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* 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

Nobby Fletcher and Bolens

December 12, 2017 in Articles

Nobby Fletcher is a fictitious character who appeared in a Bolens advert in 1970, reproduced below, promoting the assets of owning a Bolens garden tractor. 

Nobby Fletcher appears to be somewhat of a dogsbody working five and a half days per week mowing the lawns, scything the orchard, tending the kitchen garden, sweeping leaves, rolling the lawns, as well as lighting the house fires and cleaning the car. He’d probably be out in the December snow and frost clearing the driveway and cursing his chilblains and rheumatic joints and all for £16 per week in 1970. No wonder then that Nobby needed 10 days off work with twinges and aches and pains. 

I’m pretty sure that Nobby Fletcher would have welcomed the use of a Bolens tractor to help with the chores around the garden and especially the snow clearing in winter. Hopefully Nobby got a look at the attachments brochure and persuade his employer to buy the lot, after all what use is a great tractor with no implements or a valuable good gardener to use them too? 

1970. UK Bolens tractors advert. 7-14hp engines and 25 attachments. The 6hp lawn tractor started from £280.00. The garden tractor started from £325.00.


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

David Brown & Bolens

January 31, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Did Bolens inspire the David Brown colour scheme?

Did Bolens inspire the David Brown colour scheme?

Collecting and preserving a machine is often much more than just having the physical machine itself, although one machine is never enough and the collecting bug bites hard. Also accumulating brochures, leaflets and memorabilia about a certain manufacturer can add to the interest, sometimes it’s also vital to have the extra information when rebuilding or desperately trying to reconstruct a machine from a heap of parts and some rusty tinwork. It’s all about research and a worthwhile investment, or so we convince ourselves as we buy another vital brochure on the internet. 

There are some members who have an interest in David Brown (photos in the gallery) . Searching online there’s a terrific amount of David Brown related information including not only the typical brochures and literature but also factory photographs, films, and machine history. There’s even have a David Brown museum (I’ve visited) with tractor exhibits and there’s a museum visit video on Youtube. 
David Brown Colour Chart

David Brown Colour Chart – Orchid White, Metallic Chocolate Brown, Poppy Red. Inspired by Bolens?

However even some items escape being in a museum and a few years ago I acquired a 1960’s David Brown factory issued colour chart, shown on the right, it’s something no one seems to have seen before, it’s small and fragile and that may account for few surviving.

What’s more interesting, and more detailed information can be found on the internet about it, is that the David Brown orchid white colour scheme from around the mid 1960’s onwards was apparently inspired by the livery of Bolens garden tractors – namely the white and brown scheme similar to that of the photograph of the Bolens at the top of the page . This colour scheme is shown in the David Brown tractor photo above it.  A fascinating piece of history.

See more Bolens and their various colour schemes in the Bolens gallery

You never know what small pieces of history or documentation may turn up either on the internet, on a stall at a show or from another VHGMC member or a member of the public. If you haven’t already seen Charlie’s Rototiller on the forum then have a look to see what can turn up. 

A 1964 Bolens Husky Advert. £225.00. Mini Tractors, Chew Magna, Bristol.

A 1964 Bolens Husky Advert. £225.00. Mini Tractors, Chew Magna, Bristol.