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Palmer And the Blue General

Part Two Palmer and the Blue General.

In 1941 the Toro Manufacturing Co. had three Toro General Golf Course Maintenance Tractors on the assembly line. They were building them for delivery in 1942 for their respective customers. When WWII started the units were put on hold and Toro, as many companies did, teamed up to help our armed forces. 

When the war ended in 1945, Toro went back to the assembly line to complete their customer orders. They called all three customers to ask if they still wanted their units, two said yes and one was rejected. They asked their two customers if they could paint the two tractors blue, (because they had left over paint from the war) and they approved. Toro at the time had not found their signature RED color yet so they were painted blue and delivered.

These two units were the only two units ever manufactured and painted blue by Toro. One was delivered to Minnesota Valley Country Club and the other to a friend of the president of Toro.

The Blue General served as an important part of the fleet of vehicles for MVCC until 1982 when it gained a degree of fame. Pennzoil and Toro had a contract with Arnold Palmer to shoot a Pennzoil commercial on a Toro tractor in each location where Mr. Palmer participated in a PGA TOUR event. The 40-year-old Blue General Toro Tractor, owned by MVCC, was the prop used in the Minnesota commercial. As the next 30 years passed the old Blue General slowly disappeared to the backside of a maintenance building on the course.

Eight years ago Dave Otterdahl, the owner of Valley Construction and Repair, was selected to construct a new halfway house at MVCC. As the project progressed, Otterdahl, who is an avid collector of vintage tractors (he owns four), and Mike Brower, golf course superintendent, were discussing a variety of old equipment in a junk pile behind the MVCC maintenance building. Then Brower pointed out a dusty old tractor, covered with rust (no blue paint visible) hidden under a pile of drain-tile pipe. “Why are you showing me that old piece of junk?” questioned Otterdahl. Without a word Brower marched into his office and returned with a green book, The History of Minnesota Valley Country Club. He flipped through a few pages and pointed to a picture, dating back to 1982, of Arnold Palmer sitting on the Blue General holding a can of Pennzoil motor oil.

The process of refurbishing the Blue General was truly a scavenger hunt. The old tractor badly needed a new floor mounted shifter for the transmission. Otterdahl’s frustration increased as he searched the Internet day after day and found nothing. On a hunch, he went to Little Dearborn, a longtime Minneapolis parts supply warehouse. As he was explaining what he was looking for an old time employee overheard the conversation and said that he thought that Mendakota Country Club used to have two of the old Generals. Maybe they could help! When Otterdahl visited Bob McKinney, superintendent at Mendakota, he learned that they not only had two old Generals, but also had three 1941 Motor Craft shifters – Ford transmissions were used in the Generals. Mendakota had long ago replaced the Ford transmissions and had no use for the shifters, so Otterdahl got a brand new 1941 Motor Craft shifter with the original tags still attached – FREE. In addition McKinney allowed Otterdahl to borrow the seat from one of his tractors so Otterdahl could create an exact copy for his Blue General.

When Otterdahl purchased the Blue General he was unaware that the purchase included a matching trailer. Sometime between 1955 and 1959 MVCC asked Toro if they could make a trailer that could be used with the General? The answer was, “Yes we will use the parts from the scrapped third General to create one.” The unfinished General had been stripped, but the box and frame were in tact. The frame was shortened and the rear drive train axel was replaced with a Model A Chevy axel; the wheels were replaced with matching Toro wheels. When Otterdahl questioned current Toro management about the trailer, they were unaware of its existence. Today the completely refurbished Blue General has a matching sibling trailer.

Otterdahl is the very overjoyed owner of the completely restored, 1941-1946 Toro General Golf Utility Tractor. He loves the Tractor, but more than the Tractor he loves the history and the association with Arnold Palmer that was created by that “old piece of junk.” Otterdahl, contacted The King’s business manager to see if there might be any interest in having Mr. Palmer autograph the beautiful piece of history. Within fifteen minutes “The King” himself was on the phone, inviting Otterdahl and his wife, Cindy, to bring the hood of the old tractor to Latrobe, Pennsylvania where they could spend some time together and take a few pictures. He would be happy to place his signature on the hood of the old tractor. A few days later Otterdahl and his wife drove the 16 hours to Latrobe, PA. They knew that Mr. Palmer is the King of Golf, but they quickly realized that people in Latrobe worship him as KING OF LATROBE, PA. The Otterdahl’s were amazed that everyone at the Spring Hill Suites hotel (owned by Mr. Palmer) knew who they were and the reason for their visit.

Otterdahl describes how Palmer’s eyes twinkled and his face glowed with that famous Palmer smile as he re-lived the experience of acquiring and giving new life to the Blue General with stories and photos. Palmer allowed Otterdahl and a professional photographer to take pictures of The King autographing the highly polished tractor hood. The Otterdahl’s were then escorted to Palmer’s work shop (The Barn) by Palmer’s brother, Jerry. He spent two hours reliving to them the unknown side of “The King’s” personality: Palmer, an avid collector, is known for never throwing anything away. He has racks filled with every club he ever used and many that he never used. Otterdahl, who loves tools and tinkering, says, “Palmer’s workshop is something to behold.”

And as they say… the rest is history.

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Dave Otterdahl greets Arnold Palmer with a seat on the renovated Blue General when Mr. Palmer arrives in Blaine for the 2014 3M Championship.

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