In the world of interesting custom red tractors, the Garrett Twin Drive 400 is definitely one of the most well-known. It’s a tractor that’s really had an interesting life, too. It’s criss-crossed the country to display at museums and tractor shows, but it’s done its fair share of work, too.
Before we get into the history of this one, let’s get some details covered first.
Now, on to the history of the Garrett Twin Drive!
In my opinion, guys who build custom one-off tractors like this are wired a little different. Way different than me, at any rate. They’ve got a mechanical mind that can visualize things, and it seems like most of ’em aren’t real risk-averse. They aren’t afraid to try something completely off the beaten path, knowing that it could end up failing. I mean, I’ll stare down a multi-engine pulling tractor making 12,000 horsepower all summer long with the camera (knowing full well that if something goes wrong I’m at significant risk). But if you gave me a pair of Farmalls and told me to bolt ’em together and make it work, the results will be pretty laughable. My mind just isn’t wired that way, y’know?
My point in all this is that guys like John Kinzenbaw, the Steiger brothers, Willie Hensler & Bud Nelson, and Erval Jackson were/are all guys who were willing to risk it all to build something better. Well, there’s one more name you ought to add to that list.
Dwight Garrett was a guy who lived in Enumclaw, WA – a little town just east of Tacoma. It’s primarily a farming area – dairy is a mainstay. However, there’s also a fair amount of logging in the region. In the early 50s, Dwight was looking for a better way to help lumberjacks get logs out of the stands of timber in the area. Up until then, I believe the typical process involved dragging them out with a crawler. It worked, but it didn’t work well. Old-school metal tracks tore the ground up something awful, and that hurt the young trees nearby.
Dwight knew that rubber tires were the way to go. They were easier on the soil and if the machine was heavy enough, it wouldn’t sacrifice traction. So he bought a pair of early 1955 Farmall 400 diesels and went to work. At the time, the Farmall 400 was among the biggest machines available with rubber tires. I know there were bigger tractors available (the John Deere 80, for instance, made 20% more power at the drawbar), but I think – and this is purely conjecture on my part – that Garrett chose the red tractors because of their smooth-running four cylinder engine. Slow and steady wins the race when you’re dragging a big log out of a forest. Jerky two-cylinder movement at low revs would make it harder to keep tension on the log chain, y’know?
So, the Garrett Twin Drive is essentially set up as a crawler. The two engines sit on separate frames with big heavy castings in the middle that enclose a roller chain setup for each tractor unit coupling its front and rear wheels together. The two units are then joined to a center shaft that allows the left and right side to pivot up and down independent of the other. Basically the whole thing sort of hinges up and down in the middle.
The steering setup is almost identical to a crawler – you’ll note that there’s no steering wheel on this thing. The sticks in the center control right and left motion using the brakes. I’m sure it takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, I’d imagine it’s a fairly easy machine to run. I know for fact it’ll do donuts ’til the cows come home!
When it was all done, the Garrett Twin Drive tipped the scales at 15,380 pounds. It was a beefy thing and with 23.1-26 turf treads at all four corners, it took up a lot of space! It’s just about nine feet wide and close to twelve feet long! In theory, since Farmall 400s made about 44 horsepower at the drawbar, if you put two of ’em together, you should be somewhere in the 88 horsepower range. However, I don’t believe any of the owners ever ran any tests on it to find out exactly what it made.
According to this card that stood in front of the Twin Drive at Stew Paquette’s Museum down in Florida, Garrett only built one of this size tractor – likely as a prototype. If it worked, Garrett was prepared to start building them for customers. However, from what I gather, it wasn’t a success, and here’s why. The sheer size of this machine was its downfall. The big 12′ long by 9′ wide rectangle-shaped log skidder had plenty of grunt and weight, but it wasn’t very nimble. It couldn’t really move in and around trees all that easily. The concept was great (Garrett was even awarded a patent on the idea sometime in 1956), but this particular implementation just wasn’t practical.
But now they had this perfectly good, powerful machine that worked really well…just not in the forest.
So, Dwight found a Washington farmer who had long, wide-open fields, and sold it to him!
Not long after the Twin Drive left for its new home, Dwight Garrett started playing with a new idea for a log skidder. One day on a coffee break, he sketched out a design on a napkin for an articulating machine that accomplished the same goal, but was nimble and skinny.
That napkin changed the logging industry forever.
In 1960, the Garrett Model 10 log skidder was introduced, and it took the market by storm. The industry called them Garrett Tree Farmers. At its peak, the company had factories building skidders in three different countries on two continents! Literally every log skidder in use today can trace its roots back to that napkin. Every major forestry equipment company copied the design and they’re still using it today!
The company sold the manufacturing rights sometime in the 70s, but they still serviced machines until 2015, and still maintains a small parts department yet today!
Some of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s all cool, Interesting Iron guy, but can we get back to the Garrett Twin Drive now please?”
Yep. Thought you’d never ask.
Let’s go back to that farmer who bought it…
I don’t know much about the guy who bought the Garrett Twin Drive, but I do know that he farmed with it for the next 30 years. It was evidently very trouble-free, too, because the only expenses the tractor ever racked up were for new rubber, seats, paint, and one overhaul. Not bad for three decades! When he retired in the eighties, the company bought the tractor back, but from what I understand, they didn’t really do much with it. I believe that it just sat on display in their building. If I had to guess, it probably only saw daylight on the occasional homecoming or holiday parades. Don’t quote me on that, but in my mind, that would make sense.
Incidentally, I think the Twin Drive must’ve been the big horse on that farm. According to the owners, this tractor had traveled over 96,000 miles in the field. 96,000 miles! That’s almost four times around the globe!
At any rate, there was a retired farmer in Elnora, IN named Harry Lee who was a die-hard red guy. And like many Farmall fans (and probably some of you), he was a loyal subscriber to Red Power Magazine. In 1992, they ran a short story about this tractor. The second he saw it, he knew he had to have it for his collection. He inquired about it, but at the time, it wasn’t for sale. Harry never forgot about it, though, and in January of 2002, he finally got the chance he’d been waiting for. He wasted no time in getting it bought, and brought it home to Indiana (along with the blueprints and the build sheet and all the good stuff from Garrett).
And that’s when this tractor started to get pretty famous.
See, Harry wasn’t your everyday average red collector. Harry really loved to tinker with old stuff, and over the years, he’d built a bunch of really neat twin- and triple-powered Farmalls (F-20s and F-30s). So, when he saw the Garrett Twin Drive, he know it would be right at home in his collection. Rather than hear it from me, though, check out this video that Classic Tractor Fever shot a few years after he bought it. (Remember when I said I knew it would do donuts? Watch the video…)
According to an interview with Harry (Red Power Magazine, Vol. 17 No. 2 – I think reprints are available), the tractor really didn’t need much. There were a few minor repairs that he made, but it was essentially ready to go when he got it. All he had to do was learn to drive it; once he was comfortable with it, he started taking it to plow days and tractor shows all over the place! He even had baseball card-style hero cards made of some of the tractors in his collection (which I’m told was fairly large – upwards of 50 tractors at one point, most of them early Farmalls)! I’ve seen a few of these cards before, but never in person.
Harry and his collection of twin- and triple-powered tractors became very well-known amongst the red fans.
From all accounts, it seems like Harry was a terrific fella, and I wish I could’ve met him. Sadly, he passed away in January of 2010.
(If you’ve got a Harry Lee story, I’d love to hear it. Send me an email!)
After Harry passed, many of his tractors went to very specific people, including the Twin Drive. Per Harry’s request, it went to Larry Culp, a Florida collector who absolutely cherished the machine and wanted to show it to the public like Harry did. During the years that Larry and his family had it, it was always a big hit wherever they took it. I know that at some point in 2013, it came up to Iowa for an extended visit with Jerry & Joyce Mez at Farmall Land.
Tragically though, Larry passed away unexpectedly in the summer of 2014, not long after taking the tractor up to Huron, SD for the annual Red Power Roundup.
Since Larry’s passing, the Twin Drive has been a part of Paquette’s Historical Farmall Tractor Museum in Leewood, FL, where it’s been seen by tens of thousands of visitors every year. However, now that Stew Paquette has passed away and the museum has closed, Kurt Aumann and his team at Aumann Auctions will send it off to a new owner.
I think this is a deal where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. I mean, clean Farmall 400s (restored or original) have been selling for about $3500 for the last six months or so. But like I said, this tractor is a lot more than just a pair of clean 400s. It’s probably the best-known custom-built red machine out there, and a one of one. Furthermore, save for stuff like rubber, seats, paint, and some basic upkeep, it’s about as original as it was when Dwight Garrett sold it! There’s about 3 weeks left on the auction, and the bid is at $2500, but I know that’ll climb pretty quickly as things start to wind down.
At the end of the day, it’s a hard one to put a value on. However, I can’t imagine that it’ll sell for less than $15K – and depending on who’s involved in the bidding, I could see it going a fair bit higher!
My guess is that it’ll end up with another collector, and hopefully they’ll continue the tradition that Harry, Larry, and Stew started. I’m sure it’s inspired a love of the brand for lots of little kids (as well as those of us who refuse to grow up)! There’s a whole new generation of young people who need to see how something that failed for one purpose can turn into something great so long as you don’t give up!
Here are the auction details one more time. Even if you’re not a bidder, you really ought to check out all of the tractors on this sale bill. It’s a neat walk through history!
By the way, this wasn’t the only Twin Drive model that Garrett built. They also built a 2WD model using a pair of Farmall Cubs. Sadly, nobody knows where that one went. If you’re up in the Pacific Northwest and you see a pair of Cubs bolted together stashed in the corner of a barn somewhere, that might be it! If you find it, please reach out! The Farmall Cub collectors would love to know where it went!