Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (2023)

Best vintage front loader garden tractor

My favorite implement for a vintage garden tractor is the front loader. For those unfamiliar with vintage garden tractors, a front loader may seem more like a toy than a tool. The truth is, vintage garden tractors make fantastic platforms for small front loaders. This combination results in a very capable, compact and inexpensive machine to help you manage your household chores. With a properly configured front loader, your lawn tractor can dig, lift and haul materials up to 800 pounds in weight and up to 6 feet in height. This makes it the perfect tool for homeowners, orchards, equine and livestock farms. I personally use a fleet of garden loaders to manage horse manure, compost, dirt, snow, mulch and more on my 8 acre farm property in southern Maine. Its small size allows me to navigate small enclosed areas and corridors between outbuildings and other obstacles. The light weight of my machines (less than 2,000 pounds) allows me to drive my tractor loader anywhere on the property without fear of damaging lawns or paths.

In this article I will explain what to consider when choosing a garden tractor as a front loader platform.

Front Loader: Buy or Build

There were many manufacturers in the United States that made front loaders for garden tractors from the 1950's through the 1990's. Some popular manufacturers were Johnson, Kwik Way, Danco, Ark among others. You can still occasionally find these chargers on Internet classifieds such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. The two most likely scenarios you'll encounter are loaders already attached to tractors or loaders for a garden tractor other than your own. The options in these cases are to manufacture a custom way to attach the loader to your tractor. This process isn't difficult, but it will require creativity and some crafting skills.

I prefer to build my own front loaders. This process can be facilitated with pre-designed plans from P.F. Engenharia. They make complete plans to build their own Front End Loader. You can learn more about them here: The process is not difficult. I built my first one with a cheap welder and angle grinder. I will write a more in-depth article on building a front loader in the future.

Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (1)

Choosing the right garden tractor

All older garden tractors are capable of handling a front loader. All true garden tractors have engines, front axles, transmissions and frames that are capable of handling the workload of a front loader. However, there are some features that make some tractors better than others. My favorite garden tractors for front loaders are the Ford LGT 145, 165 and 195 garden tractors. My second favorite is the International Harvester Cub Cadet wide frame tractors such as the Cub Cadet 129, 149 and 169.

Let's explore four characteristics that make a great garden tractor loader.

Wheel axles:

All older garden tractors will have a spindle of at least ¾” with a wheel supported by 2 ball bearings. This is fine for a front loader, but if you want to utilize the full power of your loader you will want to upgrade to a stronger 1” wheel axle with tapered bearings. You can make your own using a trailer axle, hub and bearings. Some garden tractors already have 1” front wheel axles. Examples are John Deere 400, Simplicity Powermax and Ford LGT 195.

Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (2) Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (3)

stock axle trailer axle upgrade


While all antique garden tractor frames are strong enough to support a front loader, some designs are easier to work with than others.

I prefer tractors with big, flat chassis. John Deere and Cub Cadet provide a large flat, square surface area that you can weld and drill to create many mounting positions and options for you. Tractors like the Wheel Horse use angular iron frames and sit close together. This can make it difficult to assemble the components.

Ford LGT and Bolens tractors have tubular frames, which can make finding mounting locations for the front loader subframe a little more difficult.

Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (4)Cub Cadet 149 Charger frame and subframe


First, let's classify garden tractor transmissions into 3 interface types.

  • Foot pedal controlled hydrostatic
  • Manually controlled hydrostatic
  • Mechanical Gear

Pedal controlled hydrostatic transmissions can be found on Bolens Large Frame and Ford LGT tractors. This allows you to have both hands available to manipulate the loader control valve and steering wheel while driving. This is particularly useful when moving back and forth a lot, such as turning manure piles or moving piles of material from one location to another.

Hand-controlled hydrostatic transmissions can be found on most older garden tractors. The John Deere 140, 300 and John Deere 400 series use a manually controlled hydrostatic transmission. Cub Cadet and Simplicity also used hand-controlled hydrostatic levers. Some of these tractors, like the John Deere 140 and Cub Cadet 149, have a foot pedal that you can press to return the hydrostatic lever to neutral. This is useful so that, if you are using the loader and steering, you can slow down and stop the tractor without using your hands.

Other tractors such as the John Deere 317, 400, Simplicity Sunstar do not have neutral return pedals. To stop these tractors it is necessary to use one hand to return to neutral.

Mechanical transmissions are found on Wheel Horse, John Deere, Simplicity, Allis Chalmers, Cub Cadets, Sears and many others. To change direction with these transmissions, you must depress the clutch with your foot and then manually shift into a gear. When you release the clutch, your tractor moves. With these transmissions you can shift the transmission and then use both hands to operate the loader and steer while your foot engages the clutch.

.Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (5)Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (6)Best vintage garden tractor for a front loader (7)

Hand controlled hydro mechanical gear hydro pedal control

Operator Station

I would recommend using a “Full Size” garden tractor from the 1970's or later. Tractors from this decade were larger and more comfortable than their 1960s counterparts. Tractors like Cub Cadet Wide Frame, Ford LGT, Wheel Horse 300 series, Bolens Large Frames, Allis Chalmers 700 series, etc. are examples of good-sized machines. With these machines you can mount the front loader and have plenty of room to get on and off the machine, plus you can sit comfortably even with oversized work boots and oversized coats.

Earlier smaller tractors such as the John Deere 110, Cub Cadet Original, Allis Chalmers B1 and Ford 120 could also accept a front loader but operator space and comfort would need to be compromised.

The larger “Super Garden Tractors” offer even more space for the operator. Examples of garden super tractors would be the Ford LGT 195, John Deere 400, 425, 445, 455, Allis Chalmers 616, 620, Simplicity Powermax, Ingersoll 4118 and 4020 tractors.

So those are four things to consider when choosing an old vintage garden tractor to mount a front loader. Front wheel axles, tractor frame, transmission and operator station can all affect the performance and comfort of your garden tractor loader.

I purposely didn't start discussing rears, steering and brakes. All true garden tractors will be suitable in these areas, and it just depends on preference. Power steering is a nice luxury, but it's not necessary for a garden tractor loader.

Hope this helps you choose a vintage garden tractor that is right for your loader project.

Thanks for saving the tractors,

  • Norman, iSaveTratores

November 16, 2018


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