Saturday, December 5, 2020

the garden cart

the short version

I’ve been lugging a lot of heavy stuff around the place lately, which has had me wanting a utility item that was a staple of the gardening and building projects of my childhood: A garden cart.

My parents own several of these by now, but there’s a specific version I think of as The Cart. It’s probably been around for 30 years, give or take. I wrote about it back in 2009:

It consists of two wheels, four pieces of plywood, and some metal tubing + trim. Its construction is far less complex than that of most bicycles. It’s easy to load, capacious, and surprisingly sturdy. The wheels are positioned so that the cart seems almost to lift itself when you tug upwards on the handle. It moves easily over broken ground. It stands square on one end for dumping or storage.

Theirs turns out to be a Garden Way cart; unfortunately a company that went bankrupt a while back. Looking for the closest approximation I could find, these are what I came up with:

I’ll probably order one of those (although reading reviews of both has me nervous about materials & build quality). I’d also be remiss not to mention the Whizbang Garden Cart, a wooden do-it-yourself design (by a guy also notable for his homebrew chicken plucker):

the long version

I’ve wanted one of these for years, but I spent a lot of this summer & fall dragging tools, dirt, and building materials around our yard, and when I saw a recent Mastodon post with a cart in the background I decided to do something about it. I spent an evening grubbing through search results, and bookmarked a bunch of stuff along the way.

Garden Way seems to have been out of business since 2001, at least under that brand name, which it appears was once the parent company of Troy-Bilt. From the depths of Troy-Bilt’s support site, an article about parts for Garden Way carts:

Problem Where can I order parts for Troy-Bilt & Garden Way Garden Carts?

Solution These garden carts are products that we have licensed another company to build and support. Service, parts and/or warranty inquiries should be directed to the phone numbers and address below: …

Older Models: Prior to the 2001 closure of Garden Way Inc., similar garden carts were sold as “Garden Way Garden Carts”.

And one about Garden Way’s bankruptcy:

Problem What happened to the OLD Troy-Bilt manufacturing company?

Solution The product brand names Troy-Bilt® and Bolens® were formerly manufactured under the parent company Garden Way Inc. of Troy, NY.

In 2001 Garden Way Inc., filed for bankruptcy and is no longer in business.

On September 1, 2001 MTD Products Inc. out of Cleveland, Ohio purchased most of the remaining assets under the Troy-Bilt® and Bolens® names from the bankruptcy court.

MTD Products Inc. then transferred the Troy-Bilt® brand to the Troy-Bilt LLC Corporation. Troy-Bilt LLC Inc. is now manufacturing Troy-Bilt® brand outdoor power equipment.

There’s a New York Times obituary for Lyman P. Wood, the founder of Garden Way:

“Lyman was an incredible mix of entrepreneur, futurist and marketer,” said David Schaefer, a Burlington public relations man who was once host to a syndicated gardening television program about Mr. Wood’s company. “Our last conversation was about how are the political systems and resources of Earth going to stand up to increased population growth.” …

Mr. Wood is known for his book, “The Have More Plan,” a 1944 volume offering a thrifty wartime population a way to live off the land.

In the 1960’s he founded the privately held Garden Way Manufacturing Company, expanding New York’s Troy-Bilt rototiller company into publishing, retail stores and other ventures.

Which brings us to the carts themselves, in their current incarnations:

  • Gardener’s Supply Company
    • Large Gardener’s Supply Cart - USD 349.00
    • 66″ long, 42.25″ wide, 30″ high
    • “For over 25 years, our garden carts have been a beloved tool of gardeners everywhere.”
  • Carts Vermont
    • Large Garden Cart - USD 399.95
    • 67.25″ long, 41.50″ wide, 30.25″ high
    • “Home of the original “made in Vermont” garden cart and multi-purpose hauler. Carts Vermont has the tried and true garden, firewood, and utility carts for over 30 years!”

Based on photos and slightly differing measurements, I don’t think those are exactly the same cart off of the same assembly line, but they’re close enough they must have originated from the same plans somewhere along the way.

I got closer to an origin story with this piece by Nancy Wood - Lyman Wood’s daughter:

But first, here’s a bit of clarification about the origin of Country Home Products. The article says it was founded by Lyman Wood (my father) in the 1960s and that it “became known as Garden Way.” In fact, they were two completely separate companies. Lyman and others founded Garden Way in the 1960s with the rebirth of the original Rototiller, which became the Troy-Bilt rear-end tiller manufactured in Troy, New York. That successful mail-order business provided the funding for the growth of several Garden Way divisions in Vermont, including Garden Way Publishing (books for country living), Garden Way Research (manufacturer of the Garden Way carts) in Charlotte, plus the Garden Way Living Center retail store and the nonprofit Gardens For All in Burlington.

Unfortunately, as it grew larger, not everyone ascribed to that mission. A group of dissidents in Troy who were more concerned about profits masterminded an internal takeover on January 28, 1982, ousting Lyman and other key employees in Vermont on that day. Within two years, all of the Vermont operations had been sold or closed and over 200 employees relieved of their jobs. The nonprofit, Gardens for All, was the one exception, and it continues today as the National Gardening Association.

Many of those Vermont employees started new businesses (such as Vermont Teddy Bear, Gardeners Supply and Williamson Publishing), and Lyman was no exception. Even though he was forced out of Garden Way, he was still subject to a non-compete agreement. Garden-related products were out, so he investigated other possibilities. With his friends John Gibbons (former owner of Harrington’s) and Dick Raymond (former gardening guru and author at Garden Way) he came up with the name Country Home Products.

Drama, intrigue, garden industry strife!

Anyway, based on this, it seems like the Gardener’s Supply cart is a clear lineal descendant of the original. I’m pretty much assuming the same is true of the Carts Vermont one — though I haven’t seen anything to indicate what, if any, relationship they’ve got to the original company / factory.

directions for further research

I wound up ordering a copy of What a Way to Live and Make a Living: The Lyman P. Wood Story, by Roger Griffin.

Mostly I just want to buy a cart, but there’re hints of a cultural history lurking in this kind of thing. Back-to-the-land ideas that were circulating in the 1960s–70s, mail-order retail, the ubiquitous rototiller infomercials of the 1990s, whatever it is that leads people to do things like burn wood for heat and can their own green beans. It’s probably roughly one step from the Garden Way garden cart to, say, the Whole Earth Catalog.

I’m not sure how much I’m really going to pull on any of those threads, but it’s a good reminder that most things run deeper than it seems at first.

p1k3 / 2020 / 12 / 5
tags: topics/garden, topics/garden-carts, topics/lawn-and-garden, topics/tools