, all 5 HP) the Viking single (3.5 HP), the Standard Twin (5 HP), and the Edgeton (est. 1.5 HP). Production of one or another of these machines ran nearly continuously from before 1920 (before the Kinkade was made under the umbrella of the American Farm Machinery Co.) until 1952, when the syndicate companies changed hands and production of most of these machines was discontinued.


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