(Words and video – Dawn Mazi Hovsepian) – I don’t know which is cooler. A ‘37 Ford Flathead stuffed between the frame rails of an early 70s John Deere 200 lawn tractor, or the fact that a then 16-year-old kid from Lottsville, Pennsylvania, designed, built and owns it. I think I’ll just roll with both on the equally cool meter.
While roaming the pits of the 2013 Gold Cup at Empire Dragway, my husband, Mark, happened upon Todd and Wanda Johnson’s pit area and found this uber-unique pit vehicle. It’s not like we were at a county fair; it was a Gasser meet, after all. During the between rounds pit visit, Mark was able to get a quick chat in with Todd Johnson who stated that his son, Tyler, built the entire combination and where they were from. Armed with that info, I was able to track Tyler down to find out the “hows and whys” of this project.
Me – “So what was the inspiration behind the this project?”
Tyler –“Well, way back in the day, I used to restore and pull old John Deeres. A customer of ours knew this and told my dad that he had an old lawn mower that quit running and was just sitting in his barnyard. He said I was welcome to it and see if I could get it running again. I was 14, maybe 15, when we got it. We brought it home, and I ripped the motor apart only to discover it just wasn’t repairable.”
Me-(chuckling to myself over the “back in the day” response) “And you’re how old now?”
Tyler –“I’m 23 now.”
Me – “Okay. So the John Deere engine is a no-go, how did the Flathead come about as a replacement?”
Tyler –“About a year before getting the lawnmower, we went to an auction and bought a few Flatheads. One of them was a complete car that we paid 10 bucks for. We were told the car ran when it was parked over four decades earlier, but in reality it was beyond junk. We were surprised it even made it home on the trailer. The closer we got to home, the more the rusted out body kept leaning to one side. We ended up salvaging the engine, rear end and transmission, and scrapped everything else. Those parts sat untouched until one day I drug it into the garage to see if I could get it running. It was just a motor and tranny sitting on the floor with a battery hooked up and some tape holding the spark plug wires together. I sprayed some gas down the carb and hit the starter with some power and it lit right off. That was enough for us to decide that was the motor we wanted to run.”
“With that in mind, I visited a friend of mine who was already building a Cub Cadet with a V6 and I got the tape measure out to see if it would fit in the John Deere. I measured the John Deere and decided then that he could make his plan work. This was December of 2006. For Christmas, my parents bought me some C Channel for a frame and I started there. However, my mom put a $200 budget cap on the project. I used a rear axle from a mid-80s S-10. I wanted the wheelbase to be as close to original as I could get it, so there’s no drive shaft it’s just a u-joint instead. I made the rear fenders are 4” wider, and it still has the lawnmower front axle (which I want to change soon).”
Me –”This is great stuff, Tyler. How long did it take you to build, and what are your future plans?”
Tyler – “I finished building it in 2007 when I was 16, and it didn’t quite take a year to build. Progress slowed down when it got to the point of me starting to drive. Right now, I can’t run it too long before it overheats, and I want to rebuild it so it has a radiator. But I started working on my Karmann Ghia, and so the lawnmower plans are now on hold.”
PRESS PLAY BELOW FOR A VIDEO TOUR OF THE TRACTOR, HEAR IT RUN, AND SEE IT CRUISE DOWN THE STRIP!