by alan

Machines in the North East – 1988

June 14, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

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

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

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

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

Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket Advert 1988

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The machines in the printed 1988 advert with prices:

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

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

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

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

by alan

What was on sale in 1960….

March 16, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

A selection of garden equipment in 1960

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shay Rotogardner 125

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

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


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

Webb battery mower

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

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

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

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

Allen Scythe with spray tank, pump and lance

Hayter Scythe with a Villiers 4-stroke engine.

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

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

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

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

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

Sheen-X paraffin powered flame gun.

Everain garden sprinklers.

by alan

Howard Bantam 1950

February 22, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

Humour can capture the attention of the prospective customer far easier than any serious advertising might.

All from 1950 are the following four adverts for the Howard Rotavator ‘Bantam’. Each is carefully crafted to highlight the difficulties of gardening that the Bantam can overcome: Digging, weeding and labour saving. 

The fourth advert proves that an oily machine can be a great fashion accessory for the owner outside their 16thC Elizabethan mansion. 

There are more Howard images in the VHGMC Howard gallery pages.

Dogged by digging? Howard Bantam 1950



Worried by weeds? Howard Bantam 1950


Gardening? I though I knew it all! Howard Bantam 1950


My Bantam’s a treasure – Howard Bantam 1950


Howard Bantam Brochure

by alan

Ginge mowers and tools

November 13, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Ginge-Raadvad, owners of the Royal Danish Foundry and By Appointment To The Royal Danish Court

During the late 1960’s a hugely successful Danish manufacturer by the full name of Ginge-Raadvad was launching their range of lawn mowers and garden tools into the UK market. Marketed as Ginge (pronounced Ging-ha) nowadays it is a little known make but had big ambitions with some snazzy sales patter, yet although the name is known there’s zilch been written about the company in the UK. It’s a bit like tapioca pudding, we know the name and what is but fail miserably at describing it in any meaningful way. 

But Ginge in the UK has thankfully left a paper trail of adverts and news articles from 1967 to 1978 before gently taking a back seat.

All manufacturers regardless of the machines or tools they are making seem to have a pretty good and ambitious start and Ginge were no different. Although Ginge came to the UK and then silently went leaving behind a few mowers and little evidence of being here, they had actually been making mowers for a long time and obviously knew what they were doing. In the Danish Foreign Office Journal of 1951 they are stated as making ‘a mower powered by 1.5hp, 4 stroke continental engine, oil bath filter, rope starter, auto reverse and magneto ignition‘. I cannot find a picture of that mower but I’m guessing it’s a cylinder side-wheel mower (2 wheel). 

It’s often difficult to pin down when a manufacturer actually launched their products. Thankfully Ginge must have had a decent secretary or marketing person who sent out some sales copy to a few magazines as the Gardeners Chronicle & New Horticulturalist of 1967 has a glowing  report: ‘This year [1967] sees the introduction of the Ginge range of lawnmowers and gardening equipment to the UK. Among the mowers is a 12″ machine weighing only 17lbs claimed to be the lightest ever. This is the Ginge Prisma, the recommended retail price of which is only £6 14s 9d including the rust proof [plastic?] grass collecting box‘. This is followed by the impressively named World’s Press, News and Advertisers Review with ‘Ginge-Raadvad (UK) LTD [their full trading name] , subsiduary of Danish manufacturer of the Ginge range of lawnmowers and gardening equipment to be launched in the UK in 1967′. 


Before getting on to the mowers which Ginge are best known for, they also made a range of handtools and equipment too.

Ginge Long Handled Grass Shears 1968

1968 saw the launch of a range of Ginge products. These included the long-handled grass shears (£3 15s), pictured right, also standard grass shears (£1 17s 6d) and a long-handled self-sharpening lawn edger (£3 5s). An additional advert from the same time states there was a garden roller (£6 19s 3d) and a hose reel too. Gardeners Chronicle in 1968 commented that the new hose reel was “..easy to operate and easy on the eye, rotates smoothly and noiselessly” 

It’s worth mentioning that Ginge thought that  garden hoses were worth exploring. In 1973 Ginge-Raadvad considered ordering from a supplier a huge 80 miles of reinforced PVC garden hose with a guaranteed life of at least 10 years, this was under consideration for launch in the UK market (Source: Europlastics Monthly, Vol.46).  

The 1972 59R oscillating sprinkler costing £1.98 was claimed to be the cheapest on the market. It watered lawns up to 1900 sq ft and was one of three oscillators, the other two cost £2.45 and £3.15. There was also the ‘675’ Turret sprinkler. 

1974 saw  “Eight Ginge sprayers, from small household models suitable for window boxes and small garden flowers, right up to super automatic sprayers with capacities of 3, 5 and 7 litres. Ginge trowels, a plant fork, cultivator and weed iron“, (Source: Amateur Gardening 1974)

As we can see Ginge was certainly taking on the domestic garden from all angles and aiming to be in everyone’s garden shed and on their lawn too. 

Lawn Mowers

The 1967 launch of the mowers included an advert in Gardeners Chronicle stating that ‘You’ve never seen such  good-looking lawnmowers in your life until you’ve seen the Ginge range. Never handled such smooth running grass-cropping machines until you’ve whipped round your lawn with Ginge‘.

Several adverts for Ginge mowers appear in April 1968 in Scotland. This is hardly surprising since Ginge had a newly set up factory at Irvine Industrial Estate, Irvine, Ayrshire, as well as manufacturing mowers at their factory in Copenhagen. There was also an office at Croxley Green, Herefordshire, although the address appears to be a residential street so presumably an outpost office. 

The mowers available were all cylinder mowers, the hand propelled Prisma 12″ (£6.19.9d) and Futura 16″ (£8.19.9d). As shown in the image, right. 

Powered cylinder mowers were the Meridia 18″ (£34.19.9d) and the Atlanta 21″ (£49.19.9d) in the same style as in the image. A year later in 1969 the Meridia and Atlanta prices had increased by £5 each.

According to newspaper reports it was claimed that since the launch of these machines in 1967 they captured 6% of the British lawnmower market in the first twelve months. It was hoped to increase this to 10% with their new lightweight mowers. One of the key selling factors was an “unconditional guarantee on all lawnmowers and garden equipment against faulty workmanship and defective materials“. (source). 

Following in 1970 were two 19″ rotary mowers powered by  4-stroke, 3hp Aspera engines, the mowers differed in engine specifications with one having an auto-choke. Prices were £23 and £28 for the better spec machine. Cutting heights for both were 3/4″, 1 1/2″ and 1 3/4″. 

However ambitious Ginge were with their mowers there’s nothing like a bit of comparative testing to spoil the party. Enter one consumer magazine to put the spot light on a range of mowers in 1970. Pitting the Ginge against similar side-wheel cylinder mowers such as one from Gamage, the Suffolk Viceroy MK11, Spinney side wheel mower, Husquvarna from Sweden and the Qualcast B1 was certainly going to cause a squabble on the front lawn. Which was best? 


The comparative tests found that the Gamage, Suffolk Viceroy and Spinney mowers all gave a good cut on short grass and they all easily tackled medium grass in one cut and even did quite well on the long grass. Apparently ‘the other mowers were not quite so good‘, oh dear, not the best outcome. Additionally it was found that the rear-mounted grass box on two mowers including the Ginge got in the way of the operators feet. (1970 magazine reference for mower test). Good news though was that the build quality of the Ginge stood up to scrutiny and the mower roller survived unscathed in acid tests ‘unlike the others‘. 

1970 also saw the MI 04 Orbita mower being as the ‘lowest priced four-stroke rotary mower on the UK market’ at £23.00. (source: Surveyor magazine)

Advertising in Amateur Gardening in 1973 ‘Ginge have taken the hardwork out of mowing. They’ve produced a selection of lightweight Hand Mowers, Motor Mowers and Rotary mowers that literally glide through the grass‘.

1974 saw Ginge offering seven lawn mowers: three hand mowers, three motor cylinder mowers and one rotary mower.

In a 1975 copy of the Agricultural Machinery Journal, Ginge are reported to still importing the 12″ Prisma mower as well as the Futura and Comet range, they were obviously popular mowers and must have worked well. Also stated is that Ginge were importing three 3.5hp rotary mowers with 15″ and 19″ cuts priced from £59.00 to £78.50. Cylinder mowers also included two 18″ 2hp self propelled mowers priced £94.50 and £105.00 respectively. 

It then all starts to fizzle out just a mere 8 years after an ambitious 1967 start in the UK with 1975 when we start to see a change and Sheen of Nottingham were offering a 3.5hp four-stroke Ginge mower for sale. 

Ginge Rotomower

Announced in 1976 the Agricultural Machinery Journal state that ‘…mower maker Ginge-Raadvad has given up its central operation in the UK and appointed four importers to handle the range’ . In 1977 Sheen were reported as having taken on the range of Ginge mowers (Source: Agricultural Machinery Journal April 1977) and by 1978 Sheen were importing quite a range of Ginge mowers including the handmowers of: HD28 (28cm cut) at £24.50; HD38 (38cm cut) at £28.50; H26 De Luxe 38cm cut at £37.00. All prices included the grassbox. There was also the R48HB 19″ rotary mower with a 3.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine. 

1976 saw the closure of Ginge’s Croxley Green office in Herefordshire. But what happened to the Irvine factory? Anyone know?

The Ginge name continued in the UK under presumably different importers. 1992 sees an advert for the Ginge Garden Caddy, an open steel frame on wheels designed for holding garden debris and carrying tools. The caddy had a guide price of £50.00 and was available from Ginge of Denmark. 

And after much research that is the current known story of UK Ginge. 

Ginge mower dealers Scotland 1968

by alan

When Machines Go Modern

August 2, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Reo Mower Advert USA – 1950 – Reo made it to the UK eventually under the Wheel Horse brand.

When searching machinery in any archives it becomes apparent that although machines were well-made and created to do a job, there was also a lot of thought behind the marketing too and creating machines that kept up with public demand – who wants last years model when there’s an updated, sparkling new one just been released? 

Manufacturers would go to great lengths to promote their machines with colourful advert and brochure images as in the image on the right, and also marketing tactics such as special HP deals or perhaps promoting new machine innovations to outperform the competitors. It didn’t just stop at advertising either, on the whole manufacturers were generally looking to the future, making their machines more efficient, lighter, more cost effective to manufacture, buy and run. 

At least a few designers were looking to leave their competitors behind by creating machines that had a modern look. These new designs may have looked updated and modern on the outside but sometimes the actual mechanicals were the same under the tin work as the previous models – the public doesn’t mind as long as it looks like a new model. Some machine designs were becoming squarer and angular and there are quite a few machines that demonstrate that – some may not have made it past the mock-up stages or got to market.

This article does showcase the skill of the designers and their ability to produce (mostly) an aesthetically pleasing machine. Below are machines with some inspired and interesting design to their tin work. 

Qualcast Jetstream mowers 1979

As an example of marketing: The image on the right shows two Qualcast mowers from 1979. The mower on the left is a “Standard” Jetstream with a 3hp Briggs and Stratton engine, 18″ cut and and 4 height adjustments, retailing at £113.45.

The mower on the right is a modern looking Qualcast Jetstream De-Luxe rotary mower, retailed at the same time as the “Standard”, powered by a slightly larger 3.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine but with the same 18″ cut, this had a retail price of £135.00.

That equates to a £20.00 premium for the more modern De-Luxe design of the Jetstream – they’ll both cut the grass exactly the same, and the engines will both have intermittent hissy fits but doesn’t the more modern design look better, sleeker, impress the neighbours more and worth the £20 increase? Argos actually had it on offer in 1979 at £109.99 vs £99.99 for the “Standard” making it even more of a bargain.

Another machine shown in the image below that doesn’t seem to have dated much through the decades is the Garner industrial tractor when fitted with the optional full body tin work. Even today the addition of the tin work makes it look a smart machine, the designers obviously thinking about how the final machine will look and the attention to how the bodywork is sculptured. I still haven’t seen one of these fully-kitted out tractors or an image on the internet yet, perhaps the optional tin work was expensive? The image below shows one being exhibited in 1954 at the National Association of Groundsman’s Exhibition at The Hurlingham Club, London. The VHGMC have a Garner register here

1954 Garner Industrial Tractor with optional body kit.

Even John Allen & Sons created modern designs, a huge leap away from the Allen Scythe is a 1955 Allen Rotary Sickle, shown below. This machine was powered by a 2-stroke engine (potentially 2.5 hp from other reports) with kick start. Excellent for dealing with “neglected grassland and hedgerows” it had a handlebar extension to use when taking a first cut at tall, rough grass. price was £67 15s. A fairly modern enclosed design, the top cover is hinged at the front and lifts up to reveal the engine and workings, but what were the colours and livery of the tin work? Again another machine that has proved elusive.

1955 Allen Rotary Sickle

Some designs went very angular, or the designer got carried away with his ruler and set square. Shown is the Auto-Culto 55, it was a boxy machine with the tin work being an interesting design decision, the flat top perhaps being a handy place to put a flask of coffee when having a break. According to newspaper reports the machine was powered by a “four stroke Villiers 150cc engine which develops 3bhp at 3600rpm. It can be used with a variety of attachments.” The attachments included a flexi-drive chainsaw and hedgetrimmer. Also an out-front rotary mower. Anybody have an Auto-Culto 55 in the back of the shed? The right-side image is from a 1964 Smithfield Show report. 

Auto Culto 55

Probably the best know modern design is the Shay Rotoscythe. The image below is a late image from 1955. This machine is visually an excellent piece of design and an ingenious development of the lawnmower too. The mower was also available with ‘moss pegs’, these attached to the mower blade and acted as a scarifier to remove moss from the lawn. The earliest newspaper advert reference the VHGMC has found to the Rotoscythe is from May 1934, the electric model being £11 and the petrol model £19.

Shay Rotoscythe advert 1955

Even abroad there were some interesting machines taking on a modern look:

Below is something different and proves that manufacturer did look for something to capture the buyers imagination. Retailed in America in 1978 was the Sears Maxi Mow. A quirky looking machine, this 5 speed self-propelled mower had the added benefit that it would take ordinary black bin bags and the mower would then fill the bags in the rear compartment. This would not work in the UK with our intermittent weather and damp grass, did it work efficiently anyway with it’s vertical grass chute? An interesting design nonetheless, although probably a nightmare to dismantle to service the engine. 

1978 Sears Maxi Mow – USA

In France the Staub cultivators (pictured below) had a makeover moving away from the traditional look of the vintage cultivator that we all know so well. 

The 1980’s Staub range are in a striking livery of white, blue, silver and chrome and their appearance has a great presence, it is a surely one to catch the eye in the lineup of machines at a retailers in France. Particularly the 6000 model below from the early 1980’s is a successful overhaul of a traditional machine. In the flesh it is visually faultless – some even have go-faster arrows on top of the white fuel tank! 

Staub 6000 – 1980 – France

In Sweden the Husqvarna company was making the MK 500 mower (pictured below) in around the late 1960′ early 1970’s, these mowers were retailed in the UK. This smooth ABS shelled mower was available in two fashionable colours, either a mid-blue colour for the push-version or if preferred there was an identical looking self-propelled front wheel driven model in bright orange, as pictured. The mower was advertised has 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) 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 40-odd years later it remains rare, indeed we still haven’t seen one!

1960’s/ 70’s Husqvarna MK500 mower – available in blue or orange for the fashionable gardener.

Looking back through the images we seem to have chosen quite a few machines that remain rare. The Rotoscythe, the Qualcast Jetstream mower and the Staub tractor in France are available, the others not a sign of them. Have you got one of them?

by alan

Mr Rollo and his Croftmaster Factory – 1955

July 13, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Rollo Croftmaster

We are sure that many members would be able to recognize a Rollo Croftmaster tractor? Although rare, I am hoping that there will be one or two at the Scottish Tractor World Show in Edinburgh in March 2018.

According to newspaper archives from 1955 the original, basic idea for the Rollo Croftmaster tractor was initially conceived and “ideas put on paper” three years earlier making it a light bulb moment somewhere in 1952. 

That ligh bulb moment was not only to create a small, capable and affordable tractor but also a way to help Scottish crofters. There is an excellent newspaper article (below, right)  from March 1955 which explains all and partly quoted with other newspaper sources comprises:

For years Mr John Rollo, O.B.E.,  had turned over in his mind ideas for helping Scots crofters. He had seen the acres of barren countryside in the Highlands and the primitive means of cultivation. 

Mr Rollo’s first improvement was a tricycle tractor, pedal driven. It could plough one-sixth of a mile per hour. It was slow but much quicker than the old ploughs that were being used.

From this evolved a power-driven tractor with a .98hp engine. Then two years later a four-wheeled tractor powered with a 3hp engine, which he named Croftmaster. (Another newspaper quotes that the Croftmaster could plough an acre of land on two gallons of petrol)

A Scottish business man bought 50 of them right away and gave them to the Highland Development Fund to distribute to the crofters on easy payments. Apparently these tractors were offered at cost price (no profit) with no deposit and five years to pay with the cost being £190 each.

In September 1954 the Croftmaster was put on display at the Scottish Industries Exhibition at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow where foreign buyers and manufacturers were attracted to the stand. Dr Olivetti (of typewriter fame) was keen to have the Croftmaster in Italy to help the farmers there just as had been done in the Highlands of Scotland. Consequently two Croftmasters were shipped to Italy for experiments. Crofmasters were also shipped to Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Persia. 

From a  separate newspaper article in 1954 it is reported that a “Rollo tractor with ploughing fittings was also bought by a representative of Bechuanaland, who also supplied the names of six chiefs there and in Basutoland who would be interested in a machine of this kind.”

Ploughing with a Croftmaster

At the time of writing this in 2017 there is no remaining evidence of Croftmasters anywhere but in the UK and Ireland. Anyone know anymore?

The most interesting part of the newspaper article is the last paragraph which tells that “…complete tractors are being assembled by the crofter workers at Inverasdale, twenty a month being turned out“. Note that Croftmasters were also built elsewhere, but here we look at the Inverasdale factory.

This is where the human element comes into any story. It’s not the machine as such but the people who worked on the machines, the job they went to everyday, and any remaining information can be fascinating. Photographs exist of the Inverasdale factory. There are some images on the internet but the VHGMC have their own images from archives. 

The Inverasdale factory, images below, although just a small operation, was housed in a prefabricated asbestos building on (according to newspapers) an existing concrete base left from wartime activities. The image below from 1955 shows the inside of the factory producing tractors for the Scottish crofters with John Rollo at the front-right on a visit to the factory, this factory not only produced tractors but gave work to local people which is something John Rollo was very keen to do. A 1955 report says that a tractor demonstration (photograph at bottom of page) at Windyedge Farm, Perth, used two tractors one being 3hp and the other 5hp, both made at Inverasdale. The other workers are left to right: Jackie MacLean, Norman McIver, Unknown at back centre, Johnnie MacPherson on the right. This is a fantastic image and probably isn’t too far removed from VHGMC members repairing or restoring machines in their sheds and garages!

The factory was on a farm run by the Matheson family at Firemore near Inverasdale on the west coast of Loch Ewe in Wester Ross. The following image again from 1955 showing the outside of the factory makes it look exposed although the location is picturesque in good weather.

The factory building on the right of the last image still exists although the location with trees looks different 60 years later: It is now hard to imagine the tractors being produce here and the work that went on. 

There is also a 1955 video containing a little information about the factory and the tractors:

If anyone knows if Rollo Croftmasters exist outside the UK and Ireland then let us know and we can correct this article!

Also, is anyone entering a Croftmaster for Tractor World Scotland in Edinburgh in March 2018?

Additional: We have now found a photograph of the tractor ploughing at Windyedge Farm, Perth in 1955. The tractor has it’s name on the front bumper section so obviously it was also a publicity event with photographers and reporters.

Another addition is this BSA engine advert from June 1957. Note that there is another tractor ploughing in the field so this is more than likely a ploughing demonstration attended by several manufacturers.

Rollo with a BSA engine, June 1957


by alan

1950s Chelsea Flower Show Exhibits

June 5, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Showing new machinery and ideas to the public at shows has always been a great way to promote a company and the machinery too. Even back in the 1950’s the Chelsea Flower Show had many new machines on show, many of the machines have become firm favourites with collectors and of course the machines are still useable today.  

Since Chelsea 2017 has just finished, here are a few vintage images from the Chelsea shows in the 1950s.

1953: Exhibited by John Allen & Sons, Oxford, and showing some attachments including the carrier and also a mower on the right-hand machine.

1953 : Barford Atom. Note the attachments in the background.

1952: Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies Vibro Hoe and other exhibits. Was this before the Vibro Hoe was released and sold to the public?

1955: A well used image but shows the Tarpen battery powered lawn edger being demonstrated

1959: One of a series of well known images showing the Webb Radio-Controlled Lawnmower being demonstrated. Other images show the crowds watching the demonstration.

1957: Rapier Mower by Farmfitters Ltd. Available as a petrol or paraffin model from £42.10s. 

1956: Tarpen Tiller advert showing they will be at Stand No.9 at the Chelsea Flower Show 1956.

1953: Colwood exhibits for Stand No.6 at the Chelsea Flower Show 1953.

by alan

UK’s Oldest Bolens Tractor (and Australia too)

May 17, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Bolens Ride-a-matic

This isn’t a trick question but does anyone want to guess when Bolens introduced their two-wheeled garden tractors to the UK?

We are all used to seeing the Bolens four-wheeled garden tractors, as in the image on the right, with the appealing Ride-a-matics being introduced in 1959, but the two-wheeled tractors were even earlier – in fact much earlier.

Newspaper research suggests that the very first Bolens were brought to the UK in September 1927, probably a couple of decades earlier than any of us would have guessed. Feedback from Bolens collectors suggest that it was originally thought that Bolens where not imported here before 1959, but newspaper adverts show the two-wheelers were here 32 years earlier.

Australia were four years earlier than us with a Bolens hitting their shores in 1923. Newspaper article at the bottom of this page.

In the UK, the book Seventy Years of Garden Machinery describes early American machines but not that they were imported here, it mentions that two-wheel machines were first imported into the UK in the early 1960s but nothing before. (Admittedly it’s not an easy thing to find out)

Shown below is the very first UK Bolens advert known. It is from the Western Daily Press in Bristol dated 10th September 1927. It is an invitation for everyone to attend a Demonstration of the Bolen’s Tractor at the Agricultural & Horticultural Research Station, Long Ashton, Bristol on the 15th September 1927 at 2pm. That’s 90 years ago this year.

Bolens 1927 Advert – Possibly a Model A power hoe made 1921-1926?

Conveniently this is followed the next day by a report of the tractor and how it performed at the previous days demonstration. 

Bolens Tractor 1927 Report from Long Ashton, Bristol.

The advert from 16th September 1927, image right, says:

“Ingenious Cultivating Machine. At the Long Ashton Research Station yesterday a representative of Joh. Hanson, Astor House, Aldwych, London W.C.2. (Note: Joh. Hansen also imported other machinery from the USA including the 1930s Little Wonder hedge trimmer) gave a demonstration of the Bolen tractor , an ingenious machine adaptable to many uses. It is especially designed for light cultivation by market gardeners, horticulturalists and fruit growers, and has labour saving qualities which should commend it to such. 

Easily and economically run, it is the production of the Gilson Manufacturing Co. Port Washington, Wisconsin, U.S.A. It is small and readily handled and a fine example of the adaptability of the tractor to garden uses. The simple way in which it can be converted to various uses especially commends it, and the construction is such that it can be worked over growing crops without damaging them. 

By it’s cultivators, light ploughing blades, seeders, spraying apparatus, pulverisers, lawn mowers may be quickly fitted for use. It is, therefore, a utility machine of great value. It is so constructed that it straddles and works both sides of two or three rows at a time. It gives 15 inches of plant clearance and ample working vision to the operator. A plank drag attachment is available for seed bed preparation, and it’s seeding attachment makes seeding speedy and easy. The many testimonials as to the efficiency of the machine and the satisfaction it has given to users go to justify the claims which are made for it. 

The demonstration was made under unfavourable conditions in heavy waterlogged soil, but the demonstrator was able to give a good idea of some of the capabilities of the machine, and to show what a valuable acquisition it is for garden users on a large scale, where labour saving expense is a material factor in profitable cultivation.”

And then…..nothing……absolutely nothing about Bolens until 14 years later when an advert appears in the Gloucestershire Echo on the 19th September 1941. Advertising a shipment of Bolen’s Market Garden Tractors complete with Ploughs, Potato raising ploughs and Cultivating Equipment. The distributors are B.S. Bird & Co. (Gloucester) Ltd. Does anyone know anything about B.S.Bird & Co. ?

1941 Bolens as sold by B.S. Bird & Co (Gloucester) Ltd, Stroud.

This is followed (image below) on the 6th November 1942 by a private advert in the Western Mail selling a 5hp Bolens Tractor with complete ploughing and cultivating tools and potato lift – as sold in the 1941 advert above! The address is Rose Tree Farm , Llanmartin, South Wales. Importantly the price of £180 is mentioned for the purchase earlier that year. 

1942 private advert for a 5hp Bolens Tractor

A couple of years later (image below) on the 16th February 1944, a Bolens tractor with implements appears in the Birmingham Mail. Advertised by Mason & Westcott, Pinvin, Pershore, Worcestershire for a price of £120 in as new condition.

1944 advert for a Bolens Tractor at Pershore, Worcs. Price £120.

Notice how these Bolens are so far all huddled around one corner of the UK and except for the advert below are within 60 miles radius of Long Ashton, Bristol?

On the 9th December 1948 an advert (image below) in The Cornishman newspaper advertises the sale of 2 Bolens tractors and implements. 

Selling at public auction on the 10th December  1948 at Godolphin Cross, Breage, Helston, ‘Two-wheeled Bolens tractor with forward and reverse gears, complete with plough, cultivator, bankers, hay cutter, potato lifter, harrow (new): Two-wheeled Bolens tractor with forward and reverse gears, this tractor has scarcely done any work, complete with implements. Both tractors are fitted with flywheel ignition.’

1948 Bolens advert for two tractors with plough, cultivator, hay cutter, potato lifter and harrows

And then once again….nothing……nothing until the Ride-a-matics of 1959. This is the complete opposite of Trusty Tractors and other makes where private adverts pop-up often and in different places too, perhaps Bolens didn’t make an early impact and there weren’t many about? Any ideas?

In Australia a newspaper article appears in Adelaide on the 15th March 1924 – image below. Mr Archie McLean of Victoria had imported a Bolens Power Hoe nine months earlier (making it about June 1923). Mr McLean states that the machine cost £60 and 2/6 per day pays for the petrol. 

Other Australian newspaper reports say that by May 1927 both the Bolens ‘D.J.” Power Hoe and the Bolens “Hi-Boy” tractor were available in Australia.

1924 Australian Bolens Power Hoe Article

Has anybody got, or seen, or heard of a 1920’s Bolens in the UK? Where did they go.

Thanks to Sandi & Roger for their help with identifying the 1927 Bolens picture in the first advert.

by alan

Machines and original engines

May 7, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Villiers Engine Advert

Occasionally we see posts on the VHGMC forum asking if a certain machine had a particular engine fitted from new or is it a replacement engine.

A machine may get an engine transplant over it’s lifetime. Maybe the swap is because the engine has expired, maybe it was easier to put on another engine as it was cheaper than replacing worn parts or indeed the machine may have the correct engine type but swapped from a different machine and hence the colours or ID plates no longer match the receiving machine. There are many reasons. 

Coming across a 1965 Gaskets and Oil Seals catalogue the other week there is a list of vintage machines with their engines, list reproduced below. This isn’t an exhaustive list but nevertheless it is interesting to see the original specified engines with their machines listed alongside some popular manufacturers. 

There are a few interesting items within the pages such as a battery charger made by Dale with a Villiers Mk.20 engine. A Byron elevator with a JAP 2S engine (Probably the same as Byron who made the tractors). An Acre soil shredder with BSA 320cc engine, and Teles Chainsaws with various Villiers engines. 

Of note is an En-Tout-Cas (of the posh tennis courts) roller with a Villiers Mk.12 engine. An engine powered En-Tout-Cas roller to match the En-Tout-Cas tennis court is very upmarket indeed! I’ll make an assumption that the roller was possibly a re-badged machine, maybe a Stothert & Pitt as they used the same engines.

Below are the pages relevant to vintage horticultural machines – check to see which engines were fitted on each machine. Is your’s there?

The columns in bold were the recommended head gasket reference numbers.

Click on the images for slightly larger versions.

Walking Tractors Engine List

Sprayers (Liquid) Engine List

Sprayers (Dry) Engine List

Soil Mixers Engine List

Grass Cutters & Mowers Engine List

Soil Shredder Engine List

Chainsaw Engine List

Rollers Engine List

Trucks Engine List

Batter Charger Engine List

Flxible Drive Tools Engine List

Dumpers Engine List

Generators Engine List

by alan

Ryan and Horwool turf equipment

April 14, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

We probably all know the name of Horwool and their ride-on triplex mowers and the Landscaper 1200 tractor – see them in the Horwool gallery. In the 1960’s Horwool, based in  Romford, were also the agents for the American built Ryan turf equipment which was shipped over to the UK.

Ryan still make lawn care equipment ( ). The most interesting piece of equipment from the 1960’s being the range of turf cutters that cut the rolls of turf that are laid for new lawns. These machines have knobs and levers and many moving parts and would probably make a fascinating horticultural exhibit at a show although I doubt we’d be allowed to strip the showfield at Newark Tractor Show as an attraction – but it’d draw the crowds.

1965 Ryan Turf Cutter sold by Horwool

The 1960’s machines seem to differ very little from their modern day equivalents. The turf cutters pictured right, from the 1965 brochure, were capable of cutting three acres of turf per day per machine, that’s just under 15,000 square yards. The machines automatically cut-off the turf at the correct length and had different types of blades for varying turf conditions. 

Powered by 7hp Wisconsin engines or 9hp Briggs and Stratton engines on the larger machines, they had a disc clutch and disc brake for the automatic turf cut-off. 

The only down-side I can see is that there still needed to be a man on his knees rolling up the turf behind the operator and stacking it on pallets. The brochure does show that the turf can be either rolled up or laid flat on pallets.

Has anyone got an old UK Ryan turf cutter? I’m sure that there will still be some in use today as they would be well looked after if they were heavily relied upon.

Ryan also produced the Motoraire, pictured belowwhich much like Sisis machines “removes cores of soil to open up the soil and let air, moisture and fertilizer down into the grass root zone” . Ryan add that “Aeration with a Ryan Motoraire should be used for maintaining healthy turf and for rebuilding and rejuvenating turf of poorer quality“. 

Powered by what appears to be a Briggs and Stratton engine rated at 3hp, Ryan recommend the Motoraire for “beautifying school playgrounds, athletic fields, hospitals and industrial plant grounds and home lawns, it is also highly recommended for…use by landscapers, lawn maintenance companies, rental companies and nurseries“.

1964 Ryan Motoraire as sold by Horwool in the UK

Ryan machines were not just limited to walk-behind machines, there’s also the tractor mounted Renovaire. This machine, image below from 1964, could do coring, slicing and renovating of turf and was “designed for fast, economical aerating of large turf areas” such as golf courses, sports pitches and parks. 

The operating speed when working is up to 10mph and when not working the 8′ wide machine can be transported on it’s 4.00 x 8″ pneumatic tyres behind a truck or car at reasonable driving speed on a field or site. 

1964 Ryan tractor-mounted Renovaire

Horwool also had some of their own turf equipment. There is the Powarake, and also the Powaroll, both great names

The Powarake, pictured below left, was a 3 1/2 hp, BSA powered lawn de-thatcher. With a centrifugal clutch it had 100 self-cleaning flexible steel tines and mechanically lifts thatch and debris from the lawn. Apparently tree roots, curbs and stones will not damage the tines which run at 1200 RPM. 

The  Powaroll, pictured below right, had a 3hp Briggs and Stratton engine and featured reverse for maneuvering in tight spaces. When the roller was filled with water it weighed in excess of a quarter of a ton which gave effective levelling and compaction of the ground.

Horwool Powarake and Powaroll

For reference and anyone researching Horwool, the address on the brochures is:

Horwool (Manufacturing ) LTD
Upper Bedfords
Lower Bedfords Road,