Michael and Susan Heller are the founders of the Panzer Tractor Owners Club. Back in 1995, Michael decided to purchase a riding mower to care for the one acre lot on their new home in Manassas, Virginia. For $250 he obtained a 1961 Panzer model T-70, and soon realized that it would be helpful to have other Panzer owners to guide him with parts, advice, etc. Michael knew that a show in Berryville, Virginia (Shenandoah Valley Steam & Gas Engine Association) was said to have numerous Panzers on display.
At their first visit to the Berryville show in July of 1996, the Hellers met Van and Grace Vandenburgh, and Gene and Anna Knicely, and several other Panzer collectors. At a strategy meeting at the Knicelys', the idea of a Panzer Tractor Owners Club was born, together with a newsletter to be named Panzer Power.
Enthusiasts can now join the Panzer Tractor Owners by sending new member dues of $17.00 (U.S.) or $22.00 (Canada [U.S. Funds]) to the club at P.O. Box 2601, Manassas, VA 20108. Membership includes a newsletter three times a year and a model identification chart. Since its inception, membership has grown and is close to 175 members in 27 states and Canada.
In addition to the annual Panzer Party, the Club is now planning a spring get together at the Cumberland Valley Gas Engine Show in Chambersburg, Pa., the weekend of April 29-30, 2000. This will be the first show at which Panzer is the featured tractor.
Panzer tractors were the brainchild of James A. Clark, chief engineer of the Ahrendt Instrument Company in College Park, Maryland, a company specializing in the research, design, development and manufacture of precision electronic instruments.
Clark experienced exasperation in preparing the lawn around his home for seeding, while using a rented walk-behind tractor. After a bit of research, he realized that riding garden tractors then on the market were not up to his standard. His boss, Bill Ahrendt, a young and successful entrepreneur, gave him the okay to come up with a design of a simple riding tractor, one that could be easily operated and maintained.
By late 1953, a prototype was ready, and a contest was held among Ahrendt's employees which yielded the name Panzer.
At the 1954 Garden Supply Trade Show in New York, the prototype was enthusiastically received, and led to Ahrendt's plunge into garden tractor manufacturing. Copar Incorporated was formed to handle the sales of the Panzer, taken from the name of the town, College Park. The first tractor, completed at midnight on June 4, 1954, was delivered on June 5 to a dealer, Allied Equipment Company of Richmond, Virginia, the first Panzer distributor.
A decision was made in 1954 to establish a separate plant for Panzer production, and Jim Clark found an old mill building in Laurel, Maryland. After an extensive five month renovation, the plant opened in January of 1955. Austin Kennell was named president and general manager, and George Gibson became shop superintendent. The new plant had 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space. A special assembly line was designed where Panzer tractors could be assembled in 30 minutes.
Copar was sold in 1960 to Virginia Metalcrafters of Waynesboro, Virginia, which later also purchased the Pennsylvania Lawn Mower Company. For several years the firm produced tractors, tractor attachments, riding mowers, both rotary and reel units, as well as other mowers and edgers. In the midsixties, Pennsylvania Lawn Products (as the division of Virginia Metalcrafters which produced tractors and mowers was called) was sold to Jackson Manufacturing Company, a wheelbarrow maker in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Austin Kennell continued to be involved in Panzer manufacture during these corporate evolutions. In the early 1970s the parent company of Jackson Manufacturing (Schenuit Tire Company of Baltimore, Maryland, whose main business was airplane tires) liquidated Pennsylvania Products, and production of Panzer tractors apparently ceased. Mr. Kennell purchased the parts business and named it Dandy Sales, Inc., which he sold in 1999 to Jim and Ellen Haynes of Monson, Massachusetts.
Anyone seeking more information on Panzers should by all means join the Owners Club and attend the meets. In addition, there is a web page at www.geocities.com/MotorCity/Downs/97 58. You can send e-mail to Panzer Club@geocities.com, or call 703-335-5219 for more information.