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Some Wheel Horse History


This is a story that starts out way before the brand name "Pond" or "Wheel Horse." It starts out with the name "Shaw." Elmer Pond and his associates, Glen Hielman and Harold Pond worked for many years for Shaw making tractors. These tractors were produced out of motorcycle and automotive parts and were made for the bigger gardens and small orchards.

After a while the three men decided to build their own tractor and go into business for them selves. Harold Pond had worked for Shaw since the 1920ís and decided that he would make a tractor known as the Speedx Model "B," and Pond garden tractor in 1938, which would be one of the first four-, wheeled garden tractors. Glen Hielman would Make the "Garden Master" in 1952.

After World War II, Elmer Pond took the advantage, as did the other two men, to make a smaller lawn tractor that could do the work of a garden tractor and a lawn tractor. People who had a small garden didnít need or want a big tractor for the small jobs they had to do, so they depended on these men for their garden needs.

Another reason smaller garden tractors became very popular was that these tractors were rather inexpensive, so even the typical family could own one of these tractor and maintain it for a low cost.

Many of these tractors were made from small air-cooled engines, drive systems, axles, wheels, tires, and other various parts that could be found. The framework was made from pieces of angle or channel iron.

Elmer Pond started production in 1946 in his two-car garage in South Bend, Indiana. These tractors were made from crude parts that could be found. He produced a two-wheeled tractor that was self-propelled, which was sold under the Pond name. Pond made these for nine years, known as the "Walk- Away's " because the design of the tractor.

After the first year of production Pond decided to make a four- wheel tractor. This tractor was made from crude parts such as a model "A" transmission, an 8.3 Wisconsin engine, Tiller steering, and much channel iron. The tractor was known as the Ride-Away Senior and was mainly for garden use. This model of the Senior was designed without a hood for easy serviceability.

In 1948, Major changes occurred to the business and the tractors. Cecil Pond, Elmer Pondís son, joined his father to make a partnership that would last for a long time. The tractor they created gained a fiberglass hood, and a Ross steering gear. The Ride-Away Sr. was produced for another seven years with small variations.

In 1955, Pond started to make three different tractors, including the Walk-Away, Ride-Away Sr., and introducing the Ride-Away Jr. This new tractor would have a 2.5 HP Briggs and Stratton, or a 3.6 HP Clinton engine that would satisfy the needs of the typical house hold. The small tractor had a unique engine mount located between the driverís legs and a belt driven transmission, "Variable speed." Pond made it so that you could put many different attachments on these tractors by welding brackets on them or making simple attachments that sold under their names.

By the end of 1957, Pond had exceeded $1,000,000 dollars in sales.

During the next years, a change would happen to the tractors; they would stop producing the Sr. after the first year of selling the little Gr.'s. They also changed the steering wheel on the smaller tractors from cast-iron to a larger diameter steering wheel.

A new model was produced in 1958, which included a three-speed transmission. This transmission is called the Uni-Drive transmission that Elmer Pond designed in 60 days. The Rj-58 was the name of the model and it included one of the following engines: the Clinton B-1290 was used along with the Kohler k-90 were used to drive the small tractor. The Rj-35 had a Clinton B-1200 was used to drive the belts to the gearbox to move the tractor. They also put a Briggs 2.5 HP engine, which made the model of the tractor the RJ-25.

The attachments remained the same for the RJ series. From 1956-1957 wheel horse changed the color of the wheels. They changed them from black into an almond color.

The demand for these little tractors grew so much by the end of 1959 that they couldnít keep up with production. But, they still made over 4,500,000 dollars.

In 1960 there were significant style changes. However, the engine location immediately in front of the operator and the 12-inch wheels stayed the same. Two models of tractors were introduced this year: the model 400, with a four-horse power Kohler engine and the model 550, with a 5.5 horse power Lauson engine. These two models were known as the "Suburban" tractors.

During this year the company obtained property on 515 W. Ireland Road. South Bend, Indiana. This plant was constructed in 1961 and occupied in July and August concluding of the 1961 production year.

These two successful models continued until the next year known as the 401, 551, 701. This was the first year for the front mounted engine tractor. Wheel Horse made the 701 with a 7-horse power Kohler engine. A change in transmission from two side plates and a piece of cast to two pieces of molded cast that went together instead of three.

All models remained the same from 1961 to 1962 with all having the front mounted engine. The models were called the 502, 552, and the 702 the hood was a major appearance change. In 1961 they had an aluminum gas tank and a unique hood shape with a slotted grill.

Also this year Wheel Horse produced the 32R and 32E, which were named Lawn Ranger, and they were made for lawn care only and removal of snow.

In 1963 all five models remained the same as in 1962. The new product introductions for 1963 were the model 953 tractor and the model RM 483 48-inch mower. The garden tractor had a 9.6 horse power engine and 15-inch wheels with 27-inch tires. The model 953 unit was the first of the "large frame" garden tractors offered by Wheel Horse.

In 1964, an 8-horse power Kohler engine replaced the 7-hp engine in the model 854. The model 953 was updated to the model 1054. At the beginning of the model year Wheel Horse acquired the REO product line from Motor Wheel Co. This product line consisted of walk behind rotary power mowers and walk behind snow throwers. Walk behind tillers and a rear-engine-riding mower also acquired but were closed out and never put into production. Sales volume in this year exceeded 11 million dollars.

1965 was the first year for the infinite speed shift system to the industry. A Stundstrand hydrogear unit was added to the Wheel Horse "Uni-Drive" transaxle. Tractors using the automatic shift were called "Wheel-a-Matic" tractors. The new "Wheel-a-Matic" models were the 875 and the 1075. Other products introduced in 1965 included a new 42-inch rotary mower attachment, a "REO-Matic" rear engine riding mower designed by Wheel Horse, and a completely revised line of REO power lawn mowers.

The 1966 model products were unchanged from 1965 except for the addition of a 12 horsepower, automatic shift garden tractor and a 36-inch tiller (RT-366). The large frame model 1054A tractor was dropped from the line. Sales volume in this year reached 19 million dollars.

1967 saw the emergence of the "six speed" tractors. A Hi-Lo range was added the "Uni-Drive" transaxle to obtain six speeds forward and two reverse speeds. The new six speed tractors were the 867, 1067, and the1267. The Lawn Ranger models L-107 and the L-157; "Short Frame" models 607, 657, 877; and "Long Frame" models 1057, 1077, and 1277 were also in the 1967 line.

In 1968 Wheel Horse began the model naming process, Commando (3 speed), Raider (6 speed), Charger (automatic), and the Electro (Automatic with electric clutch). They also had full-length footrest; and "B" section drive belts were added to the long frame tractors. Also in 1968 there was a "500" special tractor that was sold to dealers in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio in a promotional event tied into the Indianapolis 500-mile race.

In 1969 they initiated more new products than any other year in Wheel Horse history. Wheel Horseís first 14 horsepower tractor called the GT-14 was at the top of the line. It was a large frame tractor with 27x 9.50-15-rear tires. A new series of tractors using vertical shaft engines and a new vertical input transaxle was introduced.

The spring of 1969 saw the opening of a new plant in Geel, Belgium called Amnor N. V.

The rest is history, as you would call it. I only wrote the history up to this point because almost everybody knows what happens in the next 20 years. The company gets sold to Toro in the late 1980ís