An Unofficial History
Simplicity Garden Tractors
Simplicity & Allis-Chalmers Garden Tractor Club
Last updated, November 22, 2008
Disclaimer: This history is unofficial and is provided to help owners identify and preserve the great tractors produced by Simplicity Manufacturing. We are not responsible for the accuracy of this information. Instead we welcome any clarifications, corrections, and expansions.
The Roots Go Deep!
In the year 1872 a new business venture was formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Western Malleable and Gray Iron Manufacturing Company started making gray iron castings. By the turn of the century Western was making gasoline engines under the trade name "Simplicity." In 1911 the firm came under the control of a Mr. L. M. Turner and was moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin. The new management continued to build engines as well as two models of farm tractors. Sales were good until the end of World War I. At that time, Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company introduced his famous "Fordson" tractor. Ford, with massive production capabilities as well as a great amount of cash from wartime profits, was able to sell his new farm tractor at a price where few could compete. Many tractor firms were forced out of business, and Turner Manufacturing was one of them, by 1920 the firm was liquidated.
Mr. William J. Niederkorn was the sales manager for Turner Manufacturing. Mr. Niederkorn bought some of the assets and the Simplicity name. In 1922 he formed the Simplicity Manufacturing Company. In 1997 Simplicity Manufacturing celebrated its’ 75th anniversary.
William J. Niederkorn (center), founder of Simplicity Manufacturing, presents a Simplicity tractor and attachments to John Gillespie, director of Camp Rawhide,
a group foster home for boys at New London, Wisconsin, as Bart Starr (right) quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and sports advisor to Camp Rawhide looks on approvingly.
Source: The Story of William J. Niederkorn, prepared for the Ozaukee County Historical Society, August 8, 1967, Marquette University Press, courtesy of Simplicity Manufacturing inc.
The first product of the newly formed company was a cylinder-boring machine for rebuilding automobile engines. By 1936, cheap, factory rebuilt engines became available and Simplicity no longer had a viable product to sell. So once again, the giant auto industry nearly spelled doom for Simplicity. In 1937 the firm entered the Garden Tractor market with a two-wheel "walker" tractor sold by Montgomery Ward and Company. This initial product offering was an outstanding success and the firm has continued to specialize in high quality lawn and garden equipment up to the present day.
Simplicity walker tractors came with a very wide range of attachments including cultivator, plow, front blade, and sickle bar mower. Eventually snow blowers, disc harrows, tillers, rotary and reel mowers, and even a buzz saw were added. One of the great strengths of the Simplicity product line over the years has been the large number of attachments available. Simplicity walker tractors used Briggs engines and power ranged from 1.5 horsepower. However during the mid and late 1950’s, the “FC” was produced using a Kohler engine. By 1960, Simplicity reverted back to Briggs engines exclusively. The last of the true walker tractors was the 8 hp model “W” built into the 1970’s. Simplicity also builds walk behind tillers, but a “true” walker tractor differs as it has a transmission to power the wheels. Some even had multiple speeds and a reverse gear.
In 1939, the first riding tractor appeared, which was a walker with a sulky attachment. In the mid-1950’s the first riding lawn mowers appeared. The "Wonderboy" rear engine models stayed in the line up through the 1970’s, eventually becoming the Coronet, which is still made. The first 4 wheel garden tractor was the 7 horsepower Wonderboy 700, introduced in 1959. In order to avoid confusion with the rear engine models, this tractor became simply the 700 for 1960. In 1961 a slightly more powerful engine was installed and it became the 7.25 horsepower 725. The 725, with yellow paint and minor sheet metal changes, became the Allis-Chalmers B-1. During the rest of the 1960’s the tractor line was greatly expanded. The 725 evolved into the 9 horsepower Landlord in 1963 and the 10 horsepower Landlord 101 in 1965. The 12 horsepower Sovereign was introduced in 1966. New squared off hoods appeared in 1967. The hoods became rounded with the 3300 series of 1970 and 3400 series of 1972. In 1974 the 7000 series was introduced, being superseded by the 7100 series in 1979. The 7100 series evolved into the Sovereign, which sadly, was discontinued in June of 2000, thus ending over 40 years production of the same basic design.
A smaller "lawn" type tractor, the 6 horsepower Broadmoor, was first made in 1964. This kind of tractor was referred to as a “lawn” tractor because it was designed for above ground work, like mowing, as opposed to the more difficult below ground work of tilling and plowing. However Simplicity did make tillers available for many of these models, so there is no clear-cut difference between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor. In 1968, the Serf and Yeoman were brought into the line. These tractor lines evolved into the 4200, 5200 and 6200 series. Almost all of these tractors had Allis-Chalmers equivalents.
In 1972 Simplicity designed and built a large garden tractor, the PowrMax, which helped define the term "compact" tractor. Larger than a garden tractor, but smaller than a farm tractor, the PowrMax used a twin cylinder, 16 horsepower Onan engine. In 1973, Simplicity began installing a 20 horsepower version of the same engine. The PowrMax series was built until 1979. The next big Simplicity was the Sunstar, introduced in late 1986, which was also sold in Deutz-Allis, Agco-Allis(1918 & 1920H) and Massey-Ferguson (2918H & 2920H) editions. The Sunstar was replaced by the Legacy in late 1997.
In 1978, Simplicity began selling two models of compact diesel tractors. The Simplicity 9523 was identical to the Allis-Chalmers 5020. The 9528 was the same as the AC 5030. The Hinomoto Company of Japan built these tractors, using Toyosha engines. Hinomoto also made tractors for Massey-Ferguson. In 1981, the model 9518 was introduced, which was the same as the AC 5015. After 1983, the Simplicity compact diesels were discontinued, although Allis and then Deutz-Allis continued to sell their versions.
From 1965 to 1983, the Allis-Chalmers Corporation owned Simplicity Manufacturing.
During the 1950’s, the United States became increasingly suburban, creating the need for riding lawn mowers. The major farm equipment manufacturers wanted to expand into this new market. John Deere and International Harvester designed and built their own machines. The others opted to buy from a firm with an existing product line to re-label as their own. Allis-Chalmers went with Simplicity Manufacturing. In 1961 the first Allis-Chalmers garden tractor, the 7.25 horsepower B-1, was born. Except for paint, decals and minor sheet metal changes, it was identical to the Simplicity 725. In 1963, the B-1 was replaced by the 9 horsepower B-10. In 1965 the B-10 became the Big-10 with a new 10 horsepower engine. In 1966, the Big Ten reverted back to the B-10 when the new B-12 was introduced. Up until 1971 all Allis garden tractors were painted yellow and were powered by Briggs engines.
The Allis-Chalmers Check That Purchased Simplicity
[Source: The Story of William J. Niederkorn, prepared for the Ozaukee County Historical Society, August 8, 1967, Marquette University Press, courtesy of Simplicity Manufacturing inc.
During 1965, Allis-Chalmers purchased Simplicity. The federal government challenged the purchase. Due to the fair trade laws in effect at that time, the government claimed that Allis-Chalmers controlled too great a share of the market and thus limited competition. As a result, in 1967, Allis-Chalmers opened a new plant in Lexington, South Carolina to build garden tractors. The first models built there were the B-207, B-110, B-112 and HB-112. The B-208, B-210, B-212, and HB-212 were introduced in 1970.
Allis-Chalmers Outdoor Power Equipment plant in Lexington, South Carolina. with the entire 1970 product lineup
Source: Lawn and Garden Tractor Accessories from Allis Chalmers, OP-1066/6812, hand-dated 8-17-70, courtesy of Chris Geise
Simplicity tractors continued to be built in Port Washington, but for the first time there were differences besides paint and decals. In 1971, the 300 series introduced many design changes. The body was painted orange and the hoods painted cream, and Kohler engines were used for the first time. In 1973 the similar 400 series was introduced. These tractors bore little resemblance to the Port Washington built Simplicity models. The mower decks and many of the attachments were different. Also in 1971, the B-207 and B-208 were updated to the new paint scheme, but retained Briggs power. The 206, 207, and 208 were continued as the Homesteader series from 1972 to 1974. Also in 1972, Allis-Chalmers introduced the model 616, which was the Simplicity PowrMax with orange paint and a different hood. The 616 became the 620 in 1973 with the new 20 horsepower engine. In 1975 the 620 was relabeled as the 720 to match the numbering of the updated smaller tractors. To the best of our knowledge the 620 and 720 models are identical except that the later 720’s had an upgraded front axle. AC later came out with a second model 616, which was a painted over Simplicity 4216 and had no relation to the earlier “PowrMax” 616.
During the Nixon administration, most of the fair trade laws were repealed, so in 1973 Allis-Chalmers closed the Lexington plant and transferred all production back to Port Washington. Once again, AC and Simplicity Garden tractors became identical except for paint and decals, although certain individual models may or may not have had an exact Simplicity counterpart.
In 1974, the new 700 series was introduced in an all orange color scheme to match the big AC farm tractors. This series used Kohler engines but there were some Briggs powered 716’s. The new 600 series introduced at the same time replaced the Homesteader line and the 800 series lawn tractors were added in 1976. The 600 and 800 series tractors used Briggs engines exclusively. The 900 series replaced the 700 series in 1979 using only Kohler engines, however a very few Briggs powered 916’s were.
During 1984, the Allis-Chalmers Corporation sold its’ tractor business to The Deutz Corporation of Germany. The 600, 800, and 900 series tractors then became "Deutz-Allis" products and were painted lime green.
From 1985 though 1991, Simplicity produced tractors under the Deutz-Allis name. In 1991, AGCO Corporation (an acronym for Allis-Gleaner) was formed to buy the assets of Deutz-Allis. The Deutz-Allis green color had been a serious point of contention for former Allis-Chalmers dealers and loyalist, who repeatedly petitioned the Deutz-Allis company to change the color back to the traditional orange. When AGCO took control, they immediately changed the color scheme and began using the "Agco-Allis" trademark. AGCO also purchased the "White" farm tractor line. But the "White" garden tractor business had been sold to MTD Corporation. So "White" garden tractors have never been related to Simplicities in any way. In 2002 the “Agco-Allis” name was dropped for simply “AGCO.”
The first Massey-Ferguson garden tractors, the yellow "Executive" series, appeared in the early 1960’s, and were made by the Dura Corporation, who also made the Moto-Mower and early Porter-Cable tractors. In the late 1960’s the firm came out with the red and gray 7, 10, 12, 14 and 16 models, designed to look like the big Massey farm tractors. Some of these tractors were made by the Badger Northland Company in Wisconsin (Badger was at that time owned by Massey). AMF also made some of these tractors and sold them under their own name in blue and white colors. During the 1970’s Massey come out with the 1000 series tractors, which were made by Snapper. In the early 1990’s, Ingersoll produced Massey garden tractors. In 1993, AGCO Corporation purchased Varity Corporation, which owned the Massey-Ferguson tractor line. After that Simplicity began building the 2000 series Massey-Ferguson garden tractors at Port Washington. Therefore, currently produced Simplicity, Agco, and Massey-Ferguson garden tractors are identical except for paint and decals.
The first Homelites were painted red and reputedly made by a firm called "Brady." Beginning in 1971, Allis-Chalmers produced Homelite tractors at the Lexington, South Carolina plant. The T-10 and T-16 used AC B-Series frames with the seat decks, steering wheels, and pedals from the Simplicity 3300/3400 series. The hood used a 3300/3400 series front, turned upside down. Hitch spacing was different from AC/Simplicity models up until early 1973. The dash/cowl, running boards, and front axles were exclusive to Homelite. The Lexington built T-8’s were identical to the AC Homesteader series except for using dash and hoods from the bigger Homelite tractors(T-10 through T-16). The FE Series appears to be totally unique. After the 1973 closing of the Lexington plant, Homelite models were made in Port Washington. These later models appear to be nearly identical to Simplicity models of the same time period (except for paint, front grill, and mower decks). AC/Simplicity built Homelites were painted blue with white hoods, most had electric PTO’s, and all had Briggs engines (although a Kohler powered T-16 has been reported).
Textron Corporation had purchased Homelite in 1954. In 1975, Textron purchased Jacobsen, putting an end to Simplicity-built Homelites effective the end of that model year. It appears as if Jacobsen bought tillers and possibly other attachments from Simplicity for a few years. Jacobsen built Homelites were painted red and had Kohler engines. Jacobsen also built Ford garden tractors as well as Minneapolis-Moline, Oliver, and the early White branded models (prior to MTD).
Wards was the original sales outlet for the Simplicity walkers, although not all Wards walkers were made by Simplicity. Wards also marketed the four-wheel Simplicity tractors well into the 1960’s. Exactly when Wards changed sources for its’ product is not clear, but seems to roughly coincide with the Allis-Chalmers takeover in 1965. The Wards Squire 6, Squire 9, and Squire 10 were built by Simplicity. Wards had a strong relationship with Gilson, particularly with snow blowers. Gilson made the Wards Squire 8, 12, 14, 15, and 16.
In the early and mid 70’s, Wards once again turned to Simplicity when the PowrMax was sold as the Wards “Twin 20” in blue and white colors.
J. C. Penny
We know of two examples of Simplicity-built J. C. Penny models. We believe them to be Simplicity 7013S (with shuttle transmission) tractors built in 1975. These tractors were painted bright yellow and labeled as model “494cc.”
The T. Eaton Company of Canada apparently marketed Simplicity walker type tractors in that country for many years. The product was labeled "TECO" in addition to Simplicity.
During the 1980’s, Simplicity marketed the “GII” tractor in Canada. This tractor was an updated version of the Allis-Chalmers model G small farm tractor, with the rear-mounted engine. These updated GII models featured a choice of a 16 horsepower Kohler and 14 or 17 hp Lombardini diesel engines. The GII had a Category “0” 3 pt. hitch and a Sunstrand 3 speed hydrostatic transmission.
The SunStar was introduced in late 1986, as a 1987 model and was built through the 1997 model year. The SunStar was replaced by the Legacy in late 1997. Some of the mid-production SunStars were marketed as the 18GTH and 20GTH. This tractor was also made in Deutz-Allis green, Agco-Allis orange (1918H and 1920H) and Massey-Ferguson red. The Deutz-Allis version also being called the “Ultima.” Massey-Ferguson editions used the “2918H” and “2920H” designation. The “2900” designation is common to BOTH the SunStar and the Legacy Massey-Fergusons. So 20 horsepower Massey versions of the SunStar AND the 20 horsepower Massey version of the Legacy carry the same model number! Pity the guy at the parts counter!
All SunStar’s used Kohler Magnum twins, with the exception of the 1988 model year. After the first year sales were not up to expectations so Simplicity brought out 14 and 16 horsepower singles as price leaders. Some even had 42” decks. These models were discontinued after one year. All SunStars use a Sunstrand model 15 hydrostatic transmission on a Peerless 2600 series transaxle. This is an essentially bulletproof, runs-forever combination. The 20 horsepower models had a two-speed axle and differential lock (just like a farm tractor), however a few 20 horsepower models were produced with a controlled-traction differential. With that exception all 20 horsepower models are two-speed with differential lock, power steering, and split braking where applying the brake automatically pulls the hydro towards neutral. These “full-feature” 20 horsepower models are highly desirable, comparing very favorably in performance to almost any compact tractor.
All 18 horsepower models are single-speed, without the above-mentioned features. Power steering was available as an option, and there was a special 18 horsepower model with power steering standard.
All implements are shaft drive and electrically clutched. Front and center PTO’s were standard, rear optional. Rear PTO speed is 3450(engine rpm) nominal or there was a Peerless reduction box optional for tillers. A category “0” three point hitch was also optional.
Club members who own one speak volumes of praise for this fine tractor. Purported to be a very easy to handle, some even say that a SunStar will cut grass better than the beloved and venerable Sovereign! The only weak point on this tractor is a maintenance-intensive front axle. The current Legacy model uses the same drive train as a SunStar but without the high-torque Kohler magnum twins. Most of the attachments will interchange but you may need an adaptor kit.
Simplicity PowrMax Tractors
In 1972, Simplicity introduced the PowrMax. This was a new type of tractor at the time. Larger than a garden tractor, smaller than a farm tractor, the PowrMax was the benchmark from which the term “compact tractor” evolved. The first PowrMax model was the 4040 and used a high-torque Onan CCKA engine mated to a 3-speed Sunstrand model 15 in-line hydrostatic transmission. The 3-speed hydro was a PowrMax exclusive. The 4040 was also sold as the Allis-Chalmers 616 and the Wards 953(in blue and white colors). In the 1980’s Allis-Chalmers sold a second model 616, also called the “616 Special” which bore no relation to the PowrMax type model 616. Remote hydraulics, a category “0” 3-point hitch and rear PTO were standard on the Allis-Chalmers and Wards versions and optional on the Simplicity versions. Front PTO was standard. Both front and rear PTO’s were electrically clutched. As with all Simplicity tractors, a very wide range of attachments were available, including a 60” belly mower deck, a 57” sickle bar mower, a 48” rear tiller, and a loader built by the Ark company.
In 1973, a 19.5 horsepower version of the Onan engine (the CCKB) was installed. This updated version was called the Simplicity PowrMax 4041, the Allis-Chalmers 620, and the Wards Twin Twenty. In 1974 the AC 620 became the 720 to match the numbering systems of the smaller “Sovereign” type 700 series tractors. The final PowrMax revision came in 1975 with the PowrMax 9020, which had an upgraded front axle. The Allis-Chalmers version remained the 720 before and after this revision. After 1975, the AC version was also sold as the “720 Special.” On these models the hydraulics, 3-point hitch, and rear PTO were optional instead of standard. The GSA (United States Federal Government’s purchasing division) bought some specially built PowrMax tractors for use at military bases. These tractors used a Military Spec Onan CCKB engine.
The PowrMax is the most prized and sought after Simplicity product. An AC 720 in pristine condition can bring twice the money (or more) than the tractor sold for new! Owners report an extreme amount of praise for their PowrMax tractors, citing excellent mowing ability, lots of torque, easy handling, and the flexibility to do a number of tough jobs!
The PowrMax was listed in Simplicity price lists through 1980.
Simplicity Sovereign Type Tractors
The most venerable and beloved tractor series produced by Simplicity is what we club members refer to as the “large-frame” or “Sovereign” type tractor. Praise and respect for this series of tractor is enormous. This fine tractor was first produced as the Simplicity Wonderboy model 700 in 1959 and continued until the last Sovereign rolled off the production line in June of the year 2000! A truly remarkable feat!
The Sovereign type bore many brand names, including Simplicity, Montgomery Ward, Allis-Chalmers, Homelite, JC Penny, Deutz-Allis, Agco-Allis, and Massey-Ferguson. Rock solid construction combined with the best mower deck design in the industry have made this series of tractor THE most enduring and long-lived type of garden tractor ever made. There are thousands of examples of 30 year old, and now even 40-plus year old Sovereign types still out there working! Amazingly, almost all of these tractors are still using their original mower deck!
In 1960 the Wonderboy 700 became the 700 in order to avoid confusion with the rear-engine Wonderboy models. The first real revision in the series was in 1961, when the 7 hp Briggs motor was replaced by a 7 and ¼ horsepower version(the model 725). In late 1963 the new 9 horsepower “Landlord” model was introduced with a new front frame, bulkhead, dash, and hood. These models are often referred to as “round hoods.” In 1965 a more powerful 10 horsepower engine was installed and called the Landlord 101. In late 1967 the new “square hood” tractors were introduced as the 2110 and 3012 models(1967 and 1968) and the 2210 and 3112(1969). This series also introduced variable speed drive and Vickers hydrostatic transmissions, both of which required 4” longer rear frames than the standard gear drive models.
The 3300 series(1970 and 1971) and 3400 series (1972 to 1974) were the first “RBT’s” or “Running Board Tractors” and are sometimes called “tweeners” in that they were a new design but still carried some components of the earlier tractors. The 3300 series had an idler pulley center PTO for example, while the 3400 went to the new cone-clutch PTO. The “Baron” name was introduced as a mid-point between the Landlord and the top-of-the-line Sovereign model. Briggs engines were used with 3 speed transmissions, variable speed, or Vickers hydrostatic transmission. A new shuttle transmission model was introduced in 1973.
In 1974(1975 model year) the 7000 series was introduced using Briggs engines. The Vickers hydrostatic transmission was replaced by a Sunstrand and a new 6 speed transmission was available. For the first year, Simplicity referred to these early models as “System” followed by the model number. Midway during production the switch was made to Kohler engines but the 16 hp Briggs was retained. Allis-Chalmers versions used Kohler engines except for some of the 16 horsepower models. In 1976 the headlights were moved inside the grill from the previous outside position. In 1979 the new 7100 series was introduced with 2” longer frames and larger hoods to accommodate larger and more powerful horizontally opposed twin cylinder engines. These tractors had round headlights where the previous tractors(7000 series) had square headlights. In 1984, a diesel model, the 7790(Allis-Chalmers and Deutz-Allis model 920), was offered. This model featured a 790cc Briggs-Lombardini engine and continued until 1987, when Briggs sold its’ share in the Lombardini company. The 7100 series used Kohler engines except for the Briggs powered 7116 and the 7790.
In the late 1980’s the 7100 series was discontinued and for a couple of years there was no “Simplicity” Sovereign type tractor, however Deutz-Allis versions continued to be made. In 1990 Simplicity re-introduced the tractor in response to dealer demand. This new version, the 17GTH-L, used a Kohler flat twin engine and a new orange over black paint scheme (Green over black in the Deutz version). The headlights became square instead of round. The final Sovereign revision came in 1996 (1997 model year) with the switch to 18 hp Kohler OHC Triad engine. At that time a very befitting honor was awarded to the Sovereign, as Simplicity Manufacturing produced it as the “75th Anniversary Special Edition.” Several of these special edition models led the anniversary parade in Port Washington, Wisconsin. This parade is listed in the Guinness Book of World records as the “WORLD’S LARGEST TRACTOR PARADE.”
Perhaps if enough of us petition the dealers, Simplicity Manufacturing will see the light and re-introduce the Sovereign.
Only the Rocks
In 2002 Simplicity Manufacturing purchased Snapper. In 2004 Briggs & Stratton purchased Simplicity. In July of 2007 Briggs & Stratton announced that the Port Washington plant will be closed by October of 2008 and production will be transferred to other facilities. Reading “between the lines” one can only surmise that Simplicity and Snapper tractors will now be identical and produced at former Snapper facilities.
As the Arapahoe Indians used to say; “Only the Rocks Live Forever.” All things must come to an end. With every ending there is a beginning, something lost and something gained. Surely, we “backyard philosophers” will lement the passing of tractor production at Port Washington. Even this extremely dedicated enthusiast has moved on from the old solid dependable Soveriegn types to a new Conquest(mostly due to the age of the writer, NOT the age of the equipment). What has been gained is the benefit of a foot controlled hydro and 18 inch turning radius, which significantly reduces mowing time. What has been lost is the quality of cut, the new decks are just not at good as the old Soveriegn decks. And durability has not been proven.
There is no doubt that the new Snapper/Simplicities will continue to lead the industry. Snapper has always produced quality equipment. I am sure that virtually ALL club members would rate Briggs quality as equal to or exceeding all others. Still, things are just not the same.