Machinery

by alan

Engine Replacement Guide

October 25, 2020 in Machinery

Sometimes it’s necessary to change the engine on a machine, usually this is because the existing one, often the original, has come to the end of it’s life and parts are no longer available or it’s just not cost effective. A new replacement engine is the obvious choice and there’s many brands to choose from including the ‘knock-off’ copies of many. Also as important is if the machine in question; a garden tractor, ride-on mower, lawnmower, tiller, etc is required to still look the part and have an age-related engine rather than new in which case a second-hand engine is an option.

From 1985 I have a useful brochure detailing a replacement engine guide from the Engine Division of ‘Autocar Electrical Equipment Co. Ltd’ at the time based in Barking Essex. This guide, which is actually a piece of marketing, details both vertical and horizontal engines between 2hp and 11hp from Briggs & Stratton which can be used in place of Honda, Kawasaki, Kohler, Robin, Suzuki, Aspera, Tecumseh, Villiers, Mag and Kubota.

It is interesting to see across the board how different engine specs relate between differing manufacturers. I’m sure there will many other engine replacement guides available.

For research purposes, this guide can be downloaded or opened on your computer as an A4 or A3 PDF, you can use the PDF controls to zoom in, often in the bottom right of the PDF screen, on the data.

Download A4 Replacement Engine Brochure

Download A3 Replacement Engine Sheet


by alan

1951 Exhibitions

July 21, 2020 in Articles, Machinery

Pickfords transporting a locomotive to the Festival of Britain

On the 4th May 1951 the Festival of Britain opened to the public. Newspaper reports say that the idea first began to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The main 1951 Festival was located on a 27 acre site on the South Bank, London, and promoted industry, arts and science and inspired a vision of Britain in the future. Other locations included Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Canterbury etc. and events took place in numerous cities, towns and villages bringing the country together.

A vast array of exhibitors, events, crafts and craftsmen took part. The picture shows Pickfords negotiating the streets of St. Albans as they transported a locomotive from Lancashire to London as an exhibit for the Festival. 

Find out more about the Festival on Wikipedia: Wikipedia Link

The Council of Industrial Design compiled a list of items for display at the Festival of Britain, these included furniture with a preoccupation of plywood and brightly coloured fabrics. Household items, artwork, science, agriculture, industry and machinery right up to locomotives as we have seen. But I cannot find if any of the well known manufacturers of horticultural, grounds or garden machinery took part. Does anyone know? 

Allen Scythe Saw Bench

However I have report from the same year of 1951 for the National Association of Groundsmans Exhibition in October 1951. This was held at the Hurlingham Club, London; on, it would seem, perfectly manicured lawns. Fifty-two companies took part showing their products.

We can see that in 1951 a large number of interesting items were being displayed. These included the latest attachment for the Allen Scythe. It was a saw bench with a 16″ diameter blade capable of cutting to 6″, it has an adjustable guard. Other equipment were a power sprayer, electric generator and a front-mounted rotary brush which can be seen in the image behind the saw bench. 

Ransomes-Sisis Aero Main

Items from Sisis also appear. The advertised “Ransomes-Sisis Aero Main” with attached turf aerator could work at a claimed 4mph and put 250,000 holes into two acres per hour. Rakes, rollers and brushes were available as attachments. Available from Hargreaves Ltd, Sisis Works, Cheadle, and Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies Ltd, Ipswich. 

1hp Dorman Sprayer

The Dorman Sprayer Co. from Cambridge had a power-driven sprayer suitable for fields, orchards or gardens. It had a 15 gallons tank, treated against corrosion and a 1hp engine. Are there any of these sprayers still in existence? 

Gravely Estate Power Unit

Another machine that looks mighty interesting was the Estate Power Unit from Gravely Overseas Ltd, Buckfastleigh, Devon. This two-wheeled unit had a 2.5hp four stroke engine with forward and reverse gears and a speed of up to 3mph. It could be fitted with a 42″ cutter bar mower, a 24″ cylinder mower, hedge trimmer, pump, generator, compressor, 8″ plough, cultivating tool frame and a cart. Is this Estate Power Unit another machine that has vanished or has someone got an example in their shed? 

Two intriguing photographs to finish. The first is the plant protection stand at the Groundsmans Exhibition. It was housed in a caravan which was described as ‘gleaming in chromium plate and perspex’ which sums up the modern and bright future that may lay ahead. The second photograph is a general view, showing the stands of T. Parker & Sons and John Allen & Sons. I wonder what all the machinery on display was? Can you name the tractor on the right-hand side? 

If anyone knows any machinery that was at the Festival of Britain in 1951 then we’d be pleased to hear. 

The Plant Protection stand at the Groundsmans Exhibition. A caravan in chromium plate and perspex.

T. Parker & Sons and John Allen & Sons stands, 1951.


Note: Images/media are used for research/illustration purposes for non-profit only with copyright held by respective publishers where and as applicable. 

by alan

Fifty Years Ago…..

January 9, 2020 in Articles, Machinery

The mower of the future, but from the past.

The year is Two Thousand and Twenty. Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? It resonates as one of those dates plucked out of thin air by black and white sci-fi movies from the 1950’s and 60’s trying to convince us that we’d have ditched the humble motor car and all have personal flying machines by now. Little did they foresee that in 2020 the average motorist wouldn’t be zipping about the skies but instead would be stuck in traffic on the M25, cursing the roadworks on the M6 or negotiating average speed cameras countrywide (other traffic issues are available). 

Horticultural machinery hasn’t, on the whole, faired much better; mowers, tillers and rotavators etc are much the same as they’ve always been, with just minor tweaks and amendments to make them better to operate. But where could we have been if madcap designers had pushed through their ideas and the general public had clambered aboard? Take the 1960’s prototype mowing machine as pictured above. This glass-domed futuristic machine encased the operator in an air-conditioned capsule from where they could mow the lawn, apply fertilizer, or according to adverts even go to the shops. In our health-conscious era the ideal solution for mowing the lawn is to use a pedestrian mower and get some exercise and fresh air rather than ride around getting sunstroke in a goldfish bowl – but a push mower wouldn’t be as much fun as that 1960’s Jetson inspired machine would it? 

Remploy Mowmaster, a very clever and advanced version of the ‘mower tied to stick’ principle. The beginning of the robot lawnmower, perhaps?

Progress, though, has been made with autonomous mowing, with professional stuff gaining ground all the time. Labour saving ideas and devices have always been of interest to inventors. In the 1960’s and 70’s there were many rather bumbling attempts documented (mostly amateur) to get unattended mowers to cut the grass by Heath Robinson type contraptions. These were mostly where a tethered mower would work in ever increasing circles by unwrapping itself from around a central post. All these early attempts have now been superseded in domestic gardens with robot mowers. Apart from a couple of exceptions and some golf course mowers, the domestic robots still haven’t mastered mowing in nice stripey lines for Mr & Mrs Suburbia, instead these robot mowers spend their hours haphazardly crossing lawns in random directions as if looking for an exit to escape through; they remind me of someone trapped in a revolving door and constantly failing to find their way out. 

If you’d like to see how far robot mowers have progressed, and witness their potential for the domestic garden, have a look at this Cub Cadet mower on Youtube, it is brilliant. https://youtu.be/kPibtLfYEWQ?t=48

For now though, lets head back in time 50 years and see what the clever people designing horticultural equipment were busying themselves with. More importantly what has happened to these machines introduced in 1970? For some of them there is no trace left. 

Sisis Auto-Cutter and Turfman

The first machine under scrutiny is the 1970 Sisis Auto-Cutter and Turfman. An ingenious and interesting machine, it is a combined turf cutter and ground management machine. Useful for sports grounds as when not used as a turf cutter it could be used for other duties by using the standard range of Sisis Turfman implements such as the lawn spiker. Powered by a 5hp Briggs and Stratton engine the transmission was by v-belt and roller chains. Using the turf cutter with it’s fitted and driven horizontal cutting blade it could muster an impressive cut speed of 90ft (approx 27m) per minute. The cost was £285 with the implements to expand the unit being extra cost. 

John Allen & Sons 5-26 ride-on mower

Next is the John Allen & Sons 5-26 ride on mower, an elusive machine. Looking at the design I’m guessing that once the mower deck rotted through then there’d be a rather large void left in the machine, by which time the whole machine was perhaps showing fatigue. It did have some good features including a differential on the rear axle and a suspension system that enabled the mower to closely follow the ground contours. The power department was 5hp and a top speed of three and a half miles per hour. Claimed mowing potential was 3/4 acre per hour which is easily achievable. Price to you: £185. 

In 1970 John Allen also introduced three models of 19″ push rotary mowers called the ‘Export’ (2.5hp Aspera 2-stroke engine), ‘Special’ (4-stroke, 3hp engine) and ‘Professional’ (2-stroke Aspera Longlife 4hp engine). The Professional model had four “Inox” swinging steel blades for mowing the grass and all models had optional side-mounted grass collection kits available for £3. I have yet to come across these three mowers.

During the 1960’s and 70’s several horticultural machinery manufacturers had their technical boffins in deep thought and serious contemplation, probably over cups of tea and newly introduced Mr Kipling’s cakes; they were designing, creating and producing battery powered machinery. As we hit the 1980’s most gave up on battery-powered stuff and the items that remained being produced were mostly novelties such as shrub trimmers and low-powered items. 1970 was when the brilliantly named Ladybird Appliances LTD of Reading, Berkshire, introduced a new dual purpose lawn edger called the Mowtrim. It was powered by two 6 volt Lucas long life batteries providing power to a 12 volt D.C. SIBA motor. It’s main use was as a lawn edger where it’d do a splendid job, or clutching at straws it was a “rotary mower with a 7 inch width of cut” for those with small lawns or immense patience. Price: £18 17s. 

Toro Teesmaster which was distributed by Flymo Ltd

The next machine is the Toro Teesmaster. It was disributed by Flymo Ltd and was a modified version of the Toro 70 inch Professional machine. These Toro machines do appear occasionally. 

The machine pictured was newly on sale for 1970. It’s claim to fame being that it was believed to be the first power-driven gang mower that could also collect grass with it’s attached grassboxes. The grassboxes are fitted at the front of the front two cutter reels and the back grassbox is fitted to the rear of that cutter. Price: £640.

Masport 18″ Premier mower with Johnson Iron Horse engine

I’m currently mulling over the mention of a ‘Johnson Iron Horse 3.5hp, 2 stroke engine’, it could be different and interesting. This was fitted to a Masport 18″ Premier mower made by Mason & Porter, New Zealand and distributed by Stemport Marketing Co, Aylesbury. The mower had a novel design of ‘one-piece cutter blade where only the cutting edges touched the grass‘ – guess it was bent at both ends – this reduced friction. It also featured a counter-balanced adjuster on the height selector, actually a good idea after some of the mowers I’ve had. Price: £55. 

Other items of interest in 1970 include a new version of the 18″ Hayterette mower by Hayter Ltd, Bishop’s Stortford. It had a new deck design incorporating a wide rear flap to give even distribution of grass clippings. Marketing says it was available with a 4-stroke Briggs and Stratton with 147cc (£41), or the Professional models with J.L.O 2-stroke engine or a 205cc Briggs and Stratton (both £52). 

One item that I cannot find at present is the Wolf Car Mower. This was a new machine introduced by Wolf Tools for Garden and Lawn Ltd of Ross-on-Wye, Hertfordshire. It is a ride-on, 26″ rotary grass cutter and could have basic attachments like a grass collector, sweeper, roller, and interestingly could be fitted with trailed cylinder gang mowers, This 5hp Briggs and Stratton machine had two forward and one reverse gears. The Wolf Car Mower was of a flexible design which helped it’s ability on uneven ground. I thought this might have had something to do with the Wolf Garden Kart which is like a go-cart, but this was much later than the Wolf Car Mower and had a smaller cut of 22″. 

The question nowadays is how will the future designers develop machines in the coming decade? Will we have a multitude of powerful, efficient and long lasting battery machines by 2030.

Or… perhaps decades from now the petrol machines of yesterday may be sought after, and considered as well built machines capable of a days work with ease? We may already be living in the future by using machines of the past…but just not aware of it!

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.

Horses and Garden Machines

September 12, 2019 in Machinery

Our journey this month takes us back to 1912 where labour was absolutely vital to keeping a country house spick and span both inside and outside. No self-respecting lady (or gentleman) would dare be seen without a couple of maids around the house keeping everything clean and smart whilst out in the gardens there’d be at least one struggling gardener faffing with the dahlias and doffing his cap for tuppence a week. 

The bigger the properties the more labour was required. And much like today tools and machinery could cut down on time-consuming tasks and save on labour costs.

These following machines are absolutely fantastic and one can see how modern machines have developed over the years. 

But we need a bit of labour to power the machinery and our time-saving saviour comes in the form of a horse, for horse powered equipment was really useful in a big country garden. So, gee up Dobbin, put yer boots on, we are going gardening.

Alternative Steel Horse Boot

Without his boots on poor Dobbin isn’t allowed on the posh lawns, or gravel driveway, in fact he isn’t allowed anywhere considered ‘delicate’ without being properly kitted out in footwear. We have no doubt all seen leather boots (image in the gallery) for ponies to stop them marking the grass when dragging a mower along. I’ve since discovered that metal horse boots were also available for the same reasons and they seem to be a curved metal plate with a Jubilee-type clip to attach them to the hoof. Available in several sizes, a quirk of ordering was that a drawing of the outline of the hoof (like drawing around your hand) was to be sent in with the order.

One of the main garden uses for pony-power (or horse) was for mowing lawns. The image below shows what appears to be a concerned gentleman trying to figure out the controls of his new 1912 combined mower AND roller, wonder if it came with a handbook to help the chap master all the levers and pedals? 

Horse drawn lawnmower

The mower can easily be adjusted for high and low cut, ‘throwing in and out of gear’ and ‘for raising the knives when passing over stones, rough places, or roads’. It can also be used for rolling with the high-speed cutters disengaged. Note that in the image the horse is wearing boots.

Horse drawn lawn sweeper

In 1912 the blokes ride-on mower, above, didn’t have the capability of grass collecting, although pedestrian mowers did. Yet at the same time lawn sweepers were available to be drawn by horses across the lawn as in the image on the right. That’s correct – horse drawn lawn sweepers; turns out they are not a new-fangled invention from the last 50 years as would be assumed.

The lawn sweeper shown had a large 3′ revolving brush and the collecting box could be emptied on the move – which presumably meant heaps of lawn sweepings in several places that some worker then had to clear up. The sweeper was designed to be used after the lawn had been mown to give a perfect finish and leave no grass clippings behind.

Horse drawn seeder

Another way to improve the lawn is to stick a bit more seed down. The lawn seeder, pictured right and called the ‘Velvet Lawn’ was useful for renewing or thickening grass and renovating bald patches on lawns. It would evenly distribute the seed and plant it at a reasonable depth according to how the operator adjusted the machine. The description of the machines workings is involved but it essentially cuts a slot with a revolving steel disc and drops grass seed into the slot before a roller covers it up – pretty standard stuff then.

So far our horse has been mowing, sweeping and seeding the lawns. There are three more garden jobs that can be done:

Horse drawn roller

There was a choice of garden lawn rollers. The basic one-horse affairs, which carried more of an agricultural look, could ‘smooth and keep in perfection, lawns, drives’ etc. The better two-horse rollers as shown in the image above were of superior quality and finish and were of a much more elaborate design with ‘attractively decorated woodwork’ above the roller and castings  – the desirable woodwork decoration making no difference whatsoever to the effectiveness of the rollers prime function, suppose it’s much like wood veneer in an Austin Allegro – but it’s a selling point.  

Horse drawn water sprinkler

The next innovation, as pictured on the right, is a water carrier and sprinkler with over 100 gallon capacity, for lawns, driveways and gardens. It can spread water up to 18’ wide or reduced down to 1’ wide as required. It can also be adjusted to apply one or two narrow streams of water onto vegetables or plants in rows. My question is: If one took a horse across said vegetable growing area dragging such a sprinkler, wouldn’t it be tricky to avoid the plants as there are four hooves, two wheels plus a mouth at the front end to manoeuvre through the crops?

And for the sprinklers encore – it is the only sprinkler adapted for spreading liquid manure as it will not clog. We are suitably impressed with this early interpretation of the slurry tanker.

Horse drawn turf cutter

Finally, an amazing machine that’d probably take some skill in using is a turf cutter. It cuts the turf to a uniformed width and thickness and to any length. There is an adjustable roller to regulate the thickness of the turf from half an inch to two inches. It will cut up to an acre a day saving the labour of 40 men. Yet it’s still to roll, lift, transport and re-lay. 

From a horses point of view I’m pretty sure the garden jobs would be preferable to pulling a plough through a field all day and being mostly in a garden pulling a mower or sweeper they’d be fair-weather jobs too. But, would they have their own horse, or did they just borrow a local one when required? Or horse-share even? Anyone know? 



These images are from a brochure we have in VHGMC archive. 

Everything for the Garden
. New York: Peter Henderson and Co., 1912. Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogue Collection. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library. 

https://specialcollections.nal.usda.gov/copyright-and-citation-guide


Note: Images/media are used for research/illustration purposes for non-profit only with copyright held by respective publishers where and as applicable.  

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

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