The name Cecil Pond may not sound familiar but any suburbanite with a large lawn to mow should thank him when clambering aboard a riding mower. A pioneer in the lawn tractor business, Pond was the founder of Wheel Horse products, a developer of the modern-day mower. Pond, 87, died recently but his products live on through ardent collectors who swap parts and stories and show off their restored machines at an annual gathering.
After serving in the Army in World War II, Pond returned to South Bend, Indiana in 1946 and teamed up with his father who was building lawn tractors from surplus motorcycle and automotive parts in his garage. "He didn't like to mow the lawn," Cecil Pond's son, Gary, told the South Bend Tribune . "He didn't like to push the lawnmower, that's how it came about."
At the same time, other returning veterans were moving their families to the suburbs to houses with large lots and sprawling lawns. By 1957, sales of Wheel Horse tractors and lawn gear had grown to more than $1 million and two years later, sales topped $4.5 million, reports the Tribune. “It came out after World War II when suburbs were popping up everywhere and it revolutionized the industry by bringing the riding lawn mower to suburban homes,” Michael Martino Jr., who wrote a book on the company, “Straight from the Horse’s Mouth.” told the Associated Press.
In the 1970s, Pond sold his company to American Motors, which in turn sold the tractor line to Toro in 1986. Toro continued to make tractors under the Wheel Horse name for a number of years. The brand, however, continues to be a venerable name in mowers. Since 1999, the Wheel Horse Collectors Club has gathered every June at the South Mountain Fairgrounds in Arendtsville, Pennsylvania to exhibit their machines and do a little “horse trading.”
Of course, keeping a vintage mower in working condition isn’t a walk in the park. What most homeowners want is a reliable mower with a good repair history. Consumer Reports asked 20,246 readers who bought a new tractor or zero-turn riding mower between 2006 and 2010 about their experiences. With lawn tractors, Cub Cadet and Troy-Bilt were among the more repair-prone brands and John Deere the least. And in zero-turn-radius riding mowers, readers considered Toro to be more reliable than Cub Cadet.
Our mower testers are getting ready for their annual trip to Florida where they’ll put the latest batch of mowers through their paces for our next mower report. But you can check our current Ratings and recommendations to find a mower that’ll easily dispatch your patch of grass so you can kick back and put your feet up. After all, even Cecil Pond got out of the mower business and moved to a Michigan winery.
—Mary H.J. Farrell