By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I was reading a book about Dundee Citrus Growers Association, “D Is for Diamonds,” by Gordon Smith when I came across a story about Hoyle Pounds. He was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1986.
Pounds had a long career as an innovator. He was born in Ocoee, Florida, in 1893 and moved to Winter Garden in the early 1920s where he founded Pounds Motor Company and sold Fordson tractors “to grove owners who were replacing mule power.” For decades, he was instrumental in designing and building fertilizer attachments, hedgers, sprayers, grove tractors, dusters and many other pieces of specialized grove equipment.
Pounds also designed a lawn mower deck for his good friend and fishing buddy, Neal Smith, who was a creator of the Snapper lawn mowers. Although they initially kept the idea a secret, when the project was completed, the two men had made the first Snappin’ Turtle lawn mower decks, and Pounds sold them at Pounds Motor Company.
In the 1940s, Pounds formed the Pounds Industrial Gas Company to meet the rising demand for liquefied petroleum gas for farm and grove businesses. He originally asked Green Fuel of Orlando if it would keep a full gas truck at Pounds Motor Company 24 hours a day. Green Fuel declined the request, so Pounds built his own gas storage facility to supply his customers. The facility was so big that a company in Oklahoma had to design it because no one in Florida knew how.
Pounds Industrial Gas served Winter Garden and surrounding areas between the 1940s and 1980s. Pounds incorporated his business after two of his sons, Herbert and Russell, were discharged from the Air Force after World War II. They worked with Pounds and helped him run the family business. Another son, Donald, operated the tractor company in Winter Haven.
Pounds also served as the volunteer fire chief of Winter Garden for 41 years. The original fire truck that he bought and donated to the city in 1954 was recently returned to Winter Garden and restored by the Winter Garden Heritage Museum.
But it was the patent he received in 1928 for the first rubber tractor tires that earned him economic success and the nickname “Mr. Tractor.” Rubber tires turned a clunky steel-wheeled tractor that couldn’t gain traction in Florida’s sandy soil into a road friendly, smooth-riding machine that pulled and traveled well both in and out of the field.
Hoyle Pounds sold so many of his conversion kits with his tractors that his sales outstripped “his quota of tractors from Ford Motor Company and he had to get tractors from other Ford auto dealers who had to take some tractors with their allocation of cars but were less adept at selling tractors than Pounds.” At the time of his invention, steel tractor wheels could destroy tree roots and also damaged the new roads that were being built as Orlando continued to grow, so it was illegal to drive tractors on a paved street.
Gordon Smith recounts this story:
“Pounds fitted one of his new Fordson tractors with uninflated used truck tires held firmly on the rims with specially designed steel clamps. On December 22, 1926, he no doubt shocked the local citizenry by driving his rubber-tired Fordson tractor for five miles down the forbidden public highway. The occasion was the first public demonstration of his new invention at a grove owned by H.E. and Warren Patrick.”
Maybe that’s where the term “pounding the pavement” originated!
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.
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