vintage

by alan

Coverella 21 and Dynamow

November 14, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

I’m sure club members will no doubt have seen adverts for any number of machines or tools claiming to be bigger, better, quicker, stronger or more versatile than anything that has ever graced a garden before. The problem is that the machine that is unveiled to the general public with a great fanfare may not actually be such a great machine after all, or perhaps just that it’s no improvement on anything that has been created before. This article is about a mower design that seemed to fail to set the mower world alight. 

My thoughts here turn to a late 1960’s UK designed, green painted, ride-on-mower called the Coverella 21 (image below left). This machine, which records suggest only existed in 1968/69 with just a few made, had all the bells and whistles, yet after all its adventures and even being in a Paris department store in 1968 it still disappeared unnoticed with just two machines known to be left in captivity. Some twenty years later in 1989 another machine of similar design, painted red and called the Dynamow (image below right) appeared, an apparently revolutionary machine and powered by Honda, it came, mowed a bit, by some reports bogged itself down on many wet lawns, and then slowly retreated into history. This brief life followed much the same pattern as the Coverella machine of the 60’s with neither machine improving on the mowing experience. Do you notice how similar the two machines are in design and operation?

Let us have a gander at the machines, although the only VHGMC image we have for the Coverella shows it with the engine missing:

The green, 1968, Coverella 21 mower minus it’s mid-mounted Briggs & Stratton engine, and the red 1989 Dynamow powered by a Honda engine. Note the small rear roller on each and also the front driving wheel/roller which is also the steering.

The machines are certainly very similar in design and my wandering thought process wonders if the Coverella and Dynamow machines are/were somewhere connected, although my jigsaw of research currently contains more holes than a packet of Polos, or is it just a complete coincidence that both mowers follow a tried and tested design approach?

Both machines have a mid-mounted engine below the operator seat. Also a very tight turning circle with a small front roller for the Dynamow and pair of wheels like a rowcrop for the Coverella. A small diameter rear roller on both machines and a grass catcher at the back. They are spookily similar in design and operation – is there any connection? I honestly cannot find any whatsoever although I’m wondering if Denis Selby of Mountfield, who had input into the Dynamow may have had earlier dealings with the Coverella as it has links to Maidenhead where Mountfield were. Answers on a postcard, please.

Coverella mower original design drawing 1968

The first stab at this mower design, image above, released by Coverella in 1968 was stated as a machine that ‘The design [of the Coverella] stems from an engineer partnered by garden machinery specialists….being made by Coverella Ltd at South Street, Hythe, Southampton’ with ‘the variable speed gearbox supplied by Industrial Drives Ltd of Maidenhead who co-operated with the mower design from the prototype design stage’. We even have the patent (view image) and drawings for the machine and it was, by all accounts, an incredibly well thought out machine with the following features:

-Aluminium cast body
-Car type steering wheel
-Can turn in it’s own length
-Easy spring-starter four stroke engine on rubber mountings
-Variable speed from 1.5 to 4.5 mph
-One-pedal stop and go
-21” cut with a roller that leaves stripes
-Easy mower deck height adjustment
-Vacuum-type suction grass and leaf collection
-PTO enables the machine to drive handheld chainsaw, hedge-trimmer, pruning saw or border cultivator.

Coverella mower for sale January 1970

So good was this machine that The Engineering Designer magazine in 1969 says that it would be a ‘challenger for the American mowing machines‘ and it’s most important feature was the gearbox which was both the front axle of the machine and the complete final drive. Amateur Gardening magazine said that ‘For sheer ingenuity of design the mower takes the Oscar‘. Many reported that it had dodgem-like manoeuvrability and that it was built for the British weather and gardens. 

With such a potential winner and being a UK designed and built machine too, why wasn’t this apparently brilliant Coverella machine a success? 


We know it was marketed and the adverts, both shown above, details that one was being sold in 1970 from a mower shop for £178-0-0, reduced from £228. This shop was some 200 miles away from Hythe where the mower was apparently built, and not just around the corner. Since so few of these machines existed the one in the advert may even be the one in the image at the top of this article. 

Gardening equipment advert at the Bazar de L’Hotel-de-Ville, Paris

There is also one incredible thing that happen to the Coverella ride-on mower  in its short life, it managed to make it to the gardening department of the fashionable French department store in Paris called Bazar de L’Hotel-de-Ville. It is situated on the Rue de Rivolia, one of the most desirable places to have retail premises.  The department store name is abbreviated today to BHV and is still there in all it’s glory – see Wikipedia image. I do have a photograph of the 1960’s mower department display at BHV but cannot show it because of copyright.

It was reported in the media (November 1968) that Coverella LTD had been asked to provide information about their mower to the Bazar de L’Hotel-de-Ville. Instead of taking one Coverella machine along for the demo in Paris, the directors decided  “to take a lorry-load” (Several must have therefore been made) “of machines to Paris to demonstrate them to the store’s marketing chiefs, and a leading power mower distributor who had expressed some interest” Sadly I cannot find any reference to these mowers being sold there, nor any references to marketing, adverts, or sales in French newspaper archives. I wonder what happened in that meeting, or if those Coverella mowers returned back to the UK unsold? 

From records it appears that Coverella LTD existed in name only, and under another name too, until the early 1980’s, but production of the mowers seems not to get past 1969.

A couple of facts did arise regarding the mowers and ambitions of the company. First, although the mowers only seem to have existed in 1968/69, the gearbox was reported to be both a Daptagear gearbox from Oppermann Gears of Newbury and also a gearbox from Industrial Drives LTD of Maidenhead, there is a mention of two different models of ride on mower so was there some doubt about the final drive configuration? 

Second, it was thought that the mower would be ideal for “holiday camps, large industrial companies, and hospitals as well as for the nurseryman and commercial grower”. An ambitious target to meet. 

Whatever became of the UK designed and built Coverella 21 ride on mower and the mystery of it’s short life? And where did the Coverella name come from? We only know of two machines in existence, can anyone shed any more light on this machine? 


by alan

Webb Mowers

October 12, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

I’ve been reading a Webb lawnmower brochure from 1973, the first page headline is “How to choose the right mower for you and your lawn” which is quite fortuitous as someone recently asked that very statement via email. There are so many variables regarding buying a mower that an answer would run into many pages, however Webb have the answer and to put it bluntly they simply advise that one should buy a Webb, no ifs or buts just buy a Webb, even if one doesn’t need a mower still buy a Webb. I think their answers might be a little biased and besides their brochure is 46 years ago but do you think I could give the same advice today? Buy a Webb, you know you want to! There’s hundreds on auction sites so many have obviously lasted the test of time and bumped their way across lawns which might actually not have been suitable for a Webb cylinder mower after all – regardless of how amazingly convincing the brochure was at the time.

Marketing garden machinery has come a long way over the years and the Webb brochure is a great example of utter brilliant marketing. Let’s have a browse through the brochure which is a snap-shot of 1970’s suburbia par excellence.



Webb make a very good point that, even in the 1970’s, we were already entering the ‘throwaway’ age and that with proper care and maintenance a Webb mower (indeed any mower) should give years of service. Webb make such a fuss over their excellent construction that there’s a photo of the parts that make up a mower, an excellent piece of marketing, just look at the image, right, and be convinced it’s a great way to explain their mowers. They also say that the mowers have quality engineering and that they buy their engines from the specialists – it’s only a basic Briggs and Stratton but boy can they talk it up.

It’s easy to convince you, the buyer, that a Webb is what’s required to get a perfect lawn even if it’s currently a rough patch that’s being grazed by a donkey and two goats, but one needs to convince the entire household that a Webb mower is THE purchase to be made and will outshine anything next doors can buy….

….The reason is that Webb make several subliminal references to expense which may not go down too well with the person who controls the purse strings. Webbs advice is to “Go for the best you can afford” and “Webb recommended prices allow your dealer to provide….guidance, instruction, preparation and service requirements” i.e this ain’t gonna be cheap. In the picture on the right we see the Webb mower being invited to afternoon tea and admired by it’s new owners – it’s not just a new mower but a piece of one-upmanship over the entire neighbourhood and their new-fangled Flymos. The Webb is something to aspire to. 

The range of mowers in this 1973 brochure were all cylinder and ranged from push models through electric, cordless, petrol and ride-on petrol versions all with superb build quality. Webb also sold a few other garden items in this 1973 catalogue, what could they tempt you to buy? 

Let us visit some old technology which is now new technology that hasn’t progressed much from the old technology and get ourselves a battery mower to cut down on the use of petrol. The largest 18″ deluxe model which is the left mower in the picture was £132.00 in 1973, approx 30% more than the petrol version. The smallest model was a 12″ cut and priced £54.95 (prices inc tax).

All the battery mowers were 12 volt with two-speed motors and varied in usage from 1 hour 10 minutes to 2 hours depending on the chosen model. Charging could take between 24 and 30 long hours which works out between 3 and 4 minutes mowing for each hour of charging depending on the model. These battery mowers would no doubt always be destined for the smaller domestic gardens, in which case why not buy the plug in mains powered model which was a similar price? Webb sold an extra 100′ extension lead for only £10.74 so that’s plenty for most gardens.

The first Webb battery mower I ever saw was being used in a garden in Kirkby Lonsdale (Cumbia/Yorkshire border) in the early 1990’s, it would have had a few years age by then. It was mowing a small, perfectly shaped, weed free lawn outside a perfectly formed retirement bungalow by a perfectly presented retired gentleman. I wonder if any battery mowers are still in use today? I have one but it’s no longer used. 

The next models are the petrol powered stuff, this is where one can be accused of wanting a mower purely because it has an engine. As can be seen in the image the gentleman has been accompanied to the dealership to ensure money isn’t squandered on unnecessary and frivolous purchases, honestly, as if anyone would buy stuff on a whim to hoard in the shed. Besides, there’s a really scary receptionist lurking in the background to keep things in order. 

The run-of-the-mill shed filling mowers that are most popular will be the 14″ and 18″  Briggs powered machines as pictured below. The main difference I can see between the basic and deluxe models is that one has 82 cuts per yard and the other 102 cuts and both with the six bladed cylinder. There’s only eleven pounds in price between the two.



For utter devilment our gentleman in the dealership image could be forced by his female companion to have a hand-push mower, that’d teach him to look out of the kitchen window and daydream for a petrol powered machine instead of getting on with doing the washing-up at home. The push mower range consisted of the 10″ Whippet, 12″ Wasp and 12″ Witch. Respectively priced at £17.54, £18.64 and £25.24 inc tax. 

These mowers would be the staple of the small domestic lawn and had been made and sold for decades, no wonder they appear regularly for sale as thousands must have been sold. The 10″ Whippet was the lightweight mower, they then describe the Wasp model as ‘Robust’ (as if the Whippet was somehow inferior) for the extra £1 plus tax the better Wasp would be the more savvy purchase as both give the same 45 cuts per yard. The third model, the Witch, gives a ‘superfine finish’ with 60 cuts per yard. 

Of course the one item that would look great on the lawn or out-front on the driveway in full view of the neighbours would be the 24″ Webb ride-on mower as shown in the tea-party image earlier in this article. This mower is described as being a ‘lawn-cruiser’ and had an impressive 80 cuts per yard. The trailed seat attachment could be unhitched in 10 seconds and then the mower used as a standard walk-behind cylinder machine. It’s a machine not to just give a good cut of the lawn but also a machine to impress – the Range Rover of the domestic lawn mowing world of the time perhaps. I once scrapped one of these mowers, it’s mowing capabilities beyond repair. It’s engine found it’s way onto another mower where it still works and the foot rests fitted perfectly onto a Mowett Mustang ride-on mower. Ironically the foot rests from this scrap machine were of a staggeringly better quality than the tin-plate Mowett ever was! 

Once the lawn is cut then it’s time to do the edges and Webb come to the rescue with a battery-operated lawn edger. This talented machine has a 6 volt battery that can trim for about 45 minutes – about 1200 yards of lawn edges. It has a 7″ blade that revolves at 5000 rpm giving about 10,000 cuts per minute. Apparently it can trim lawn edges better than they have ever been trimmed before – I think some professionally trained groundsman might have disagreed with that statement but they probably agree that it was a lot easier than using long-handled shears. 

Two other items that Webb were selling at the time were from the Little Wonder tools range as pictured below. The Little Wonder edger and trimmer which was an electric strimmer and available as either 12 volt battery powered or 240 mains. The Little Wonder hedge cutters were 240 volt mains or 110 volt from a generator, 12 volt battery, or 1 hp, 2 stroke petrol. 

A couple of other brochures at the time were for the Webb Wizard mowers, advertised as ‘Low cost mowing for the small lawn’ although from experience the Wizard range were not a patch on the items discussed in this article. At the other end of the scale was the ‘Power for the professionals’ a range of mowers specially suited to the professional and owners of large gardens, that’d certainly impress the neighbours!

Little Wonder hedge trimmer and strimmer


Note: Prices include tax at the specified rate in 1973.

World of Chainsaws

August 15, 2019 in Machinery

Chainsaws

Old and vintage chainsaws are an interesting collectable item, some are highly prized and command serious prices. Yet chainsaws are something that folk browsing a display may not have considered or know much about. 

A question then: Off the top of your head can you name half a dozen chainsaws brands up to the early 1980’s that were sold in the UK? 

It’s a tricky question partly due to the fact that many chainsaw brand names don’t often relate to other machines such as mowers, tillers etc.

Here’s a quick run down of a few of the more common names that appear in the VHGMC gallery and archive: Clinton, Castor, Danarm, Echo, Frontier, Husqvarna, Homelite, Jonsered, McCulloch, Oregon, Oleo-mac, Pioneer, Partner, Poulan, Solo, Stihl, Sabre, Sachs Dolmar, Trojan, Teles, Tarpen.

And there are electric models including: Remington, Black & Decker etc. 

Some manufacturers produced both petrol and electric chainsaws. An advert from 1980 states that a free Mac 14 electric chainsaw (worth £72) would be given away with every purchase of a petrol McCulloch model – a case of buy one get one free. Perhaps the electric one was for Sunday best and being electric didn’t wake the neighbours from their weekend lie-in. 

Looking at newspaper archives over the last 40 years there are many articles about chainsaw safety. One says that “A chainsaw operator will have only one argument with a chainsaw and that could be his last” alluding to the fact that little appreciation of the power and speed of a chainsaw that could lead to potential damage and injury through lack of skill or attention. Which reminds me of a client who, many years ago and without any chainsaw skills, bought his first petrol chainsaw at a DIY store at a heavily discounted price because it lacked the box, instructions and safety info, thankfully he lived within spitting distance of the local hospital if anything had gone awry. 

There’s some positive chainsaw news too. In 1972 on the 29th November at 8pm there was a ‘Chainsaw owners and users chainsaw clinic‘ at the Talbot Hotel, Wexford, given by Bennett’s of Wexford. Bennetts were main dealers for Homelite and Stihl and would sharpen, service and repair any make. I have a feeling that the chainsaw clinic may have been well attended with people bringing in their saws which we now consider vintage – wonder what they all were?  

Allen Scythe with Tarpen Chainsaw

McCulloch were keen to get in on the act of promoting their saws. McCulloch (which most folk associate with budget machinery from some big retail shed) has had a varied history (B&D in 1974, Husqvarna from 1999, MTD from 2003) but in the 1960’s they were brilliantly promoting their chainsaw demonstrations. For example, one in Wexford in November 1965 which was ‘sure to attract a large audience‘ and another in 1970 at Potterton’s Cattle Market, Louth. which would appeal to farmers on a wet Friday in February and no doubt get some sales. 

Chainsaws aren’t always self powered items. Take the Tarpen chainsaw that could be driven by many machines via a flexi-drive as shown with the Allen scythe in the image, above. The Tarpen chainsaw also works with the Merry Tiller to make an interesting and useful machine see image or with the 24″ and 26″ Hayter rotary mowers see image.

Black & Decker 10″ and Flymo Partner 16″ vintage chainsaws

Many early and well-built chainsaws have probably survived – even if they have stopped working they were probably still thought of as too good to throw away and collected dust under the workbench instead. But the cheaper domestic end of the market has probably fared less well. These are the budget machines, where plastic overtakes steel and cast, and where the machines will after a few years become nothing but bin-fodder. 

In the right-side image and certainly aimed at the home gardener we have the 1981 Black & Decker 10″ chainsaw which will log, trim, prune and fell trees up to a very optimistic 20″ diameter. The blue 1100 watt saw was £29.99 and the orange 1200 watt saw £38.99. The yellow Flymo Partner 16″, 34cc, 2-stroke engine machine with 16″ cut felling trees up to 28″ diameter was £99.99. 

And what is surprising is that similar domestic machines can be bought today some 38 years later for similar prices, or in some cases less. 

Have a look at some proper-built chainsaws in the VHGMC Gallery. Have you got any to add?

by alan

Flymo Advert Printing

July 26, 2019 in Articles

A diiferent Flymo – this time a 13″ push cylinder mower…so not really a Flymo-type mower…

I’ve often considered writing about Flymo, yet the more information I see the more immense the task becomes. Flymo, like many manufacturers had multiple interests and it turns out their range of machinery is huge and it would perhaps be a difficult task to find out all they made. Talking of manufacturers varied interests, today I discovered that Qualcast not only made mowers but also greenhouses too, who knew that?! 

Onwards with this post. Sometimes things turn up unexpectedly, a brochure is good or an advert or even a price list with specifications and options. Yet to find cast printing plates for magazines and newspapers as shown in the images below is, although not rare, quite interesting nevertheless. I’m sure many thousands of printing plates were discarded, melted down or recycled somewhere, but here I’ve now come across a surviving selection of Flymo printing plates and, for a later article, some Atco and Ransomes ones too. 

This group of Flymo printing plates depict several mower models, I’ve honoured these plates by photographing them out on the lawn, sadly a non-Flymo’d lawn though, actually done with a Stiga mulcher in a feeble attempt at being somewhat environmentally friendly but still burning petrol. 

Back to Flymo, I’m assuming several of these plates are from the 1970’s as the mentioned Flymo Electric 38 was available certainly in 1972 – costing around £60.00 at the time. Through the wonders of modern technology these advert images are reversed further down this article to see what they looked like when printed. 

Flymo printing plates – the long ones measure 6″ x 1 column width (here 1.5″) for printing purposes. The square ones being 4″ x 2 columns width.


“Try Flymo Free” with a free home demonstration.


“Plug in, switch on and away you mow” with the Flymo Electric 38


Flymo “Get With It”

 

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.

*Please note cookies/GDPR for external websites.

Note: Images/media 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

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