machinery

by alan

Bolens & Machines on TV

June 8, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

The sun always shines on TV’ goes the 1985 song by A-ha, and to a certain degree it does although it might not be the sun that brightens your day but the appearance of some vintage horticultural machinery which you’d never think would ever get on mainstream TV. It certainly is an exclamation of A-ha! when one recognises a machine on the telly. (Sorry about the bad pun – I spent ages thinking of it).

It’s rare to see vintage gardening machines on television, occasionally they appear on vintage online news clips such as https://www.britishpathe.com/* which is worth searching; with black and white film from the 20th Century and voice-overs done with real gusto as they did in the good old days. How about watching the short 1950 advert * of a fantastic radio-controlled mower on the old cathode-ray tube in the living room – it was all the future and more!

The Wartime Farm on BBC in 2012 featuring VHGMC members

In media other items appear like the immaculate 1963 John Deere 110 garden tractor on their stand at Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, a great photo shoot with Zara Philips present to mark the 50th anniversary of JD lawn and turf business.

Not forgetting our chairman and others who did a sterling job on the BBC programme The Wartime Farm* in 2012, as shown in the image on the right with a Trusty Tractor. 

The Howard gem as featured in The Good Life from 1975 onwards

We have to mention Tom and Barbara in the Good Life from 1975 on the BBC with their Kohler powered Howard Gem with makeshift trailer which they took to the road with. You can watch a replica of this rotavator and trailer setup* in action on the BBC Youtube channel – it’s entertaining! 

And then something else comes to light. You may have seen the recent VHGMC forum thread regarding a couple of ride-on mowers that appeared in ‘The Prisoner‘ which was filmed in the UK, outdoors was filmed at Portmeirion and indoors at MGM studios, Borehamwood, filming was between 1966 and 1968. For younger readers, which includes me although I recall the repeats, ‘The Prisoner‘* revolved around the imprisonment of a British intelligent agent in a surreal village on the coast and his search for information on his location and various plans for escaping. 

Bolens Suburban 26 (Left image) and Bolens Lawn Keeper on the UK TV show ‘The Prisoner’ in the 1960’s.

The two machines, pictured above, featured on a few brief occasions through ‘The Prisoner‘ series and turned out to be by Bolens. The left pictured one being a Bolens Suburban 26 and the right being a Bolens Lawn Keeper. The Lawn Keeper, of which there are a few in the UK, is an articulated machine with an out-front mower but can also take other attachments such as a snow blade, this is one of the 910 series Lawn Keeper machines and from the image appears to be powered by a Tecumseh engine.

The Bolens Suburban 26 in the left image is an altogether rarer (at present non-existent) machine in the UK. Bolens marketed this machine through the 1960’s and it had various cosmetic changes to the tin-work through that period of time. The illustrated machine has a 5hp Briggs and Stratton engine and was capable of a 26″ cut.

The Question is: Does anyone have a Bolens Suburban in the UK, or was Patrick McGoohan on ‘The Prisoner’ the only person to get a test drive? Also what was the nearest Bolens dealership to the MGM studios at Borehamwood? It may even be that the TV producer or writer saw these machines somewhere and decided to use them in ‘The Prisoner’ as something a bit quirky – you never know!  Let us know your thoughts!

Update: I’ve found that Rolfes of Romsey (referred to usually as Rolfe’s Mini Tractors) were selling the Lawn Keeper and Suburban at this time. They had an ex-demo Lawn Keeper at 6 months old for £225 in 1968, and a fair heap of Suburban ride-ons too, they may not have been big sellers, an 18 month old shop soiled machine could be yours for £85 when the new retail price was £230. A VHGMC advert for Rolfes albeit their Jacobsen sales but it has their address.

The video of these Bolens on ‘The Prisoner ‘ can be seen here at 28min 48sec onwards, just press play below.

 



*Please note cookies/GDPR for external websites.

Note: Images/video are used for research/illustration purposes only with copyright held by respective publishers. 


by alan

Ford garden machines in the UK

May 11, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Advert for the Ford LGT 14D diesel ride on mower. Available in the UK 1987-1991

Ford is a global manufacturer and has a wide range of products under its belt with a vast array of associated advertising, one would be inclined to think that it’d be easy then, a doddle even, to find out about their mowers, tillers, chainsaws and garden and lawn tractors in the UK? This, I have found, is not the case, probably because I now know there isn’t much to find over here! For comparison I’ve spent months researching International Harvester garden tractors in the UK, their information proving sketchy, but that was surprisingly easier than Ford!

I have been looking for the Ford models actually sold in the UK rather than cataloguing the vast range they made, this has meant looking through UK specific brochures and data. However, this article may still have rather a lot of loose ends and more questions than answers but it’s a start and will perhaps inspire others to add to the knowledge base.

Having delved about with research I find that some of the first engine-powered Ford ride-on mowers seem to be of the home-made variety and date from the early 1900’s. This will come as no surprise when we learn that they were Model T Fords pulling along originally horse-powered gang mowers. Not exactly a ‘ride-on’ but the thought was there.

Ford 80 garden tractor as seen at Newark Tractor Show in 2015

The earliest purpose built Ford garden tractors that we are aware of in the UK is the model 80, manufactured for a few years from 1966. A couple have come to light in recent years, the image, right, is an example shown at Newark Tractor Show in 2015. The model 80 and 100 were manufactured by Jacobsen of Racine, Wisconsin and were essentially rebadged and Ford liveried Jacobsen Chief 100 tractors (see image for comparison). A little later the 80 and 100 were joined by the Ford 120 hydrostatic (based on the Jacobsen Chief 1200). However, of the first Ford garden tractors produced in the late 1960’s only the model 80 with the 8hp engine has appeared in the UK as far as we are aware.

Ford R8 rider mower in the US. From 1973 in the UK this could be bought as the original Ransomes-Hahn 500 in yellow paintwork.

It’s always interesting seeing which manufacturer makes what for whom, Ransomes-Hahn for instance manufactured for Ford in the US, as in the image of the rider on the right, but it appears none of these Ford badged machines made it over here. In the UK  from 1973 this machine is the yellow painted Ransomes-Hahn 500 rider model (see image for comparison) and available with 5hp or 7hp Briggs and Stratton engine. In the US these same machines were badged as the Ford R8 and R11 as in the image, right, did either of these Ford badged machines make it to the UK?

In 1973 to compliment the yellow Ransomes-Hahn 500 rider model in the UK there is mention of the larger and more tractor-like Ransomes-Hahn GT700 (see UK image) with 8 or 12hp Tecumseh engine and hydrostatic drive – since the Ransomes-Hahn 500 was painted blue and badged Ford in the US (as in the image above) I’m surprised the larger GT700 never appeared in any country as a Ford. Note: I have seen a blue Ford-esque GT700 but I think it was something that’d been bodged up from a yellow Hahn as a lookalike Ford.

Slight deviation from Ford: Whilst mentioning Hahn and the things that came off their production line in many colours, there was the 12hp Kohler powered Ransomes-Hahn Tournament Triplex mower available in yellow paintwork and with same machine being available later in the standard Ransomes green and badged as the Triplex 171 – both machines were available in the UK and were aimed at the golf course and fine lawn market. Amazing how manufacturers make, market and sell their machines under or for different brands – something which Ford was no stranger to, but for research it can be a real tangled web when one starts looking!

Ford YT16, available in a geared or hydrostatic version in the UK

Back to Ford and onto another manufacturer, this time Gilson of Wisconsin, USA. Gilson (and others) manufactured the most common small Ford machine we see in the UK that is the YT16 as in the image on the right, complimented by the hydrostatic YT16H model. This yard tractor (hence the YT prefix) with 42” mower deck was available with a 16hp Briggs and Stratton engine to start with and later a 16hp Kohler engine. It was manufactured by Gilson from approx. 1983 to 1988 followed by being manufactured by Lawnboy until 1993.  Lawnboy purchased Gilson in 1988 before all being bought by Toro in 1989 – so several hands in manufacturing the YT16 range. During 1985-91 Gilson/Lawnboy also made the bigger brother Ford LGT-18H which was available to us. Powered by a petrol 18hp Kohler engine with hydrostatic drive and optional rear PTO, this was available with a 48” mid-mounted mower deck with hydraulic lift for those that didn’t want to wrestle with a mechanical lever and spill their coffee – unlike Husqvarnas that have a cup holder to mitigate such scenarios. 

Hooray! for the frugal diesel for there is one small Ford diesel garden tractor that features in the UK, it is shown in the advert at the top of this article. In production from approximately 1987-1991 this is the LGT-14D and had 40% higher fuel efficiency than the equivalent petrol. Specification from the brochure states it has a Shibaura, 14hp, 3 cylinder diesel engine; hydrostatic drive and a 48” mid-mounted mower deck. Rear PTO was optional.  This tractor is the diesel version of the LGT-14 which was powered by a 14hp Kohler, 512cc petrol engine which no doubt gobbled petrol. Manufacture of the petrol LGT-14 was by Gilson between 1986 and 1987, and unlike the diesel Shibaura version, appears not to have been introduced to the UK – we just got the diesel one, unless you know otherwise?

Ford lawnmower. Did any make it over to the UK?

The next step up is to the larger, but still compact, Ford 1100 (2 wheel drive) and 1200 (4 wheel drive) machines. Data suggests that these were manufactured from around 1979 for about three or four years by Shibaura and featured 2-cylinder diesel engines coupled to a 12-speed gearbox. Prices were about £2500 for the 1100, and £3000 for the 1200 (see image). In the VHGMC gallery there is an image of a Ford 1220 (see image), this is from the Twenty Compact Series from the 80s/90s which comprised of the 1220, 1520, 1720,1920 and 2120 models. There was also the Ten series tractors (1983-1986) consisting of the 1120, 1210, 1310, 1510, 1710 and 1910. I know the 1120 and 1210 existed in the UK but not of the others. 

What else did Ford manufacture? My brochures say they made push lawnmowers as in the image, right. Also snow blowers, tillers and chainsaws including the super lightweight saws from the 1970’s. Do any of these Ford garden items exist in the UK? And as importantly who made them for Ford, were they also re-badged machines?

by alan

Then and Now – Gamages, Holborn

April 14, 2019 in Articles

Gamages Store (link to image and credit)

Several manufacturers names and adverts turn up on a quite regular basis, these include: Howard, Greens Mowers, Jap engines, Sheen flame guns, Tarpen equipment, Allen scythes and the list goes on, but also one other name, that of Gamages of London appears quite a lot.

But who were Gamages? Their adverts appear through the 20th Century, you may have seen their adverts in old magazines advertising absolutely every tool of the time that anyone could ever need for the garden and horticulturalist as well as multiple departments for others such as household, furniture, sporting items and motoring department (including cars). Items were available from their department store in Holborn, London, think along the lines of Harrods but bigger, although even through the later 20th century Harrods were selling horticultural equipment and machines too – it was a booming market.

‘The Famous Gamage Roller Mower’ aka Suffolk Super Swift

There’s an interesting summary on Graces Guide with adverts (link) about Gamages including their rise to fame from 1878 and subsequent demise in 1972.  Little did they know they’d grow into an enormous enterprise including a garden tools and machinery department, automobile and tools. Many garden items, made by other manufacturers, bear the Gamages name, either on attached cast plates or written on as shown on the lawnmower as pictured in the 1970 brochure, right. The mower pictured actually being a Suffolk Super Swift although advertised as ‘The Famous Gamage Roller Mower’, yours for £5,19.6.

Gamage Roller from 1910

Gamages produced many brochures detailing their gardening wares. Items could either be purchased in the store or via their successful mail order service. The first advert I have for their garden goods is 1910 with ‘Carriage paid to any goods station in England or Wales’. The advert having many items as well as garden rollers, image left, again advertised as being by them and probably that central cast medallion was emblazoned with their name. An internet search for ‘Gamage roller’ will show the vast range they sold which still survive to today.

A few unusual makes appear in their adverts too. Being sold in the early 1970’s are tools by Spearwell, image below, a company I had not heard of (and had to look it up) but is a short-lived amalgamation which is now Spear & Jackson (link to VHGMC Spearwell gallery). They had three styles of hoe for sale, the draw hoe, Dutch hoe and the Paxton hoe which is double action and has a push-pull motion.

Spearwell Garden Tools, a company with Spear & Jackson connections


Another unusual item I’ve found for sale with Gamages is the ‘Markette’ push-along lawn sweeper, image below right . With distinctive curved handles and almost circular collector bag it’s a machine of which I can find no other reference. Price was £14.19.6 

Markette Lawn Sweeper as sold by Gamages, London in the 1970’s


As this is a ‘Then and Now’ article, where is Gamages, the great department store? It is long gone, the great architecture of the London store and apparently rabbit-warren of departments once full of goods was demolished to be replaced by a more modern office building at the end of the 20th Century – link to Gamages location on Google Earth.

However, if a Gamages advert appears when leafing through the pages of a long-forgotten journal then at least you’ll know they sold a great many gardening goods, tools and machines which helped many gardeners between 1878 and 1972 and beyond. Indeed many of those early rollers and mowers bearing their name still exist today, perhaps there are more tools and garden equipment marked ‘Gamages’, do you have any? 

by alan

Husqvarna – Nearly Found One

March 11, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Some machines appear to be rare, scarce, non-existant, but are they? Or are they out there hiding in the bushes? This article is about how elusive some items can be….or perhaps I’m not searching in the correct place for the one specific item I’m after.

If anyone has ever been looking for a machine then at some point it can all seem rather fruitless, but all may not be lost because sometimes a little more information just suddenly appears – hence the ‘Husqvarna – Nearly Found One‘ title. (Note: I still haven’t actually found the 1970’s Husqvarna mower I’m looking for (pictured below)…or a non-brochure photo yet but the search continues just to prove they exist out in the wild, I’ll not give in!)

Husqvarna is a company which is generally associated with chainsaws and motorbikes in the UK, but there’s also some vintage and collectable machinery and lawnmowers. I used to have a Husqvarna mower from the mid 1990’s with a variable drive mechanism powered by a small rubber wheel which unfortunately heated up and disintegrated through time, it certainly could burn rubber but at the expense of not propelling the mower an inch. It’s very soul-destroying having to push a self-propelled mower! 

Husqvarna 500 mower – the red ones were self-propelled and the blue ones were push models.

Having had the 1990’s mower with the problematic drive mechanism I was intrigued to read a couple of years back that there had been some earlier Husqvarna mowers launched here in 1972. These were amazing 12-speed, 2-stroke, advanced machines and available in BLUE and RED colour schemes – that colour choice alone just gives them a cool edge and sets then apart from anything else that was on the market. 

My new and latest research, with specifications further down this article, tells that this was an incredibly advanced mower as mentioned in UK  gardening magazines of the time and had a couple of refinements, improved front-wheel drive and a steel rear flap in 1975, also detailed in magazines. They were out there, they were being advertised in many publications including professional journals, they were exhibited on show stands, but where are these mowers today? They cannot all have vanished after a long life being sold by dealers? If anyone ever finds one then they’ll get an incredible piece of 40+ year old, modern mower history for probably less than £50 – start searching!

After a bit of colour correction the blue model may have looked like this.

These smooth ABS shelled mowers were available as a push-version, that’s it in the unusual blue and white colour scheme, and in the red scheme was the self-propelled front wheel drive version. 

The engine is encased and has the pull handle at the middle of the front cover and the mower was advertised as having “clean, almost streamlined styling…the smooth uncluttered lines making it easier to keep the machine clean and smart“. Powered by a 120cc (3.5hp), Swedish-designed, two-stroke engine the mower was described in the brochure as ” Everywhere it has been demonstrated experts have commented on it’s low noise level ‘Environmentally acceptable, agreeable – almost silent’ “. Two-stroke?

It was also stated in the literature that it was ‘Europe’s rarest power mower‘ which is an odd thing to say when trying to sell a product, however, it turns out they were right and getting on for nearly 50 years later it remains rare, indeed where have they all gone?! Europe seems devoid of them also and I’ve even scoured Swedish auction sites and the nooks and crannies of most European countries online resources.  

Then, a year after I started looking for this mower I find a magazine advert (image right) with dealers name and address of Hyett Adams in Gloucestershire, which confirms they were sold in the UK and it wasn’t just some magazine hear-say to fill their editorial pages.

And the mower turns out to be even better than I originally thought…..finding one for £50 seems more of a bargain than ever….

It could use either it’s side or rear discharge, a system Husqvarna calls ‘Duo-Jet’. It had a low profile for cutting under shrubs and low branches as well as inset wheels so it could cut up to lawn and path edges and was height adjustable from 1″ to 3″. Then, to add to the list it benefited from front-wheel drive which, if anyone has used one, is a brilliant thing to have. 

The air-cooled engine was Swedish designed and potentially in-house Husqvarna created with a Repco ignition and Gutner carburettor. The two stroke was clever and featured two separate tanks, one for petrol and one for oil. The mixing taking place automatically by a built in pump in the fuel filler cap so that when the tank is refilled with petrol the correct amount of oil is added. 

The 12 speed was a ‘variator belt-drive’ allowing variable ground speed up to 6kph whilst the cutting blade maintained maximum speed.

So where are they all, not one can I find in existence in red, blue or otherwise. I have a few theories that after years of use then engines may not have been economical to repair; other replacement engines may not have been easy to transplant into that specific body shape; and the ABS body shells are difficult to repair if damaged and certainly do not bend or dent like steel does.

Maybe all the mowers reached the end of their useful lives and my search is at an end? Some machines are really elusive and however much searching is done, adverts, drawings, newspaper articles or technical specifications detailed, the machine just refuses to appear. 

Perhaps then, I’ll shift my focus to another machine and see if I have more luck finding one of the rare, UK demonstrated, walk behind Bolens tractors from 1927.There’s got to be one somewhere on this isle, or are we 92 years too late…?

Bolens tractor as demonstrated at Long Ashton, Bristol, in 1927

by alan

Ariens (& Gravely)

February 18, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Ariens Jet Tiller

Many of the machines and pieces of equipment that are collected fall in to one of three categories: pedestrian machines, ride on machines and hand tools. But there are three more categories which we rarely think of, these are:

1. Popular manufacturers we know really well and the vast majority of their products are generally available. 

2. Manufacturers that we have heard of, know their products exist and they appear from time to time

3. Manufacturers or rare machines on the edge of obscurity that sometime turn up but may already be extinct or all traces passed through the scrapyard long ago. 

One company that fits neatly into the second category is Ariens from Wisconsin, USA. A company which made their first Rototiller in 1933 and now a global company incorporating Countax and Westwood in Oxfordshire. Ariens have a fantastic museum, more details at the bottom of this page.

Surely though, for the UK market in the 1970’s and 80’s didn’t Ariens just build and sell lawnmowers to us? 

Yes, they did make mowers for the UK market, although we haven’t pinpointed when any of Ariens machines first hit the UK, but Arien’s also made a range of tillers too, including the Jet tiller and the Rocket tiller with the latter being available to us. These are great machines and brilliant names from the late 1950’s with the build up to man jetting off to the moon. Shame that modern machines by nearly all manufacturers are now referred to by a list of numbers and letters and not some fanciful names to reel the customers in with. 

Ariens Super Jet Tiller 1961 (US advert)

There are some Ariens tillers out in the UK, with some savvy owners (inc. VHGMC members) having one or two in their collections. There’s also quite a range of mowers too from the 1970’s and 80’s, some which occasionally appear. 

We will start with the Jet Tiller. Powered by a Briggs and Stratton or a Clinton engine in the 3hp to 4.5hp range and with a working width of 8-20″, like a Merry Tiller this was a front-tined machine. There was also a Jet Super and a Jet Deluxe.

The advert image on the right shows the 1961 Jet Super which had the reverse included as standard and an increase to 24″ turbo tines. The Jet Deluxe had a 5hp engine. Although these machines are in America I cannot find any mention of them in the UK, perhaps you have one or a UK brochure? The VHGMC are on the search to see who has one!

But the bigger machine being the Ariens Rocket (image below right) does appear in the UK, presumably there may just be the smaller Jet lurking somewhere out there?

Ariens Rocket with 7hp Tecumseh Engine (VHGMC – Darmic1)

The larger Rocket is a rear-tined machine, as opposed to the front-tined Jet, and has engines in the 5hp to 7hp range which could turn the soil at up to 178rpm. By 1974 the Rocket was also available with optional electric start and had two forward and reverse speeds and an increase of turning the soil up to 235rpm. 

As mentioned the Ariens Rocket tillers are in the UK and are robust machines worthy of having, the image, right, is from the VHGMC archive.

In 1989 (from a UK brochure) the tiller range included the 214 (2hp B&S, 14″ front tined), 524 (5hp B&S, 24″ front tined), 5020, (5hp Tecumseh, 20″ rear tined), 7020, (7hp Tecumseh, 20″ rear tined).


Importing to the UK:

As with many machinery manufacturers we find that the importers or sole distributors can vary over the course of time. In the 1970’s Norlett (link to gallery) imported Ariens tillers, yard and garden tractors and the riding mowers into the UK and Ireland until 1981 when Lely Import LTD took over the importing. 

Some of the machines imported by Norlett included the 14 and 17hp tractors with both gear and hydrostatic drive. There was also a range of attachments including dozer blade, dump cart, rotary tiller and the mower decks which can be found in the UK although some of these may be scarce and in any event did some of these attachments also fit the Norlett tractors too?  Some of the Ariens tractors are also badged Norlett (see source image).

In 1979 the riding mowers, mostly with white mower decks, included the 7hp with 28″ cut (RM728) and the 6hp  with 26″ cut (RM626) both with optional electric start. The 11hp lawn tractor (YT1138) had a synchro balanced Briggs and Stratton engine and a 38″ cut. 

Ariens Rider Mower, RM728, 7hp, 28″ cut from 1980 Brochure

By 1981 and the installing of Lely Import LTD most of the riding mowers (8 different models were available in the UK in 1980, see source text) had optional electric start, and by 1983 all models were generally advertised as having up to six forward gears plus reverse, see source text. Available was the Ariens Flex-n-Float mower deck to give a professional finish, giving the customers a choice of collecting, discharge or mulching the grass cuttings. 

In 1984 Ariens (UK) Limited were advertising walk behind mowers including the LM21SE model which was advertised in Scottish Field magazine, see source text.

In 1985 the rear-engined RM828 (there’s also an SRM830 model), 8hp Tecumseh powered, riding mower which was designed to cope with wetter grass as we find in the UK was on sale for £1570. The design of this machine and future ones is the one most often seen (sometimes minus the mower deck) on auction websites. 

1989 sees the Ride-on mowers include the FM26E, Tecumseh, at £1091 and the FM828E, Tecumseh at £1436. Two Kawasaki powered ride-on mowers included the RM928E and RM1232E at £1608 and £1838 respectively. Attachments included vacuum baggers at £251, Dozer blade at £298 for the larger ride-ons. Front weights £84, Tyre chains £74, Lawn scarifier £114. 

YT series tractors included the YT1232BG at £2068, YT1232KH at £2528, YT1238KH at £2643. Attachments included grass baggers at £344. 42″ front blade at £401, 36″ Snow blower at £1063, Ariens trailer at £573. 

Details about Ariens complete range of vintage UK machines as well as others such as pedestrian mowers and snowblowers in the UK are sketchy, if you have any details or brochures then that’d be great, we’d love to see them and fill in some details on this page. For America Ariens have a museum in Wisconsin, and along with their Gravely machines it looks a great place – have a look at the following link to see the extensive collection: Ariens Museum*

There is also a video on Youtube* giving a tour of the machines on show, some will be as imported into the UK or as close as possible: 

https://youtu.be/H4YDjTzZLAE?t=26








*Please note cookies/GDPR for external websites.

by alan

Resources for Research

January 14, 2019 in Articles

It’s been fascinating to research and compile several articles for this website homepage over the last couple of years, these articles relate to different machines, places and times in horticultural, retail and engineering history. Where does this information come from, though? It is from many different sources, mostly online but some is also offline too. Speaking with a club member last week I think we agreed that finding general information along with detailed facts is, if time-consuming, the easy bit – putting it altogether in some sort of coherent manner is another task entirely! 

If you’d like to do some research of your own, perhaps of a machine, manufacturer or retailer then here are some website links and advice.

If ever a machine or manufacturer needs researching then there is certainly a wealth of information on many archive websites. The downside is that it’s easy to get side-tracked, misled, or worse is to end up with pieces of conflicting information (it’s common), beware of spelling mistakes, bad quotes, faulty transcripts; for example: on a badly scanned or blurred newspaper page does it say 5hp or 6hp or even 8hp?. Or perhaps an over-enthusiastic copywriter making rash promises! I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a paragraph in an old publication promising a new marvellous machine yet it never goes into production because, as it turns out, either the machine was uneconomical to produce or just didn’t fit the market. 

My best advice is to record everything that is found at the time of the finding however incidental that piece of info may at first appear – later that info may prove quite useful. Bookmarks are great but web pages can and do change. Also search engines won’t always bring up the same search results each time. If you have the ‘snipping tool’ or similar on your Windows computer than use it to cut out and save images, text or details as you find them and save them all in the same file on the computer. The Vivaldi (Windows) web browser has a snipping tool built in. Make the file names meaningful, if a photo is from say, 1940, then put 1940 in the photo’s file name. 

Although computers are great, I would recommend writing down with pen and a notebook any dates, names, important references that appear, it’s far easier to refer back to a notebook later on than searching through lots of saved snipped images.  

The internet is a great tool for research, but it’s a tool and it points the user in the correct direction. In order to find more info than a search engine can initially provide one needs to dig deeper and link together that stuff that Google and others just cannot do – yes, you can outsmart Google! 

Having gathered together info and facts that are already to hand, where should someone start with further research?

The best start is to simply ask other people what they know or contact an existing club or organisation, or look at answers to previous similar queries online. This can be via a forum, archived forums (VHGMC’s is currently at www.tractorbox.co.uk/forum) or on any of the social media platforms. It never hurts to ask, it can save hours of time and crucially answers are often from people who have firsthand knowledge of that machine, it’s manufacture or perhaps the factory or location – they may have worked there or know someone who did – local knowledge is so important.

The resources detailed below can mostly by done from the comfort of a laptop and a generic website search via Google and others is where most will start. Images can be a good help.

For more specific searches consider the following list, apologies, it’s quite long.  All the following are direct links (see *note at foot of page). 

Websites for Research

Brochures on Online Action Sites or Marketplace. A Search will more than likely bring up images of brochures or machines that you are looking for – don’t forget that the popular auction site also has versions in lots of different countries which are worth searching. These found images may contain the address of a factory or office, supplier’s details, maybe a dealers stamp on the back of a brochure. Machine photos may contain a close up of an identification plate or a dealer sticker both which may have an address. These addresses can be really useful later on! 

Google Books https://books.google.com This may not be an obvious choice and in some cases can be limited. Typing in a company name, make of machine and model or factory address will bring up various pieces of information from many magazine or book publications. These may only be snippets of information but can be really useful and always have the publication date attached so it fixes that piece of information in a time frame. Google books also contain ‘Popular Mechanics’ magazines in full page from the dawn of time and useful for finding adverts or articles on US machines – and even some UK machines too. (It is very easy to get absorbed reading Popular Mechanics magazines). 

British Newspaper Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk  This is free to search and will give gives an outline of the search results. Can be searched by date and newspapers from the relevant area, or from England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. A new account gets three free items to look at from the search results so if something really good comes up then it can be, initially, viewed for free. 

Irish News Archive  https://www.irishnewsarchive.com  For more specific searches in Ireland then Irish News Archive may be the answer.

Trove (Australia) https://trove.nla.gov.au This is a brilliant archive newspaper, book and photo resource and for searching Australian manufacturers is ideal, but it also has a wealth of information about machines from around the world that were exported to Australia. 

Graces Guide https://www.gracesguide.co.uk  An archive of British industry and manufacturing. If a manufacturer is being sought then this is a good place to look as it contains 131K pages and 209K images including vintage adverts from the time. The website also provides relevant links across many different pages/images and joins information together which means there is a lot to look at!

London Gazette https://www.thegazette.co.uk/   Ideal for searching the business side of a manufacturer rather than a specific machine. It can be useful for finding an address associated with a long-defunct company.

Patent Search  https://worldwide.espacenet.com/  It is possible to do a worldwide search for a patent, using either a generic term such as ‘mower’ or something more specific to what you are searching for.

Merl  https://merl.reading.ac.uk/ The Museum of English Rural Life is an excellent resource for documents. It can be searched online at: https://rdg.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/merl/


The National Archives at Kew  http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/  As with Merl, Kew has a vast archive including horticultural publications such as ‘Gardeners Chronicle’ and others. 

Finding a Location on a Map

Having found an address of a factory or retailer then the next interesting step is looking it up on a map. This can be quite difficult if the premises have long since been demolished or gathered data doesn’t quite pinpoint the exact location. One reason is that an address may give a road name on an industrial estate but not the specific building. 

Google Earth is a good mapping resource for not only modern maps but also, if Google Earth Pro is installed, can go as far back as 1945 – great for looking at industrial towns and cities from the time even if the images are lacking in some detail.  Also try Bing maps.

Old Maps https://www.old-maps.co.uk  An old favourite this site can be used to search places from the last 150 years on more.

Britain From Above  https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/  A great collection of over 95,000 aerial images from 1919 onwards, these are of superb quality and if looking to track down a factory or location then it’s certainly a place to have a look. 

Additional Resources

There are many sources of information but there are a few others that potentially take us away from the computer. These include local libraries that will contain local newspapers and information from the area. They may also be able to order any books specific to your search.

Local museums and history groups for that town may hold information on a specific manufacturer and quite possibly photographs of that area from the time.

Have we missed anything important that we should include in this list? 


*Note:  As with any sites please check their individual privacy and GDPR statements. 


by alan

Recycling Machinery

October 27, 2018 in Articles

A Merry Tiller of many parts, including an engine built from three – inc a change of crank and piston. Wheels off a Landmaster mower, throttle from a Wheel Horse.

Horticultural equipment collectors are, in my opinion, quite good at recycling in order to keep their hobby rolling along. One only has to look at a collector’s spares heap or the garage workbench with the aroma of WD40, a line of jam jars full of ‘important bits’ and some paper towels surreptitiously purloined from the kitchen to see how much repairing, sharing and salvaging of machinery parts goes on.

As an example; these past few weeks I’ve brought a Merry Tiller back to life (image on right), it wasn’t so much as a kiss of life it needed but more of a whole heart and limbs transplant. It’s had so many parts from a large array of expired machines that I’m sure Frankenstein couldn’t have done a better job, but the Merry Tiller runs, it lives to fight another day even if it no longer resembles the picture on the 1970’s brochure unless one squints a bit, thankfully the Merry Tiller admirably battles on to do the job as it was originally intended to do.

But instead of all the old machinery that we collect, restore and patch-up there is a huge amount of new and temptingly cheap machinery on the market. I could of splashed out 169.99 of my sacred Yorkshire pounds and bought a new knock-off Merry Tiller, but I wouldn’t have had as much fun, besides guilt would have set in too. Yet I’m sure we’ve all noticed cheap-as-chips mowers, tillers and hand tools in DIY stores and catalogues  tempting the average homeowner into buying a new piece of equipment, but how much of this ‘stuff’ actually is there? Recently I came across a mind boggling figure in a trade article that said 3 million watering cans, plastic or otherwise, had been successfully flogged to the general public in 2018. How many will last even a handful of years? Or on a wider scale how many of the presumably tens of thousands of mass produced built-to-a-price domestic garden implements, tools or plastic-bodied machines built with a short lifespan in mind will ever merit or even reach preservation? 

On the search for a Black & Decker battery powered hedge trimmer, will one ever surface?

It’s a thought that we are able to still find and collect some brilliant old machinery and as importantly generally be able to source parts to keep them in working order. I wonder how many old machines from the 20th century and worthy of preservation in the 21st century may get discarded by homeowners at the landfill or go for scrap to sadly be replaced by a newer yet potentially less quality machine. But disposing of expired equipment is nothing new; I’m still on my search for an original 1960’s Black & Decker rechargeable hedge trimmer, an item which after the internal batteries no longer performed as intended would unfortunately fit neatly in a galvanised dustbin of the time, the search continues.

Yet this mass production of machinery and equipment is not a new phenomenon. Manufacturers always had the ambition to balance production with as much profitability as possible, whether it’s machinery or watering cans or as in 1973 when Ginge-Raadvad were considering 80 miles of reinforced PVC garden hosepipe. A figure which seems quite incredible but they would have decided that it was an amount that could be sold easily to the UK public and so 80 miles it is.

But tools, hosepipes, watering cans and machines do reach the end of their lives and as such there are definitely some scare tools and machines about, perhaps once produced in their hundreds or even thousands there are some which are now almost lone survivors. These items and machines are now reappearing, partly due to social media and the internet, they are creeping out of the woodwork or more aptly surfacing from under tarpaulins in overgrown gardens. Some machines find their next performance not in a garden but on an auction site described as ‘barn find’ and ‘rare’ even if they’re not and which doesn’t necessarily equate with the heart-stopping price that is being asked anyway.

Yellowbird Cultivator Tiller

As mentioned, machines are turning up, so here are two machines as examples in the UK. Several years back I looked up Yellowbird tillers, couldn’t find one here although in other overseas countries one can almost fall over one in every garden shed, but they are reappearing in UK gardens on a regular basis, where have they all been hiding? Are the Yellowbird tillers gathering to plan a mass migration? And the 1964 Remington tiller from Watveare Ltd in Devon, I have the advert but several years of looking and not a sign of a single machine until that is two, separately, turn up for sale on the internet not far away, they were here all the time just squirreled away.

It would appear that whatever you are looking for, whether it was mass produced or created in a small quantity, then it may be closer than you think, of course part of the fun is seeking out that machine, the research and bringing it back to life.

And harking back to the good old days of my childhood I’ve decided then that searching for and collecting all the vintage horticultural equipment and spending hours at the workshop bench to bring it back into use is like being a cross between a Womble who were always “Making good use of the things that we find” and those mice on Bagpuss cheerily chanting “We will fix it” to anything that’s broken. Which reminds me, I’ve got an Iseki rotavator but it’s sadly ill and needs resuscitating, I’m thinking of sending it to those mice, that’ll stump ‘em!

*Footnote. Younger readers may need to visit Youtube to see the delights of both the Wombles and Bagpuss.

by alan

Every Machine Has a History

July 25, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

A Barford Atom to add to the collection perhaps?

One of the pleasures, or depending on ones view it could be a fault, of any hobby is gathering up new items whether they are needed or not. For instance a model railway enthusiast may start with a single train and a loop of track one Christmas and bit by bit they end up having purchased most of Hornby by the following festivities. Or someone may decide to start cycling for a bit of leisurely exercise, initially on a basic bike but in a mere few weeks and by the time one can jokingly utter ‘Are you entering the Tour de France?!’ they’ve already progressed to buying the most advanced carbon fibre race bike and squeezing their unhealthy body into lycra. You see hobbies are addictive, contagious and sneakily devour time and suck money from wallets when we are not looking and thus propel us along the route of collecting overload – whether it’s a train set, a new bike, an even better bike, or some nice horticultural machinery. 

It’s no surprise then that in a small corner of Yorkshire some new machines are hovering on the horizon. The well-practiced horticultural-collectors mantra of ‘I’m not getting any more machines ever again‘ shrivels and dies as machines which are in running condition, free and local are drawn to me by some magical force.

The three tick-boxes of ‘Running Condition’, ‘Free’, and ‘Local’ are just so hard to resist, good manners dictate that one has to at least have a look at the items …and take along a trailer, you know, just in case. 

Barford Atom 15 with Cylinder Mower

One of the machines up for perusal is a Barford Atom 15 with cylinder mower attachment, pictured on the right, a machine not out of the ordinary then. It’s a machine I’d never really considered, but, and this is a big but, it’s got local history. We know where the Barford has been since new. We know who bought it and where from, why they bought it and exactly where it was used. In the art world that’s called provenance meaning that after a bit of eureka research the knock-off Picasso that you had a hunch about and picked up at the car boot sale for £3 turns out to be the genuine article, becomes ridiculously desirable and is now worth £3 million. Unfortunately provenance doesn’t make the Barford worth any more, it adds to it’s interest, makes a nice story and brings the machine alive but financial gain just isn’t going to happen. As with several machines I have, no amount of pretty archive pictures and bulging folders of historical data will add to their monetary value and the only way to make them worth more without major grafting is to tape a £20 note to the fuel tank. But that doesn’t matter, it’s a hobby and the research is as interesting as the machine itself, in fact sometimes the history is more fascinating than the actual machine.

Unusually this article is briefly about a specific machine. And just as this Barford has a history so does every machine and they are always worth researching. If you have a manufacturer name, address or makers plate then five places to start are:

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/
Graces Guide: https://gracesguide.co.uk
London Gazette: https://www.thegazette.co.uk
Old Maps: https://www.old-maps.co.uk
British Newspaper Archives: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/  

Or for a specific town, street, factory or dealer premises try searching for old postcards on Ebay, or even archive films of towns that have been uploaded to Youtube, possibly even see if the town has a history group online with gallery images –  you’d be surprised what there is. 

Onwards then with the Barford. It’s got a very nice brass suppliers plate, pictured above right, attached to the frame, and this Barford started life being supplied by Smith Brothers LTD, Towngate Works in Keighley. They were agricultural and dairy engineers. I know the premises no longer exist, demolished decades ago and replaced by a new-fangled concrete building housing shops beneath the bus station multi-story car park, unfortunately replicated all too often in too many places. But thankfully the internet is a fascinating place to rummage about in and find the most incredible things, like a picture of the Smith Brothers shop in Keighley (probably not long before it was demolished) and the side alley the Barford would have been wheeled out of in the late 1950’s. With Smith Bros truck outside with baler twine loaded and a Morris Minor down the road it’s an image that takes us back to a rose-tinted era.


The recreation ground where the Barford spent it’s working life

And where was this Barford Atom heading? It was on it’s way up the valley having been purchased by a local village council to cut the grass on their recreation and sports ground (map image, right). This Barford was purchased with two attachments, one being the cylinder mower and the other a sickle bar mower, it was bought purely as a mowing machine. The recreation ground which once had a cricket pitch still exists and created when the mills came in the mid 1850’s although just like Smith Brothers premises they have been demolished to be replaced by more modern buildings. 

I cannot help but think that this little Barford was there on the recreation and cricket ground to assist other machines, even today the area is still large and would take an age to mow. And what machine preceded it and did the mowing before the Barford was purchased? Research with the parish council may provide the answer. 

As time passes by the Barford did a lot of work and on close inspection has had the handles professionally repaired several times, it was a machine for work. That is until for whatever reason the Barford gets relegated to the back of the machinery shed, possibly it needed repairs, possibly it was replaced by a newer machine with a wider cut, perhaps with a seat and shinier paintwork? 

Barford and cylinder mower back in working order

As with many machines as every day passes the scrap man moves closer. How many machines have been rescued from the scrap? Until one day someone asks what’s happening to the Barford and that’s the point that it’s fortunes turn. It gets repaired with a complete engine overhaul, it gets new parts and a coat of paint and ends up in preservation, it’s a story that is told countless times for a huge number of machines. 

This Barford survives, partly through it being a brilliantly engineered machine and also that someone saw that it shouldn’t go to scrap. 

And does the Barford work? Why of course, it starts instantly and runs well and may even have seen off many machines that have been and gone on that recreation field over the last few decades. 

If you have a machine that needs a bit of research as to the suppliers it came from then again I’d suggest the following resources, you never know what you may discover.

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/
Graces Guide: https://gracesguide.co.uk
British Newspaper Archives: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
London Gazette: https://www.thegazette.co.uk

Old Maps: https://www.old-maps.co.uk

Barford Atom 15 with Cylinder Mower

 

by alan

Then and Now – 1910

April 29, 2018 in Articles

Our latest Then & Now picture is from 1910 and features Ashton’s of East Sheen. The sign in the window announcing the stock of Garden Tools & Requisites and the array of merchandise on the pavement tells us that they probably stocked everything the early 20th century gardener could want.

The image is typical of many shops from that time. Ashton’s featured an expensive curved glass window on the corner, the thermometer  on the wall to the left of the image, the lamps hanging on elegant supports and the impressive sign writing to catch the eye – one would like to think this was a shop of some quality.


The items on display include wooden D handled spades by the entrance, incinerators (of the same design of today), a display of hand tools in the window along with wire netting and seed adverts. The timber wheelbarrow looks a beast with a steel-rimmed wheel and even if some person tried to schlep it away down the street they’d no doubt be out of breath after a couple of hundred yards. 

The lawnmowers and particularly the rollers are of interest. I’m guessing they may have been manufactured by Thomas Green & Sons who were at the New Surrey Works, Southwark Street, London about a ten mile distance from Ashton’s shop. 

But long gone is Ashton’s, little did they know that a century later their wares would make an awesome horticultural display at a vintage show: They’d have thought we were mad!

And now the shop is a fast food outlet as in the image below.

by alan

VHGMC in the Telegraph newspaper 2009

March 3, 2018 in Club News


In April 2009 the Telegraph newspaper ran an excellent article about the VHGMC with the headline of ‘Down Tools? Not these vintage gems’.

The Telegraph article can be read online and can be found at:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningequipment/5124249/Vintage-garden-machinery-Down-tools-Not-these-vintage-gems.html


The VHGMC featured in the Telegraph newspaper in 2009 –  Click this image for a larger version