My Bolens Years
Prologue: This is the story told by my Dad, Roger Mayhew, excerpted from his autobiography about his time at Bolens in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He worked for International Harvester out of college with an engineering degree starting in 1961 through 1965. He then worked for Bolens as a design engineer, acquiring several patents, and designing several lawn tractors including the Bolens QT16, many of which are still in operation today with Bolens enthusiasts & collectors. He worked for Bolens from 1965 until 1981 & eventually retired after 43 years as an agricultural design engineer as VP of Engineering for Weasler Engineering.
I became dissatisfied with my future at International Harvester because of the political problem I had when working in Fabens, TX and started looking for another job. In March I interviewed at JI Case in Burlington, IA, Kewanee Mfg. in Kewanee IL, and Bolens in Port Washington, WI. I selected Bolens because I wanted to do design work on tractors.
My last test job at IH was a joint project with the construction division. It was an elevating bowl scraper. The farm equipment division furnished the power unit and the construction division furnished the scrapper. The whole project was a timing problem. It was April and the bosses wanted it shipped to Phoenix without any shake down test. They finally agreed to a 10-hour run on the dirt oval track. Another engineer and I were elected to spend a Saturday running the test and the unit would be shipped on Monday. So, we ran full bore all day. The scraper would do about 26 mph, and we did our best to keep it at max. One end of the dirt track was full of ice, and we could slide the scraper in a drift across the ice as we rounded the corner. The bowl was full of gravel and the total weight was about 50,000 lbs.
On Monday morning, all the engineers and execs from both divisions examined the tractor and scraper. The scraper frame was bent, and the construction division engineers were mad at us for bending their scraper frame. The unit was shipped to Phoenix anyway, and I flew to Phoenix to conduct the heat rejection testing at the IHC proving grounds. We conducted the heat rejection testing on the gravel airstrip, and it was a hot 114 deg in the shade. The tractor transmission had a torque converter and in order to get consistent data the oil had to stay the same viscosity range which meant that the oil should be about 300 degrees in the transmission. But when you add the hot oil to the 114 deg ambient temperature, it was a cooker to sit on the tractor.
I was driving the scraper and sitting on top of the transmission. I think that I suffered a mild heat stroke because I had to spend some time cooling off in the air-conditioned pickup in order to continue the testing. One morning at the buildings, one of the test drivers climbed on a crawler to start the testing, and he started jumping up and down stomping on the floorboard of the crawler. When he had started the engine, a rattlesnake came up through the holes in the floorboard.
Phoenix was a more expensive place to visit, and the motel cost $9.36. The meals averaged $8 per day, and I remember going to one restaurant called Pecos Bills. If you walked into the restaurant with a tie, a pretty young lady would put her arms around you and cut the tie off with a pair of scissors. Then she would pin the tie with your business card in the rafters of the restaurant. All the seating was outside and there was only one item on the menu and that was steak and beans. Suzanne flew to Phoenix to spend the 3rd week with me in Phoenix. We were able to tour the botanical gardens outside of Phoenix and the cactus was in bloom. I worked at the Phoenix test site for 3 weeks. The last week of the trip I called my boss at Hinsdale and resigned my job at the IH Research Center.
Port Washington and Bolens
I started working at Bolens in May of 1965 at the age of 27 and made the move to Port Washington, Wisconsin. I rented a room in the Port Hotel for about $3 a day with a bath. I was newly married & began searching the housing market in Port Washington, we bought the house at 814 W Larrabee in Port Washington, Wisconsin for about $24000. It was about 6 blocks from the Bolens plant. It was built in the 1930s and very solid construction. There was only a 1 car garage in the basement, which was fine for my Austin Healey.
The engineering office was one room and was the foundry office at one time. There were 6 engineers, 5 drafting people, a blueprint operator, a secretary and the chief engineer. The engineers did a lot of the detail drawings. The drawings were on vellum paper. When it rained hard, the roof leaked, and we had to cover our drafting boards because the vellum paper would change dimensions on the drawings. The experimental department was in the next room. All the mower testing was done on fields out of town. In the winter, we traveled to the Upper Peninsula for snow blower testing. In order to test mowers in the winter, we moved the tractors and mowers to Florida, Louisiana or Texas. The southern test sites changed depending on the available land for testing. We would load the equipment on a truck and the engineers were required to drive the trucks down south.
My first job at Bolens was to finish the design of a grader blade for the Bolens GK tractor. The engineer on the GK project was Roger Bacon, who designed the Bolens GK tractor. He had designed the mower, snow blower and grader blade for the GK. I was given the task of finalizing the drawings and releasing the drawings for the grader blade to the production department. The Chief Engineer who hired me was Dave Phillips. The Bolens GK was an 18 hp articulated tractor designed for grounds care.
After several months of working for Roger Bacon, I was given the job of designing a 18 to 25 hp tractor and the attachments. This tractor never went into production, but we made 3 prototypes.
This was a real great opportunity for me and what I considered a juicy project. The GK used a Wisconsin 25THD 25 HP engine, and I was told to use the same engine. I designed the complete 6 speed transmission, I used the 2 speed transmission from the GK and designed a new 3 speed transmission that mounted on front of the 2 speed box. I also designed the rear axle, frame, 3-point hitch, engine mounting, front and rear power take off, front and middle lift system and the operator’s area.
I designed a completely new rear axle with mounting places for a 3 point hitch. I also designed a 540 rpm rear PTO. The front and rear wheels had adjustable tread settings for row crop work. The hood and dash was made in break form sheet metal, which was pretty crude. We bought a 60-inch rear mounted mower for field-testing. We then loaded the tractor and mower on a Ford stake truck and I drove it to Homestead, Florida for testing.
I also designed a 66-inch full floating batwing mower, and I used the 48-inch snow thrower from the GK tractor. The first prototype was pretty crude looking, but it worked. Then the testing and the redesign process started. To start testing by March 1966, I loaded the tractor and a rear mount mower on the old 1960s Ford stake truck and drove it to Homestead, FL, so we could mow grass. I worked out of a Bolens dealer in Homestead and stayed at a nearby motel in Homestead.
I flew home and started the redesign of #2 tractor. The marketing group wanted a styled tractor, and Brooks Stevens presented some styling sketches and drawings. It looked horrible, and they were told to do it again. The third prototype styling was much better and that is the pictures that I have in my den. The first prototype was scrapped, and we concentrated on the field-testing of the 2nd and 3rd in Wisconsin and Louisiana. Then the 2nd tractor was scrapped, and we worked on the 3rd tractor.
So Brooks presented new styling which was approved, and I started on tractor #3. The new styling was hard to convert to metal, but with a fiberglass grill we made it work. The tractor was tested around Port Washington in the summer.
In 1967 the Bolens marketing and distributors decided that Bolens should design and make a utility tractor like the old Ford 8N. The 8N’s were getting old, and the southeast states had a high population of 8N’s. Also, several of the large Bolens distributors were in the southeast. I was assigned to design the utility tractor.
I started with a market survey of the tractors in the 15 to 25 HP size. Most of the tractors in that size were out of production. So, I patterned the design after the Ford 8N. The marketing group also wanted a mid mounted mower and a snowthrower. The Bolens GK had a 48-inch snowblower, so I used it for the project. The Bolens GK also had a 72-inch mower, but it was too big and high to fit under the tractor. So, I designed a 66-inch bat wing mower for the new tractor.
Since Bolens had a history of using Wisconsin engines, I was advised to use the Wisconsin THD engine. That engine was a real shaker, so I changed to a TJD engine, which had a better balance. I designed the 6-speed transmission and the rear axle assembly. The wheelbase was determined by the space required by the mower deck. The tread settings were determined by the row crops. The 3-point hitch was designed according to the ASAE Category 1 dimensions. The rear PTO was designed according to the ASAE Category 1 540 rpm. The front PTO speed was a compromise between the mower and snowthrower input speeds. I think it is 1800 to 2000rpm. An electric clutch from Warner Electric was used on the front or flywheel end of the engine, with a belt drive from the clutch to the PTO shaft. A removable PTO shaft transferred power from the front PTO shaft to a shaft in the bottom of the rear axle housing. That shaft drove the rear PTO through a gear set.
The first prototype was a quick build and the sheet metal was all break form parts which were easy to make in the Port Washington plant. I designed all the transmission gears and Milwaukee Gear Co. reviewed all the drawings and made the gears. The transmission housing and rear axle housings were cast from wooden patterns. The tractor was assembled in late 1967 and briefly tested locally. Then we loaded the tractor and mower on a stake truck and I drove the truck from Port Washington, WI to Homestead, FL for field-testing.
After testing in Florida, another engineer drove the truck and tractor back to Port Washington and I started the revisions for the #2 prototype. The first tractor was too low, and I redesigned the rear axle housings and the front spindles for more ground clearance. The sheet metal styling was completed by the Brooks Stevens Group in Milwaukee, but it did not leave much room for the engine and it looked bad in most opinions. Brooks was told to do the styling over again. So, I started design #3 with the new styling from Brooks. The marketing group decided that the tractor should have the option of a hydrostatic transmission. I worked with Vickers Corp on a new hydrostatic that they were prototyping with a few companies. Changes were also made for auxiliary remote hydraulic outlets. This required adding a 2-spool valve. A diverter valve was added to switch from the rear lift to the front lift. A tilting steering wheel column was designed into the new dash. The styling of the tractor grille was such that it could not be made from steel, and we designed it in fiberglass. The #3 Bolens prototype was completed with all the new improvements and a revised 66-inch mower. The tractor and mower was tested locally and in Houma, LA, a meeting was held with the Bolens distributors in Houma, LA and they were pleased with the new prototype tractor.
We continued working on the details until the FMC bean counters got their eyes on the cost of the project. They did not see any potential market for the tractor and cancelled the project. The first and second tractors and the mowers were scrapped. I managed to prevent the third one from being scrapped, and several years later I bought the prototype from Bolens & brought it home to be used on the farm. They would not sell me the drawings, but I did manage to get a complete set of blueprints.
It just goes to show the lack of foresight of corporate men when they are so far from the real world.
Several years after buying the Bolens prototype, I decided that I would redesign and build the tractor the way I thought it should have been built. The first thing I did was to increase the tire size. I changed the rear from an 11.2 to a 12.4x24 and the front to a 5.50x16. This did not leave much room to get on the tractor, so I lengthened the wheelbase. This tractor had the Vickers hydrostatic transmission, and I decided that it should have a gear transmission. The tractor had a Bolens GK 2 speed on the rear axle housing, so all I needed was a 3 speed to make it a 6-speed transmission. I installed a Borg Warner 3 speed with reverse transmission. Then I acquired a Renault R688 engine of about 30 HP. I had all the clutch parts from the Bolens GK tractor and everything fit together. The water-cooled engine required a radiator, and I bought an IH radiator. However, that did not fit under the stylized angled hood. I made new hood side panels and rebuilt the fiberglass grille. I removed the hydraulic diverter valve and replaced it with a 2-spool valve.
In 1968 the FMC Corporate people canceled my big tractor project and I did not make any southern test trips.
I was then given the project to design the new Bolens QT16 garden tractor to replace the current tube frame tractor, which was the main product for Bolens in the 1960s. During 1968, I designed the new garden tractor, including all the areas of the QT16 tractor. The first version was 6 HP, and it was boosted to 16HP. The original was a 3 speed manual transmission, and now it was 6 speeds and a hydrostatic transmission.
I was given the following specifications for the new Bolens QT16 tractor: 16 HP engine, hydrostatic transmission, 48 inch mower, 42 in snowblower, 33 inch rotary tiller. The mower was to be a completely new design with a deeper deck. The snowblower and the tiller were current units. The 48-inch mower required a longer wheelbase, and the deeper mower deck required a higher or different frame. The engine was mounted with the output shaft facing the front because the most power was for the mower and snowblower. The attachment drive was with u joint driveshaft’s. So I started with a clean sheet of paper on the drawing board.
The transmission and all the gears were machined at the Port Washington, WI factory. This tractor was also the first garden tractor to use universal joint driveshafts to power all the attachments.
One of the biggest problems was the Brooks Stevens styling of the sheet metal. The styling was a small version of the large red tractor. We built one prototype with that styling and the tractor looked fat nobody liked the styling and Brooks was told to come up with a narrower style. The hood was very narrow and did not allow a carburetor on the engine. Brooks told me to have Kohler move the carburetor. Also, the new styling would have required us to tool an air cleaner.
So, I ignored parts of his styling and was able to build a prototype. The engineering of the prototype QT16 tractor was different from any of the tractors on the market at that time. The engine forced the cooling air out the front of the tractor, or the engine was mounted backwards from the current Bolens tractors. The hydrostatic transmission and rear axle that I designed were completely new. The operator seating was closer to an automobile, whereas the current model seating was like a bus. In the fall of 1968 I was elected to the ASAE PM 52 Garden Tractor Committee and served of several subcommittees. That was the year I started attending the ASAE winter convention in Chicago.
Since Bolens had a history of using Wisconsin engines, I was advised to use the Wisconsin THD engine. That engine was a real shaker, so I changed to a TJD engine which had a better balance. I designed the 6-speed transmission and the rear axle assembly. The wheelbase was determined by the space required by the mower deck. The tread settings were determined by the row crops. The 3-point hitch was designed according to the ASAE Category 1 dimensions.
The rear PTO was designed according to the ASAE Category 1 540 rpm. The front PTO speed was a compromise between the mower and snowthrower input speeds. I think it is 1800 to 2000rpm. An electric clutch from Warner Electric was used on the front or flywheel end of the engine, with a belt drive from the clutch to the PTO shaft. A removable PTO shaft transferred power from the front PTO shaft to a shaft in the bottom of the rear axle housing. That shaft drove the rear PTO through a gear set.
The first prototype was a quick build and the sheet metal was all break form parts which were easy to make in the Port Washington plant.
I designed all the transmission gears and Milwaukee Gear Co. reviewed all the drawings and made the gears. The transmission housing and rear axle housings were cast from wooden patterns. The tractor was assembled in late 1967 and briefly tested locally. Then we loaded the tractor and mower on a stake truck and I drove the truck from Port Washington, WI to Homestead, FL for field-testing.
After testing in FL, another engineer drove the truck and tractor back to Port Washington and I started the revisions for the #2 prototype. The first tractor was too low, and I redesigned the rear axle housings and the front spindles for more ground clearance. The sheet metal styling was completed by the Brooks Stevens Group in Milwaukee, but it did not leave much room for the engine and it looked bad in most opinions. Brooks was told to do the styling over again. So, I started design #3 with the new styling from Brooks. The marketing group decided that the tractor should have the option of a hydrostatic transmission. I worked with Vickers Corp on a new hydrostatic that they were prototyping with a few companies. Changes were also made for auxiliary remote hydraulic outlets.
This required adding a 2-spool valve. A diverter valve was added to switch from the rear lift to the front lift. A tilting steering wheel column was designed into the new dash. The styling of the tractor grille was such that it could not be made from steel, and we designed it in fiberglass. The #3 Bolens prototype was completed with all the new improvements and a revised 66-inch mower. The tractor and mower was tested locally and in Houma, LA, a meeting was held with the Bolens distributors in Houma, LA and they were pleased with the new prototype tractor.
We continued working on the details until the FMC Corp. bean counters got their eyes on the cost of the project. They did not see any potential market for the tractor and cancelled the project. The first and second tractors and the mowers were scrapped. I managed to prevent the third one from being scrapped, and several years later I bought the prototype from Bolens & brought it home to be used on the farm. They would not sell me the drawings, but I did manage to get a complete set of blueprints.
It just goes to show the lack of foresight of corporate men when they are so far from the real world.
1968 Bolens experimental one-off tractor: only one in existence, Designed by Roger Mayhew in 1967: Still in operation, owned by James Zarnoch Corfu, NY
Several years after buying the Bolens prototype, I decided that I would redesign and build the tractor the way I thought it should have been built. The first thing I did was to increase the tire size. I changed the rear from an 11.2 to a 12.4x24 and the front to a 5.50x16. This did not leave much room to get on the tractor, so I lengthened the wheelbase. This tractor had the Vickers hydrostatic transmission, and I decided that it should have a gear transmission. The tractor had a Bolens GK 2 speed on the rear axle housing, so all I needed was a 3 speed to make it a 6-speed transmission. I installed a Borg Warner 3 speed with reverse transmission. Then I acquired a Renault R688 engine of about 30 HP. I had all the clutch parts from the Bolens GK tractor and everything fit together. The water-cooled engine required a radiator, and I bought a IH radiator. However, that did not fit under the stylized angled hood. I made new hood side panels and rebuilt the fiberglass grille. I removed the hydraulic diverter valve and replaced it with a 2-spool valve.
I flew to New Orleans in February 1967 and drove to Houma, LA. Bolens had changed our winter test site to Houma. Houma is located about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans and is in the heart of the Cajun country. We worked out of a Bolens and Ford tractor dealership. The dealership was owned by Marvin Marmon, a very rich Cajun. He complained to me that the gas well next to his house kept him awake at night. We hired one of his men to be our straw boss on the tractor drivers. All the drivers were African American.
The straw boss was Bossco. One time I was looking for a jack to lift a garden tractor to change a tire. Bossco wanted to know why I wanted a jack, and he told one of the drivers to lift up the tractor, so I could change the tire. And the driver simply picked up the tractor and I changed the tire. Another time one of our marketing whiz kids was down there from Wisconsin to observe the testing in Louisiana, and he asked Bossco if they had “any problems with the blacks”. Bossco told him that there were 2 problems floating in that bayou that morning. No more questions were asked by the whiz kid from the big city.
I was usually in Houma 2 weeks and then home 2 weeks and then back in Houma for another 2 weeks. We always stayed at the Ramada Inn, and it cost $8.24 per night. In 1967, I made 3 trips to Houma and had the distributor advisory meeting in New Orleans.
The parts man that helped us was Bobby. On the weekend, Bobby would take me fishing in the bayous around Houma. Houma was located on the intercostal canal that ran from the Mississippi to the coast. The main industry in Houma was sugar cane, oil and gas wells and shrimp fishing in the gulf. The gulf coast oil well platforms were supplied from Houma through the inter-coastal canal. The only thing south of Houma was swamp. We would go fishing in these bayous. One time, Bobby took me to his parent’s house way back in the bayous. The house was along a dirt road, but it was built on stilts over the bayou.
Houma was not a very big city, and some nights we would all go to New Orleans for dinner and entertainment. We always went to the French Quarter. Sometimes we would not get back to Houma until the wee hours of the morning. One time we were sitting in Pat O’Brian’s and I heard a voice out of the past, and it was my old college roommate. One time our division manager decided to hold a distributor advisory meeting at the test site in Houma to view the 18 hp Bolens tractor that I had designed. And of course, the meetings would be held at a hotel in the French Quarter. That area is so noisy that it is impossible to sleep. Our division manager had a problem, and it was alcohol. I had to escort him to his room several times
In the fall of 1967 I went to the Hardware Show in New York City. That was the big show for the lawn and garden industry. So, I stayed in a fancy hotel next to Central Park in downtown New York. One night we went to a nightclub and saw Rodney Dangerfield’s show. We went to that Hardware show a couple of years and then the Hardware show moved to Cincinnati and then to Chicago.
In the spring of 1969 I drove the stake truck and trailer to Houma, LA. The truck and trailer were full of garden tractors and mowers to be tested in Houma. I made 3 trips to Houma that spring. Sometimes I was only home a week and then back to Houma, LA. The trips were always on 2 lane roads because the interstate highways were not in existence at that time. As I was driving through southern Illinois, the truck emitted a load bang and lots of steam. I stopped in the middle of nowhere and looked at the truck.
The fan had lost a blade and caused the water pump to fail and screw itself into the radiator. This happened on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately, a man stopped and looked at my predicament. He drove me to the next town which was small and the only gas station in town and said that these people could fix my truck. The gas station had 2 pumps and a dirt driveway. As I peered into the station, I saw that the back room was the second story of the garage, and it was full of cars being repaired. The station owner took me back to my truck and wrote down all the parts that were needed to fix the truck. Then back to his station and he had a young man take a truck out to my truck, and we towed the stake truck into his station and parked it under a tree. By that time, the station owner had returned from somewhere with all the parts to fix my truck. The young man that towed me to town started fixing the radiator. 3 hours later and $100 I was back on the road.
In November 1969 we also had a test program in McAllen, Texas to test rotary tillers in the hard adobe soil.
In 1970, I made 3 trips to Houma, LA to test the new Bolens QT16 garden tractor I designed. QT stood for Quiet Twin. Another time I drove the stake truck to Iron Mountain, MI to test the snow thrower for 2 days. As soon as I got back, I drove the other truck to Houma, LA. I was home with the kids one night. The other truck was a large van with a low floor height to make it easier to load the equipment in the truck. To have the low floor height, special tires were used on the rear. As I was driving in Arkansas, one of those special tires lost the tread. I pulled into Memphis and spent the weekend there waiting for a tire store to open. The tire that was bad was a snow tire, and they don’t use snow tires in Memphis. After much talking I could buy a regular tire, and I was on the road again. Later I went to an FMC value analysis in Indianapolis. I became very active as a member of the OPEI engineering committee that was writing the B 71.1 safety standard.
In the fall of 1970, the meetings were held every week in Chicago. I wrote the sections on the steering and hydrostatic control systems.
I was given the responsibility of all the Bolens tractors in current production at that time.
My Bolens QT16 garden tractor project was totally changed to use a new Onan engine and the marketing people wanted the tractor to meet the new Chicago noise ordinance of 72 DBA at 70 feet distance. Chicago passed a new lower noise ordinance. Our marketing department decided that we should meet that new noise limits. I was assigned Mark, a new engineer, to help design the Onan engine mounting and the lower noise limit. I had to go to several seminars to learn how to reduce the noise of the tractor.
That meant the complete redesign of the frame, engine compartment and sheet metal styling. Brooks Stevens’s group was dropped and a new styling group was hired. I had the prototypes ready for the testing in Houma in the spring of 1971. I made 2 trips to Houma, LA that spring. My boss, the chief engineer, was demoted and a new engineer from the FMC San Jose Ordnance division was moved to Bolens in Port Washington.
That was Dick Chalmers, and he turned out to be the best boss I ever had. He had a lot of forward-thinking and challenged us to design the most advanced tractors on the market.
Early in 1972, we sold 814 W Larrabee in Port Washington. I took my wife and three boys and moved to the country. March 1972, we bought the 60-acre farm west of Waubeka at W4535 Hwy A, Fredonia, Wisconsin. We had been searching for a long time and on one of our weekend drives, we kept coming back to the Fredonia / Waubeka area, and we saw this farm west of Waubeka. I borrowed a snowmobile from Bolens and trailered it to the farm to look at the land and the woods because the snow was too deep to walk the land. There were 40 acres of tillable land, 15 acres of timber including 5 acres of just maple trees (which we later made maple syrup from) and 5 acres of buildings including a farm house & barn built in the late 1800s. We made a deal and bought the farm for $51000. The farm would be our home for the next 34 years, and we raised 5 kids there.
As soon as we signed the papers for the farm, I drove our new ’72 Ford Grand Torino station wagon with my wife and the three boys to the Florida test site. Tim was only a few months old.
In 1972 the spring testing was moved to Lake Worth, FL, which is near West Palm Beach. The new test site was a 1700-acre orange grove that was located 2 miles off the main road in the bush. The grove was managed by a rather colorful character. We hired the tractors drivers through the local Bolens dealer in Lake Worth the first year. I made 2 trips to Lake Worth that spring.
The entire orange grove was sand, and large drainage canals separated the blocks of orange trees. The roads in the grove were on the edge of the canals. The grove manager didn’t like hippies. Sometimes hippies would ride their dirt bikes in the grove and make deep tracks. One time, the grove manager stopped 2 hippies on their off-road bike. Since it was their second warning, the grove manager took his 38 pistol out from under the seat and shot a hole in the engine of the bike. The hippies had to push the bike over 2 miles on sand roads to get back to civilization. I made 2 trips to that test site in 1972. The tractor drivers that we received from the temp agencies were not too smart.
One guy came out to the site wearing sandals. We told him that there were rattlesnakes in the grass around the trees, and he must wear boots. We would advance him the money to buy the boots, and he didn’t. Furthermore, we also said to never walk in the high grass, only walk in grass that has been cut, and he didn’t listen. He got bit by a rattle snake, and we had to take him to a doctor to get a shot of anti-venom. He never came back. Another time, 2 men in suits came to our test site and wanted to know where one of the drivers was in the grove. They then showed us FBI badges. We said he’s over there, and they took him away.
The 1450 tractor was designed by another engineer with an Eaton model 12 hydrostatic rear axle. The hydrostatic was a radial piston pump and a gear motor. Eaton made the complete rear axle. Another engineer, Noel had redesigned the 1450 to fit the Kohler 2 cylinder opposed 18HP which was the 1886 tractor. The model 12 hydro was tired, and the cost was getting high. It was decided that we should make our own rear axle. I was given the task of designing a new rear axle that would fit the new garden tractor and the large frame tractor. I started with a clean sheet of paper on my drawing board. I designed the rear axle to use the Eaton model10 hydro and the Sundstrand hydro. The Eaton model 10 was a radial ball piston hydro. The Sundstrand was an axial piston hydro. I used the Eaton on the new middle tractor and the Sundstrand on the large frame tractor. I had built several prototypes of each axle, and we were progressing fine on the projects. Then Sundstrand raised their cost $40 each. I tried the model 10 in the large frame tractor, but it did not have the torque capacity. So I designed a 2 speed axle utilizing a planetary gear set on the top shaft, and the model 10 hydro worked fine. I was working on the transmissions and fitting the tramsaxles into the two tractors. The large frame tractor with the new transaxles was the model 1887 tractor.
In late 1972, I filed for a patent on a hood pivot for detachably connecting a tractor hood to a tractor frame I had designed. I would eventually be awarded 10 different patents for products I invented or worked on while at Bolens and Weasler Engineering.
The 1972 Abstract read: A hood pivot bracket secured to the front end of the frame of a garden and lawn tractor is used to allow ready attachment and detachment of the tractor hood to or from the tractor frame. The lower front end of the hood is pivotally retained by the bracket and can be swung forward about the bracket to an angular position wherein the hood can be pulled forward to detach the hood from the bracket and frame.
W4535 Hwy A, Waubeka, Wisconsin: 60-acre farm we owned starting in 1972
In 1973, I was made the Product Engineering Manager in charge of all Bolens products in production. I was also given the task of supervising all the remote testing for Bolens.
In early 1973, I was off to Ironwood, MI to test snow throwers one week and driving to West Palm Beach, FL the next week. I was still driving the old Ford stake truck while pulling a trailer. All the roads were still 2 lanes. I would usually drive late in the day. When I was driving down a mountain road into Chattanooga, TN in the night, the road was on a very old iron bridge that went downhill and crossed a river. As I approached the middle of the bridge, a semi was approaching from the other direction.
So, I moved over to the right as far as I could to avoid the semi, and all of a sudden there was a loud crash in my truck. Since it was dark, I didn’t know what had happened, but I was still on the bridge and had not reached the other side. When I got to the end of the bridge, I stopped to find out what caused the loud noise. The mirror on the passenger side of the truck was gone. I had sideswiped the bridge with the mirror.
In addition to the testing site trips, I was very active on the Outdoor Power Equipment Industry (OPEI) and International Standards Organization (ISO) and ASAE committees. I made 9 separate trips just for these committee meetings at O’Hare, St Louis and Columbus.
In about 1974 the engineering manager lost some political battles and the experimental and testing group was put under the manufacturing manager. This was a disaster because that manger was out to prove that the engineering department was incompetent. The meetings became shouting matches and nothing was accomplished. We made the designs without regard to what manufacturing could make. This manufacturing manager also lost a battle with the union.
In 1974, Bolens and the union went through a 14-week strike. Nobody won anything in that strike, it was all about personalities. Whenever I went from the south plant to the north plant during the strike, I had to go through the picket line 4 times. All the remote field-testing would have to be done with union test drivers. So, we had to take the union people to Ironwood, MI and Florida. He also insisted that the equipment be shipped via railroad. I told him it would not be on time, and it wasn’t. I waited at the Ironwood test site with the whole crew an extra week for the railroad to deliver our equipment. We had some interesting times at the orange grove that year.
One of our test drivers, Porkchop was a half a bubble off, but he was union and I had to use him on the test. One day, Porkchop was mowing along and never looked back. The dry grass accumulated on the mower deck and caught fire. The fire would drop off the back of the mower and started the orange grove on fire. The grove was in blocks bordered by canals, so it burned one block. Just as they got the fire out, I arrived from Port Wash. The grove manager came at me like a tiger because I was in charge of the crew.
The crew and Porkchop was standing off a bit and everyone could hear him shouting at me. He claimed that he had to call out the Corp of Engineers in the orange grove with bulldozers to put the fire out, and it cost a lot of money. Then he said to me in a very quiet voice, do you have a check book. I said yes. He said, give me a blank check. So I did. Then, in a loud voice, he said how much money I had given him to put out the fire. Porkchop never knew that the check was blank. The next day Porkchop drove our truck almost in a canal and the grove manager had to pull it out with a tractor.
In June 1974, we receive word that my Patent for the hood latch had been approved. My work on the OPEI committee program changed to working on a Consumer Product Safety Committee, which was a federal government committee. I went to 7 of those meetings that year. One of the trips was to the J C Penny proving grounds near East Lyme, CT. The small plane that took us back to New York La Guardia Airport flew down the Long Island coast, and we could see the huge mansions on the shore line. My new boss started us on some advanced power source projects. We designed tractors with a Wankel engine that was made in Israel. However, when the FMC brass found out about the project, they cancelled the project because they had some large projects with Saudi Arabia. Then we built a tractor with a 20 hp gas turbine engine made by Eaton Corp.
The gas turbine tractor was weird to drive because when you loaded the turbine down, there was no change in sound until it just quit. The exhaust temperatures out the front of the tractor would melt the shrubs in your yard. Eaton never made the turbine in production. Bolens also produced an electric powered tractor, which did not have enough power to mow a good size yard.
We went to the FMC Research labs in San Jose, CA several times each year to learn about better materials for our products. We had to give a presentation on our design projects to the other machinery divisions once a year. The other FMC divisions were making cranes and tanks.
One time I toured the tank factory. FMC made the M113 armored personnel carrier and its variants and the tank for the US Marines. Both machines were made out of 2 inch thick armor plate aluminum. The weld joint had to be armor proof. The aluminum was machined with high speed routers. The whole tank was then dipped in a giant tank of green paint.
When we were trying to come up with an easy way to test the integrity of the mower decks for the OPEI committee, we investigated shooting something at the deck. I made a trip to San Jose to the indoor ballistic test range to see if they could devise a test. I was impressed with how many ways they had to kill people. Nothing worked, and we came up with our own ball test.
My good boss, Dick Chalmers, was transferred to another division and Dudley became my boss. Dudley and I were in parallel positions in the engineering department, and I was not selected to head up the Bolens engineering department. I thought that I had a lock on a promotion to the chief engineer job, and I was not happy and considered leaving Bolens. I turned my energies to the family and the farm.
In September, I gave an engineering presentation on hydrostatic control systems at the SAE convention in Milwaukee. It was my first major presentation to a major engineering convention, and I was very nervous. My previous boss from International Harvester came to hear my talk. That SAE convention always had many hospitality suites.
I was so relieved to have the talk over that I drank too much, and I did not remember how I got home. That was it and I quit drinking for good. Some of my friends at work did not believe that I quit, so I took all the booze in the house and gave it to the guy with the loudest mouth, and that was my boss, Dudley.
The 1975 year turned out to be real busy at Bolens. I made 19 trips and was gone 61 days that year. I became a member of the Consumer Product Safety Committee. The committee meetings for the CPSC were being held all over the country. The Consumers Union group was given the task of writing the new Federal safety standard for lawn mowers. These people had never used a riding mower, and the government gave them the task of writing a safety standard. CPSC had 8 meetings that year.
The Consumers Union people were so naïve that they wanted the floor board of a garden tractor to be as large as the mower deck. I reminded them that we had 54-inch-wide mowers, and a 54-inch floor board on a garden tractor would be totally impractical.
I arranged to change the southern test from West Palm Beach to the Tupperware headquarters south of Orlando, FL. The Tupperware headquarters had about 300 acres of good grass as opposed to the orange grove. That included a 9 hole golf course. The alligator farm was right next door and alligators would occasionally be on the golf course. One alligator that I saw was about 16 feet long, and he thought I was bigger, so he left in a hurry. I was on a prototype Bolens 23 hp Turf Tractor with 30hp water cooled engine, with 60 inch mower. However, marketing said it too expensive, so it got cancelled.
Tupperware built a convention building that held 2000 people and had rose gardens around the building. The small canals in the rose garden had a few small alligators. We used to feed the alligators in the gardens.
I had a bright idea for a limited slip differential that would work when one wheel is on ice and the other wheel is on dry ground. I needed a material in the differential that would be sensitive to increase in speed, but not torque. The material that I used was silly putty. I bought a gallon of the silly putty from Dow Chemical. I even went to the Dow factory to check the material properties. The differential worked great. However, there was only one problem, the silly putty material did not have any lubricating properties. The gears wore out quickly.
I had been designing a 25 hp ground maintenance tractor that could be used with a 60-inch wide mower, 48 inch snow thrower and a standard rear 3-point-hitch. The 2nd tractor had a 30 hp water cooled engine and the project was moving toward production. Then those marketing whiz kids got into the act and said that the tractor was going to cost too much to build. They wanted to know if we could get a cheaper power train in Japan. The yen was 300 to the dollar at that time.
In October 1975, Mancer Cyr and I flew to Tokyo. We stayed in the Okura Hotel, which was across the street from the American Embassy. Henry Kissinger was staying there on his first trip to China at the same time. The security at the hotel was very tight, and our Japanese friends had a hard time getting in the hotel to meet us.
FMC had an office in Tokyo, and they supplied a Japanese man to travel with us when we visited 3 tractor companies. Yanmar, Iseki, and Mitsubishi We took the bullet train from Tokyo to the first Yanmar factory and then on to Osaka on the train. The bullet train was a unique experience for the mid-1970s, it traveled at close to 200 mph. It slowed down to 100 mph when it went through a train station. There were no guard rails on the train station platform, just a painted line on the platform.
While we were waiting to go to the airport to fly to Matsuyama where the Iseki factory was located, we took the time in Osaka to hire a driver to take us to the tourist sites in Kyoto. Kyoto is the old provincial capital of Japan and had many interesting tourist sites. The driver spoke English and gave us a tour of a typical Japanese tea house, the Golden Palace and the local county side. He also took us to a Shinto Shrine. The Shrine had a temple in the middle of a courtyard. Around the courtyard was a wall with shelves or cubbyholes. The priests were putting a flower arrangement on each shelf and bowing to it as they left the wall. When the worshipers went up to the temple, they pulled a sash which range a bell. I asked our guide why the worshiper rang the bell. He replied that was to wake up the god in case he was asleep. I told the guide that my God never sleeps.
In Matsuyama, we stayed at an old style traditional Japanese hotel. That meant that the beds were on the floor. The restaurants were all Japanese. I learned to use chopsticks quickly. It was either chopsticks or my fingers.
Then we went back to Tokyo to meet with Mitsubishi. The Mitsubishi meeting was a bust, and we dropped them from any consideration.
In 1975, I made a hurry-up trip to attend a CPSC meeting in Washington, D C. I ended up staying in the Mayflower Hotel, which was more plush than the hotels in New York City. Since the meeting did not start until late, I took a walk around the White House and the Washington Monument before the meeting.
In 1976, I had a special southern test site at McAllen, Texas to test Bolens rotary tillers and mowers. We worked out of a FMC office that sold and serviced the orange juice squeezers and coloring machines. The juice machines were very interesting in how the machine got every drop of juice out of an orange. On my trip back from McAllen, the airlines cancelled all flights out of McAllen, TX for the whole weekend due to fog. There was no hope of getting home that weekend, so I rented a car and drove to San Antonio to get a flight back to Milwaukee. I didn’t have much time to get to the San Antonio airport, and a car passed me that was going about 90 mph. I followed him at that speed for 3 hours and was able to catch the flight home. I was in such a hurry at the airport that I parked the rental car at the first drop-off place. Two months later, I got a phone call from the car rental people wanting to know where I parked their car. They had the keys, but no car. I told them to look in their competitor’s lot.
Then back again to Orlando for the mowing of Tupperware grass and the alligators. As usual, I made 2 trips of 2 weeks each to Orlando, FL. On one of the trips I took Bob Lopez, my engineer on mowers. Bob was a Frenchman, and he always had a bottle of wine in his motel room. He thought that the maids were drinking his wine, so he put a pencil mark on the label at the level of the wine. The next evening, he checked his wine bottle and saw that the level of the wine was lower, and the maid had put a new pencil mark on the label for the new level.
Bob was an interesting man. He was educated as an aeronautical engineer in France and had taught at Renssaelar Technical University. His wife was killed in an auto accident, and he was mad at God. I discussed this with Bob many times and when he died he was still mad a God. We left some tractors at Tupperware for a long-term test, and we went down there every couple months. I made 6 trips for committee meetings that year.
In 1977 the OPEI committee work had produced a safety standard and the meetings were fewer, only four. The OPEI had a forum to explain the new standard to the industry, and I was on the forum panel to the industry to explain the sections that I had written. I still had a trip to Orlando, but my job was changing, and I didn’t know it. Bolens had selected Iseki to buy tractors complete & import them into the US under the Bolens name, and my grounds maintenance tractor project was canceled. Then Dudley who was my boss changed my responsibilities and title. I was no longer the Product Engineering Manager.
I was promoted to International Engineering Manager. I was to oversee the acquisition of the Iseki tractors and their attachments for Bolens. I was also to oversee the engineering of the import and export of Bolens products in Europe. Bolens wanted to sell their products in Europe, and they put me in charge of making that happen. It turned out to be a nice way to get me out of the mainstream and out of the office, but I did not realize it at that time. In September 1977, I made a grand tour of Europe to determine the homologation roadblocks to selling more Bolens products in Europe. I flew to Brussels to meet our European sales manager, Felix. We met with the Bolens distributors in Munich, Inglostadt, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Amsterdam in 2 weeks.
In March 1977 Wisconsin had the infamous ice storm of ’77. The rain fell & froze on everything it touched. Infrastructure damage in Southeast Wisconsin was extensive, many of the power lines were lying on the highways. I drove our’72 Ford pickup truck over the power lines to a nearby farmer. We hooked up the power to his barn and started the well to let his dairy cows drink. Each cow can drink 30 gallons of water per day, so it took a full day before the cows stopped drinking. Back at our place, we used the Franklin stove in the living room to heat the downstairs. No electricity also meant no heat during Wisconsin winter. I had plenty of firewood, and we all slept downstairs in the living room. For water, we took a very large pot, our pressure cooker, filled it with snow from the yard and placed it on the Franklin stove, so we could have water. The youngest of my 5 kids was an infant, and we had to keep the room warm. We cooked with the camp stove. The trees did not fare very well with all the ice on the limbs. When I sawed up the limbs with the chainsaw that were on the ground, I had a massive pile that filled the driveway.
In August 1977, Dick Chalmers and I filed for a patent for our design on our new differential with floating pinion pin, and we were finally granted the patent in 1980.
The abstract read:
A differential including a driven carrier which rotatably receives a pair of spaced bevel gears secured to axially aligned shafts concentric with the axis of rotation of the carrier. A pair of diametrically opposed slots are formed in the inner surface of the carrier and extend parallel to the carrier axis. A two-piece floating pinion pin having pinions journaled thereon includes generally rectangular feet on opposite ends thereof slidably received in the slots and defining flats that are longer than the pin diameter and which slidably engage the sides of the slots, thereby preventing rotation of the pin relative to the carrier while allowing the axis of each pinion to shift longitudinally of the slot to maintain the axis of each pinion centered between the engaged portions of the bevel gears. Full bearing engagement of the flats with the sides of the slots is assured during normal operation by a spring which urges the feet of the pinion pin fully into their associated slots thereby compensating for tolerance build up axially of the pinion pin, and by the longer length of the flats which compensates for tolerance buildups transversely of the pinion pin.
1978 started out with a trip to the Tupperware test site in Florida. Then I went to Europe to find a joint venture partner to assemble Bolens walk behind mowers in Europe. I met our European sales manager Felix in Brussels, and we visited Norlett Mfg near Oslo, Norway first. After we visited Qualcast Mfg near London, England, Felix went home for the weekend. The Quacast chief engineer invited me to his home. His living room was built like the inside of an old sailing ship. I spent the weekend touring London on foot with my Pentax SLR camera. Then I flew to Milano, Italy and Felix joined me in visiting Concord Mfg north of Milano, Italy to determine if they were interested in a joint venture with Bolens. Each place was interesting. The owner of Concord took us to his home before dinner. He carried his own firearm to protect him against kidnapping. He said the Italian government would not protect him, so he would protect himself if needed.
We also went to the Ducati factory in Bologna, Italy to look at their diesel engines. The other part of the trip was to determine how to get safety approval for the Bolens mowers in Germany. Felix arranged for a distributor in Vogma which is near Ingostadt to be our agent in the approval process. The safety certification had to be approved be either the Brugenosenschaf or TUV. The distributor was located near an office of the Brugenosenschaf. We shipped one each of the Bolens products to the distributor to get the certification. Every time we made a change to get approval the officials wanted something else changed. We also went to the Bolens distributor in Zug, Switzerland. I went through 6 countries and 6 currencies in 10 days.
One time we hosted the Iseki people from Japan at our farm in Waubeka when they came to our plant in Port Washington. I commonly borrowed tractors from Bolens to mow our 1 acre of lawns at the farm and work our rather large garden. The 3 boys mowed the grass and Tim loved the Stiga articulating tractor the best of all the lawn tractors I brought home. When there weren’t any lawn tractors to borrow, the kids mowed it with a Bolens push mower. Tim got tired of that quick and attached the push mower to his go-kart, pulling it like a trailer and mowed the lawn much quicker.
The National Hardware Show was in Cincinnati that year. I did my usual snooping under the competitions tractors at the show, and I was caught on film by the show sponsors. The next year, I appeared on the cover of the show booklet. The competition knew who I was snooping under their tractor and called my boss. My boss replied that I did not find anything worthwhile on their tractor.
Then we went on another trip to San Jose, CA and the FMC Machinery Research Center for the annual engineering meeting. It was a nice trip because we always went to San Francisco and Fisherman’s Wharf and China Town. We always ended up a Garidellies chocolate factory late at night.
In October 1978, I went back to Japan by myself. I went through Tokyo and to Matsuyama. The main tractor factory was in Matsuyama. Matsuyama is located on the island of Shoko. Matsuyama had about 600,000 people and I was the only westerner in the entire town. I was there for a week and a half writing the specifications for the tractors that we were going to buy from Iseki. I did all the engineering negotiations by myself. I did get to see the castle in town and did not get to the country side. That island farming was mainly mandarin oranges. FMC had sold orange juice squeezers on this island.
The Iseki main office was in Tokyo. When I visited the main office, I stayed in the New Otani Hotel. That was the fanciest hotel in town. The hotel had an 8 acre Japanese garden inside the hotel. When I was staying at the New Otani, the premier of China was staying there at the same time. The Chinese took a whole floor and the security was very tight. The Iseki people could not get into the hotel without knowing my room number.
There were protest demonstrations against the Chinese going on across the street from the hotel. Many of the Americans in the hotel were watching the demonstrations from the hotel. I decided that I had lots of time on the Saturday and went for a walk. As I was walking down the sidewalk in front of the hotel, about 20 Japanese riot squad police came up the sidewalk towards me. They simply walked around me and proceeded towards the demonstrators. I went on to the downtown section of Tokyo.
Bolens-Iseki 4wd tractor
In January 1979, I went back to Europe. The European Bolens office had to move to Zug Switzerland and hired a service manager, Peter Silberschmidt. Zug is just outside of Zurich. I went to Zug first and then to Inglostadt, Germany to the Bolens distributor at Vogma, to work on the safety certifications. The German agency was being real difficult, and we decided that after a year of work we were not making any progress. We then went to Koln, Germany to the head office of the TUV agency. We planned to work with TUV to get the safety certifications we needed to sell the Bolens products in Germany. If we could get the German certification, we could then introduce Bolens in the other countries in Europe.
We then went back to Zug for the weekend. Felix and Peter took me to a ski resort up the Alps. On Monday Peter and I were supposed to fly to Bologna, Italy to visit Ducati. All flights were cancelled due to bad weather, so Peter decided to drive over and through the Alps to Bologna. The drive was beautiful through the Italian Alps in the winter, and the Italian side of the Alps was even more beautiful.
Peter took me to a small restaurant that did not even have a sign on the outside. It looked like a normal house. The food was great. On the way back to Zug, Peter stopped at their summer cottage up in the Alps. The basement living area of the cottage was 600 years old. Then I went by myself to Sweden and I had a 4 or 5-hour layover in Copenhagen, Denmark, so I decided to take the train to Stockholm instead to meet with our Bolens distributor in Sweden. That way I could see the countryside. One of our Swedish relatives had contacted some distant cousins in Sweden. I called these distant relatives and decided to meet them in Linköping.
One evening I took the train from Stockholm to Linköping and was able to have dinner with them. They took me to a large cathedral in Linköping. I then went to Tranas to start a venture with Stiga Mfg. They wanted to buy the Bolens small snowblower. While at Stiga, they insisted on giving me a snow sled. It was a gift and I felt obligated to take it. It was in a very large box about 2’x4’ and I managed to take it with me on the train, check it as baggage and gave it to Tim as a birthday gift.
My final stop was in Frankfurt to visit a large department store that was going to import the Bolens mulching mowers into Germany. The project was on such a fast track that we did not have time to translate the Bolens decals into Germany, so we had the decals made in Frankfurt. I met with the people and decided that the quickest way to get the decals back home to Port Washington plant was to take the decals as my baggage. I bought 4 old suitcases and put 4000 Bolens decals in the suitcases and checked all the bags on the plane. The only problem I had was with US customs and what I would have to pay for duty on the decals. Finally, the customs agent asked what the Bolens decals were worth. I told him about a nickel apiece, and he charged me $5.
The German certification process moved quickly in working with the TUV organization. I built the complete certification fixtures in the lab at Bolens. I had the TUV inspector come to Port Washington to witness the testing of all the Bolens products that we wanted to be certified. In order to conduct the outdoor sound testing of the product, I arranged to have all the products at Tupperware. Then I took the TUV inspector to Orlando, FL to perform the sound testing at Tupperware. He even took some time to see Disney World. In a month or so we had all the official certification paperwork completed and Bolens could sell finally products in Europe. The start to finish of that project was 3 months.
The Europeans wanted to be able to drive the Bolens HT23 and the QT16 from one city park to another park to cut grass. The problem was that for any tractor to drive on any street in Europe, the tractor had to be road certified by TUV. So, I modified two tractors for road approval and shipped them to the TUV agency in Munich, Switzerland. The TUV engineers even took the engines out and ran a horsepower test on the engine. The tractors had to have the approved lighting and many other items. HT stood for hydrostatic twin and QT stood for quiet twin tractors.
The Bolens HT23 passed, but the QT16 did not because they changed the rules during the time I was preparing the tractors. Felix then took us to the famous Oktoberfest in Germany. Oktoberfest is like a large state fair, but the main event is drinking beer in the huge beer halls. The huge beer halls had long tables about 18 inches wide and 20 feet long. That was just wide enough for 2 beer steins. The steins held a liter of beer. The women that waited on the tables carried 5 full steins in each hand. You didn’t mess with those women.
During that summer, I took German language lessons in Milwaukee. I was not a good language student because the instructor insisted on using proper German grammar. I didn’t have good English grammar, and I dropped out after learning enough German to allow me to travel by myself in Germany.
The Iseki engineers from Japan were in our Port Washington, WI offices every 3 months. One time they showed up unannounced at a Bolens sales meeting in Asheville NC. So, I had to make a trip to Asheville that I did not plan.
One of the ways that I used to teach the 3 boys how to repair an engine was to bring broken small vertical shaft engines home from Bolens. The object was for the boys to take the engine apart and see if they could put it back together. Sometimes they had a few parts left over. One time I had taken either the engine or the transmission off the HT 20 tractor and I had parts lying all over the workshop. Tim was 8 & started crying and said that I would never get the tractors back together with all the parts scattered all over the shop. I did get it back together and after that Tim thought I could fix anything. He then brought a broken coat hanger home from school and told the teacher that his dad could fix anything. I could not weld that coat hanger together.
I had the habit of bringing home Bolens garden tractor parts from the scrap heap at the Port Washington plant. Over time, I had enough Bolens parts to build complete tractors and proceeded to build two matching go-karts for the boys from the spare parts. We placed the motors where the seats normally went and even built roll bars onto the go-karts. They were hard to keep running, but the boys loved the handmade Bolens go-karts and drove them all over the farm.
Go-kart we built from surplus Bolens parts
Bolens go-kart pulling a spring-tooth harrow in our garden
1980 started off different in that I made the trip to Japan with John Held in February. I was tasked with determining the engineering specifications for the second generation of imported Iseki tractors from Japan and sold as Bolens tractors. John was in marketing, and he worked on the costs. We went directly to Matsuyama, Japan and conducted the engineering specification meetings. The meetings were long and usually lasted until 6 pm. Iseki had 10 or 12 engineers on their side of the table and on the other side I had me. Sometimes the meetings with the Iseki engineers got sticky, and I remember on one issue they said that they were going to ship the tractors to the US with wet batteries. I told them that was unacceptable.
When they insisted, I told them to forget about importing tractors to Bolens and I was getting on a plane and going home. Then they agreed to ship dry batteries. We then went to Kyoto and visited the Mitsubishi engine factory. One of my projects back home in Port Washington was to install a small diesel engine in the large frame tractor, and I wanted to see the assembly and quality control of the small Mitsubishi engines.
2 weeks later, I flew to Sweden to meet with the Stiga engineers. I was in Sweden for a couple of days and had some extra time when I was in Husqvarna. I rented a car and drove to Vastervik, Sweden. One of the Mayhew relatives had made a contact with a relative in Sweden. I had met Sara Kjell and her husband on a previous trip in Linköping.
1980 Bolens-Iseki product brochure: Roger Mayhew on the cover plowing on the Mayhew Farm
I called Sara Kjell and decided to meet them for dinner. Sara and her husband Lennart met me at the outskirts of Vastervik and took me to their home for dinner. After dinner and a time to chat I returned to my hotel in Husqvarna, I drove through the area that my great-grandfather Nels had lived in before he immigrated to the USA. The area was hilly and rocky and very poor farm land.
After I was finished the meetings at Stiga I flew to Zurich, Switzerland to meet with Peter and Felix in Zug. I left Peter and Felix and flew to Milano, Italy. I arrived very late on a Sunday night and wanted to rent a car. I had reserved an Avis car, but they were on strike. So I rented a Hertz without a credit card. I drove to Reggio Emilia and could not find the hotel. I finally stopped at a gas station, and the couple at the station did not speak English. They closed the station and said that I should follow them. I then got to the hotel. I asked the desk clerk if it was ok to leave the car in front of the hotel. He said that it was ok if I didn’t care what happened to the car. I put it in their garage. The next morning, the sales manager for Lombardini picked me up and gave me a tour of the Lombardini factory and the research center.
The next morning, I was picked up by the Ruggerini Engine sales manager. They gave me a tour of the factory and the research center. I drove back to Milano and then flew to Paris.
Felix then set up a sales meeting for the European Bolens distributors. The Paris Farm Show was at the same time. In those days, the lawn and garden products were exhibited at the Farm Show. The Paris Farm Show also included the farm animal exhibits. The most interesting part of the show was the hall in which the farmers would set up their own booths and sell their products like cheese and wine. They were very good at getting the show goers to sample their products. Then I flew back home from Paris to Wisconsin.
In June 1980, I flew to Sweden again to go to the Elmia Exhibition near Jonkoping. The lawn & garden exhibition was outdoors. I stayed at an old Swedish castle on a lake near Linköping. The hard thing to get used to at that time of the year in Sweden was that it did not get dark until 11:00 pm.
The Bolens distributor was exhibiting the Bolens tractors at the Exhibition with a homologated mower. The Bolens snow throwers with the Stiga paint and decals were also at the exhibition. After the exhibition, the distributor wanted his son to go to the Bolens factory to learn about the products. The distributor asked me to take his son to Port Washington on my return to the USA. We had a lot of time in Amsterdam during a layover of planes. We went downtown Amsterdam and walked around the town.
Bolens-Iseki Tractor with blade and our Bolens loader tractor at work. May 1980
The loader on our tractor in this photo is still in operation today <below>
My last trip to Iseki in Japan was in September 1980. I went with Tom, our service manager. We went to Matsuyama first and then back to the Tokyo office of Iseki for the final negotiations on the second generation of imported tractors.
During the summer, I borrowed an Iseki 30 hp tractor from Bolens for use on our farm. In December, Shawn decided to drive that tractor to our woods and down onto the ice in the swamp. The ice was not very thick next to the shore, and the right tire of the tractor broke through the ice and sunk into the swampy ground beneath the ice. In trying to get the Iseki tractor back on shore, the rear axle was broken.
I called our local tow truck driver in Waubeka for help and let him know this would be a tough pull to get the tractor out of the swamp. He brought both of his tow trucks. The boys had to chop and clear a path through the saplings down the hillside to the shore line to provide a clear path to the Iseki mired in the swap. Wisconsin winters can be quite cold, and the water froze around the tractor and further complicated the retrieval. One rear wheel was broken through the ice and another was atop the ice.
Our local tow truck operator in Waubeka, WI had to bring two trucks to the farm to get it out of the swamp. Arnie had one tow truck on top of the hill in case he needed to pull the other tow truck up the hill. The Iseki tractor was up to the axle in muck and had to be lifted above the ice to get on the shore. As we pulled it out of the ice, we realized Shawn had broken the axle of this tractor I had borrowed from Bolens.
We managed to get the Iseki tractor back to the farm, and then I had to take the tractor which was not mine back to Bolens and explain why it had a broken axle and was covered with swampy muck. That was also Tim’s birthday party with his friends & part of the birthday activities for the 3rd graders were they all walked the 1/2 mile to our timber and critiqued the scene. That was farm life birthday parties.
36-hp diesel Iseki Tractor we used on our farm for many years
In 1981, I was in charge of the Iseki tractors and I needed a better tractor on the farm. We had a 30 hp Iseki tractor at Bolens that was surplus, and I made myself a good deal and bought the tractor home for good. Now we had 2 tractors to run the farm along with our 1950s era Farmall M tractor and soon after we acquired an International Harvester 460 tricycle tractor.
My last trip for Bolens was to the Farm Progress Show near Brimfield Illinois in September 1981. I took the 3 boys with me, and we stayed near where I grew up in Moline, IL. We toured the farm progress show and had a good time.
I had started working at Bolens in 1965. By 1981, I had worked my way up to the Senior Design Engineer at Bolens and I had 4 engineers and 5 drafters working for me, but a big blow came - After designing 4 tractors, being awarded two patents & negotiating the importation of 2 generations of Iseki tractors into the United States -I lost my job at Bolens in November. My International Engineering group was disbanded, and I was out of a job.
My engineers and drafters were also out of a job. What turned out was that FMC Corp was selling the Bolens division to the managers, and the managers thought that they did not need my group. The specifications of two generations of Iseki tractors were completed, and all Bolens products were now approved for sale in Europe. I had worked myself out of a job, and I did not get along with the future president of Bolens because I was too honest on the engineering of the products.
My dad eventually found work with Weasler Engineering in West Bend, WI which made agricultural drive lines for tractors and implements. Weasler had been a component supplier for Bolens during that time. He started as a Senior Design Engineer and was tasked with generating new business for the company.
He went on to invent many new products, generating millions of dollars in new business for Weasler and was awarded 8 more patents including pioneering designs for 50 & 80 degree Constant Velocity joints (10 total).
He eventually became the Vice President of Research & Development at Weasler and retired in 2004 as the VP of Engineering after 43 years as an agricultural design engineer.
My dad finally sold the 60-acre crop farm we 5 kids grew up on and retired to a few acres near West Bend, Wisconsin to build street rods and tinker in his wood shop. His garage is larger than the house.
Roger Mayhew passed in 2021 at the age of 83. His tractor designs, inventions and patents will live on along with the many collectors and Bolens enthusiasts who own and maintain tractors he designed.
The one-off 1968 Bolens experimental we called the 'Red Tractor' as kids and used daily on our farm was sold to Bolens collector James Zarnoch of Corfu, NY. After my dad passed, my brother went to Wisconsin and brought the Bolens QT16 garden tractor he designed in 1968 with the loader and weight box on the rear back to California, where it continues to operate today.
1968 Bolens experimental tractor - one in existence