vhgmc

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

People, tools and places, their history

December 16, 2018 in Articles

Tools from a 1930’s catalogue

One element that appears when researching vintage garden equipment is the names associated with that particular item. These names may be of the designer, manufacturer, importer, company owner, it may even be a name on a long-forgotten patent.

Sometimes with larger items like garden tractors, rotavators or mowers we also get to know the name of the original owner, that specific individual name; perhaps it was a family member or a sales receipt exists being passed along with the machine to each new owner.

But with small pieces of equipment such as hand tools these individuals names, apart from the manufacturer, remain a complete mystery, there’s no receipt, no trace and often no family link, these tools are the incidental items in a shed, the items with a hidden history. The long lost forgotten name might be the original owner who spent several evenings looking through catalogues, perhaps visiting the local ironmonger to weigh up the pros and cons and different makes as well as the price in pounds, shillings and pence. It might be the head gardener of a big house who chose a new Neverbend spade and the decades of unknown gardeners afterwards that continued using it, cleaning it and wiping it down with an oily rag after use. Who were these original owners and users of all these tools? Probably we will never know…..

…..Until, a few years ago I received a document dated 1930 about a struggling 27 year old garden labourer (I’ll spare his name) who lived just outside Moffat, Scotland. As I look out of my Yorkshire window at the freezing December rain in 2018 it reminds me how much these gardeners of past would both care for and rely upon their basic garden tools all year around even in the depths of winter, these same tools that we see in collections today which must have a story to tell. Not forgetting the physical labour involved in their use.

Below is quoted from the Moffat gardeners1930 document. It is interesting to read the words of someone who was out there, a gardener making the most of the daylight hours and working every minute the day would allow with the spades, forks, sprayers and equipment that we see in catalogues from the time. However he worked, especially mentioning the weather conditions of winter, his income was only just sufficient to cover his outgoings and unfortunate perilous situation he found himself in, hence his written statement:

“I am 27 years of age. I am a garden labourer and have been in the employment of market and jobbing gardener, Moffat, for the past 7 years. My wages are £2 per week. During the year and particularly in the Winter owing to being unable to work for the weather, I have a lot of broken time but [my employer] never keeps anything off my wages on that account and I am supposed to make it up by overtime. During the fruit season I work overtime occasionally and paid extra on that account. In the Spring when householders are putting in their gardens, while it is part of [my employers] business, he allowed me to spend an hour or so after my supper in digging in small gardens, an hour or so is all the time there is for light, the householder pays me.”

It’s perhaps worth remembering that there could be a fascinating history behind every collection of hand tools, secateurs, shears or the everyday garden items that many hands have used. If only they could tell us. Perhaps some of these 1930’s gardeners tools from Moffat are still in use today…or even on a vintage display somewhere?

Here is a selection of catalogue tools with their 1930’s prices:

Garden hand-tools from the 1930’s

1930’s garden, lawn and grass shears

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

Machines in the North East – 1988

June 14, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

Qualcast Suffolk Punch 35S and the cheapest price in the North East

This month our search for machinery takes us to the north-east of the UK, to be more precise it’s to a now defunct chain of home improvement stores by the name of Dickens. By all accounts Dickens was a fantastic place to shop. They said that they had ‘…the biggest, the cheapest and the widest range of mowers in the world…’. They also had tillers, rotavators, lawn rakes etc and there’s a very short video clip at the bottom of this article – can you name any of the machines?

It can sometimes be a mystery as to who sold which machine, take any vintage machine and if really lucky a search of the chassis or tin-work may perhaps result in finding a dealership sticker, generally it may be a local mower shop or an agricultural supplier. These details are helpful in determining where a machine originated from or at least the point where the transaction was logged. We are aware that there’s garden equipment and machines from the 1970’s and 80’s finding their way into collectors hands, yet these machines may not have originated from that trusty local lawn mower dealer or from an agricultural supplier, these 1970’s and 80’s machines may simply have been picked up from the local DIY store or catalogue company, think B&Q, Argos, Woolworths and even Green Shield Stamps.

This takes us onto Dickens home improvement stores, they were like an independent B&Q and actually were eventually bought out by B&Q. Dickens advert shown below from April 1988 at the start of the mowing season to attract the spending public shows a vast range of electric and petrol mowers and strimmers too. Who knew there were so many different models on sale at this time? A transcript of this model list and prices will be at the bottom of this article for perusal. Or click this link to see a larger image of the advert.

Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket Advert 1988


Briefly, there is a huge range of electric mowers. What’s the difference between the Qualcast Concorde RE25X and the RE30X apart from £10.00 ? Or the Flymo Sprinter E25 and E30 ? A brochure would be mighty helpful!

Of note is the advert showing there is a petrol Flymo Strimmer Weedeater 1400 and also a 1700 model – potentially a rare machine now as many may have expired through the last 30 years. The price then was £114.99 which is equivalent to some £308.00 today so a hefty investment for a homeowner.

Mountfield have some mowers and all with the 3.5hp Tecumseh engine. Mountfield were mentioned in a previous article where some machines were made until 1982 in a factory in Luxembourg (article here) but where these would have been made is unknown. Business-wise there is a connection between Mountfield and Norlett of Belgium; then Qualcast bought Norlett, and further Qualcast/Flymo at the time had a production plant at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham not far from Dickens. It’s all very complicated and tenuous – but with Dickens saying they had ”…the biggest, the cheapest and the widest range of mowers in the world…’ it makes one wonder if they were mostly sourced from the nearest factories at a bargain price perhaps? 

There isn’t a Mountfield electric mower in the bottom right corner of Dickens advert, they may not have been manufacturing them at the time, but their petrol mowers show that the price nearly doubles between the Mountfield Emblem 15″ and the 16″ self propelled with electric start, both with a 3.5hp Tecumseh engine – would that be a premium product at the time? 



There also happens to be a brilliant Youtube video for a 1976 Dickens television advert. This advert briefly shows machines on display in their garden centre with a tiller, rotavator and mowers at about 50 seconds. https://youtu.be/E3xiHJwIaQ8

Can anyone name the machines being shown in the video below?

Is that a Norlett Beaver Powaspade in gold and white? (see above comment re:Norlett/Flymo/Qualcast) 




The machines in the printed 1988 advert with prices:

Black & Decker RM45  £169.99
Black & Decker RM41  £149.99
Black & Decker RM40  £129.99
Black & Decker RM37  £114.99
Black & Decker RM33  £109.99
Black & Decker RM2  £64.99
Black & Decker C35  £64.99
Black & Decker HX3  £49.99
Black & Decker T1C  £54.99
Black & Decker HS1C  £44.99
Black & Decker RS1C  £29.99
Black & Decker C30P  £59.99

Qualcast Panther 30  £29.99
Qualcast Rotamo E30  £33.99
Qualcast Panther 30S  £49.99
Qualcast Concorde E30  £64.99
Qualcast Concorde RE25X  £74.99
Qualcast Concorde RE30X  £84.99
Qualcast Concorde XR35  £99.99
Qualcast Hoversafe 25  £39.99
Qualcast Hoversafe 30  £49.99
Qualcast Rotamo 300R  £59.99
Qualcast Punch EP30  £159.99
Qualcast Punch EP35  £179.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 30S  £209.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 35S  £228.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 43S  £249.99
Qualcast Turbo SR40  £234.99
Qualcast Turbo SR46  £259.99

Flymo Minimo S  £44.99
Flymo Sprinter E25  £49.99
Flymo Sprinter E30  £54.99
Flymo Sprinter E38  £79.99
Flymo Minimo Plus XE25  £74.99
Flymo Sprintmaster XE30  £89.99
Flymo Sprintmaster XE38  £114.99
Flymo Chevron 300T  £79.99
Flymo Chevron 350S  £109.99
Flymo Strimmer Minitrim  £24.99
Flymo Strimmer Multitrim £33.99
Flymo Strimmer weedeater 1400  £94.99
Flymo Strimmer weedeater 1700 £114.99

Mountfield Emblem 15″ Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £199.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £249.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Self Propelled, Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £299.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Self Propelled, Key Start, Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £369.00









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

What was on sale in 1960….

March 16, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

A selection of garden equipment in 1960

1960 is our year of choice for this article, it was the year that The Beatles was officially named and formed, the Mark 1 Mini had only just recently been introduced and in space exploration the first probe was launched to go to Mars although it failed to reach it’s target. 

Back down on earth and with our new Mini on the driveway trying to out-shine next doors Morris Oxford, there was also a whole host of equipment available for the garden.

The image on the right shows some of the items that no self-respecting suburban homeowner should be without to keep their garden as tidy as possible.

Clockwise from top left is the Fisons Evergreen fertilizer spreader able to treat 64 sq yards of lawn on each fill-up. The price was 59s 6d for the spreader and the fertilizer itself was from 3s 11d. 

The Greensleaves garden shears on top of the box were 34s 6d and were available from Derry & Toms the London department store in Kensington. 

For a more upmarket experience why not shop at Harrods? They were retailing the illustrated lawn roller which could be filled with either water or sand, available in several sizes with a range of prices starting at £3 7s 11d up to nearly £7. One’s chauffeur could fetch it home for ones gardener…..

The Army & Navy Stores were selling the small Webb Lawn Trimmer push mower for the smaller areas of lawn for £7 19s 7d, whilst the push lawn aerator was £4 15s and another Harrods purchase. 

The Tarpen Little Giant chainsaw in the very bottom right corner of the first picture could be used with a single hand and cut through 4″ branches, the price to you in 1960 was £22. 

 

Shay Rotogardner 125

There were many machines on sale in 1960 which were engine powered. One such was the self-propelled Shay Rotogardner 125, pictured right, powered by a “four-stroke Aspera engine and impulse starter making it easy to operate” according to sales literature. It had specially tempered steel tines that “will break up any soil“. The cost of the complete machine as pictured was £67. 

Or how about something to cut the lawn such as the Ransomes Sprite pictured below. In April 1960 Ransomes were advertising this as a new mower with 14″ cut and as being ‘the lowest priced motor mower in it’s class‘ costing £32.17s.3d. For something more expensive on sale at the same time and also from Ransomes was their Marquis mower with 18″ or 20″ cut powered by a Clinton 4-stroke 117cc engine, prices started at £74.1s.9d, and £89.0s.6d for the 20″, an electric version was also available.

 

Ransomes 14″ cut Sprite for £32.17s.3d.

Webb battery mower

Through the decades battery-powered machines have been a bit of a novelty, if one didn’t want a petrol mower or be tethered by an electric cable to a three-pin plug then in late 1960 Webb had the answer with their ‘new to the market‘ rechargeable battery mower model, no mess, no fumes or noise. Webb previously showcased a remote controlled battery mower to the general public in 1959 at the Chelsea Flower Show but this one is just the ordinary walk-behind type – there’s a great vintage image on our Webb gallery of a sale of a battery mower taking place.

The battery mower cost £58.19s.5d for the 14″ cut and £48.19s.10d for the 12″ cut. They were available from ‘all large stores and hardware shops‘ so Webb were reaching out to a large customer base and could see some potential.

Still in 1960, Godfrey’s of Marylebone Lane, London, were advertising the “Allen Universal Self-propelled Motor Scythe” with a two or four stroke Villiers engine – pictured below.

The image shows it with an attached spray tank and four foot lance, apparently all the attachments just plugged in. The machine itself was £98.15s; the spray tank was £23.10s; spray pump including lance was an additional £39.4s.6d. 

Allen Scythe with spray tank, pump and lance

Hayter Scythe with a Villiers 4-stroke engine.

Several manufacturers designed machines that were able to take attachments just like the Allen scythe could with the sprayer. Hayter made the Hayter Scythe – pictured right is a model which consisted of a power unit that could be used as a rotary scythe or cylinder mower. Powered by a Villiers 4-stroke, 265cc engine and with a three-speed gearbox and kick start the machine had adjustable cutting height for the scythe attachment and could be converted to a 30″ cylinder mower complete with roller, a good machine for a larger garden where the most use could be gained from it. Again available from Godfreys, or A.T.Oliver & Sons, Luton or our favourite (who most have sold every machine ever created) Robert. H. Andrews Ltd, Sunningdale. Price: £119.10s; cylinder mower an extra £47.16s; and the grass box another £7. 15s. 

For helping around the garden in the early 60’s, the Army & Navy Stores were selling a light but strong metal wheelbarrow with pneumatic tyres for £15.4s.6d. The image below shows it fitted with a useful screen for sifting soil made by Barrowscreen. Sold by Woodmans of Pinner the Barrowscreen cost 34s 11d and could fit any barrow.

Wheelbarrow by Army & Navy Stores 1960. Fitted with a soil sifting Barrowscreen.

Finally, two smaller items which could have graced a 60’s shed was a flame gun on wheels called the Sheen-X. and also garden sprinklers from the American Everain range, both items illustrated below.

The Sheen-X had a tank that could hold one gallon of paraffin and could destroy surface and deep rooted weeds with ease. Price was £12.17s.  The Everain sprinklers were both adjustable, the larger one could cover up to 2400 square feet, the smaller one a 50 foot diameter. Prices were £6.7s.6d and £3.12s respectively.

Sheen-X paraffin powered flame gun.

Everain garden sprinklers.

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