machinery

by alan

10 Vintage Equipment Questions

December 4, 2019 in Articles

Since it’s December and the nights are long and dark, a short quiz on vintage horticultural stuff might pass 5 minutes. Here are ten general questions, the answers and explanations are at the bottom of the page. Each question & answer is like a mini-piece of interesting information. 

Questions:

Q1: What is this machine based on?

1. From the 1990s onwards Karcher (of power-washer fame) was selling the Briggs and Stratton powered KMR1000 ride-on sweeper and vacuum which was like a mini road sweeper. Which small, green & yellow ride-on-mower aimed at the domestic market was this Karcher machine based on?  

A: MTD Yardman DX70
B: Al-Ko 620 rider
C: John Deere R70

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Q2: Was it the Rotoscythe that should be free of purchase tax?

2. Which grass cutting machine caused a debate in Parliament in 1959 because it couldn’t be decided if it should not be classed as a proper lawnmower and therefore be free of purchase tax at 25% ?

A: Tarpen Grassmaster
B: Shay Rotoscythe (as illustrated, right)
C: Barford Atom mower attachments



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Q3: A million satisfied users by 1938, but how many did Qualcst have by 1951?

3. In 1951 the Qualcast Panther ball-bearing mower was advertised at £7.2.6 complete with grass box and 10 years guarantee. Considering that Qualcast had one million customers by 1938, how many satisfied customers did they claim to have 12 years later in 1951?

A: More than 1,500,000
B: More than 3,000,000
C: More than 4,500,000


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Q4: How much was the Nash tractor in 1950?

4. In 1950 the Nash Roller Tractor, by H. R. Nash Ltd, Dorking, was being exhibited at the Dairy Show, Olympia and advertised as a ‘Remarkable Machine’. It was exhibited as a general purpose 3-wheeled tractor designed to cover all types of business and available as a chassis only model or could be had with a flat truck body or tipper body both being £5 extra, but how much was the basic chassis price for this ‘Remarkable Machine’ in 1950?

A: £97
B: £170
C: £227

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Q5: What was a lot less bovver than a hover in the 1980’s?

5. Flymo used the catchphrase ‘It’s a lot less bovver with a hover’ to sell their air-cushioned range of mowers. But which of their wealthy and popular rivals counteracted this by using the similar phrase ‘It’s a lot less bovver than a hover’, image on the right,  in their own TV advert?

A: Black & Decker – advertising the RM1 rotary electric mower
B: Spear & Jackson – advertising the Dino 18 rotary electric mower
C: Qualcast – advertising the Concorde cylinder electric mower

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Q6: How many minutes to get the Sumners Patent Steam Lawn mower up to steam?

6. Steam was a popular method of powering machinery in the 1800’s and attempts were made to harness the power for all sorts of factory applications, propulsion and machinery. The Lancashire Steam Motor Co introduced the pedestrian controlled 1.5 ton ‘Sumners Patent Steam Lawn Mower’ in 1893. Time is a valuable resource and the quicker the better, so according to their adverts, approximately how long would it take to raise steam from cold water and get the machine moving?

A: 10 minutes
B: 30 minutes
C: 45 minutes

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Q7: Which cultivator did Danarm import?

7. Danarm of Stroud, Gloucestershire are well known and respected for their chainsaws. They also had interests in other machines and from the 1970’s Danarm started importing and selling a make of brightly-coloured garden cultivators starting with a 3hp engine model. But what was the cultivator and country of origin?

A: The green and white painted Ferrari cultivators made in Spain
B: The yellow painted Texas cultivators made in Denmark
C: The orange painted Kubota cultivators made in Japan

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Q8: Did they sell the Tudor lawn aerator?

8. Bob Andrews of Sunningdale, Berkshire, manufactured, retailed and distributed a large range of horticultural equipment through the 1970’s, 80’s and onwards. Some of the popular equipment included the Billy Goat vacuum, Andrew’s portable generator, Cyclone spreader and the Minispike hand-push lawn aerator. But which of the following popular machines, painted blue, did they also sell?

A: Bluebird lawn scarifier
B: Tudor aerator (illustrated, right)
C: Mowrite Auto-Spike attachment for power mowers

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Q9: What mower was driven from Edinburgh to London in 1951?

9. In 1959, five students from De Havilland College in Hatfield rode a lawnmower from Edinburgh Castle to Hyde Park in London, a distance of more than 400 miles. It took over 4 ½ days travelling down the whole of the A1 day and night at 4mph.  But which British cylinder mower, as in the pictured example, did they use?

A: Ransomes Matador
B: Royal Enfield Motor Mower
C: Atco Royale

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Q10: What model name did Rolcut give to secateurs?

10. Over the years there have been many makers of secateurs. These include such names as Wilkinson Sword, Felco, Greensleeves, and C.K. There was also a large range of secateurs by Rolcut LTD, based in Horsham, West Sussex. They exhibited anvil secateurs which were the first of their kind at the 1927 Chelsea Flower Show. By 1968 there was a vast range of Rolcut secateurs each with a reference number and name including: No.2 Major, No.7 Superlight, and No.18 Ambassador. But which of the following was also a Rolcut secateur name?

A: Snagger
B: Snick
C: Toggle Lopper

————

Answers:

The MTD DX70 is the basis for the Karcher mini road sweeper

1: A: MTD Yardman DX70. Karcher designed their mini road sweeper around the green and yellow beetle-shaped DX70 and apart from the sweeper attachments it looks 95% the same. For clarity, the same DX70 was also sold in an identical shape but clad in a red plastic body shell in some markets.




Tarpen Grassmaster

2: A: Tarpen Grassmaster as in the image, right. The debate in Parliament was if the Grassmaster could cut the grass short enough to warrant it being able to cut a lawn. The Grassmaster was subject to purchase tax in 1957, exempt in 1958 and subject to the tax again in 1959 when it was finally decided it was a lawn-mowing machine. This information was sourced from the UK Parliament Hansard archives. 

3: B: Qualcast claimed more than than 3,000,000 users in 1951. This was an increase from 1,000,000 ball-bearing mowers in 1938. Therefore approximately 2m ball-bearing mowers were produced in the intervening 12 years – that’s 450 mowers per day.

4: B: The chassis price for the Nash Roller Tractor was £170 in 1950. A 4-wheel version of the tractor was introduced a few years later in 1954. According to reports, the company was sold, with patent rights, to Landmaster Ltd in 1956 who had already been selling the Nash tractor for a couple of years.

5: C: Qualcast used the phrase ‘It’s a lot less bovver than a hover’ in adverts for the Concorde cylinder electric mower. There is a video on Youtube showing their brilliant TV advert with the slogan. https://youtu.be/4IARuRMLIAU which features Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey).

6: A: It would take an amazingly short 10 minutes to raise steam on the Sumners Patent Steam Lawn Mower made by The Lancashire Steam motor Co. The Sumner name on the mower comes from James Sumner, a blacksmith, who was one of the company founders. Later, The Lancashire Steam Motor Co became Leyland Motors.

Danarm TV3 Texas Cultivator Advert

7: B: Texas cultivators as in the image and  painted yellow, were sold by Danarm in the 1970’s onwards. They were similar to the Merry Tiller design idea and the De-Luxe model was powered by a Briggs and Stratton 3hp engine, later, Kawasaki engines were introduced into the range. Attachments included steel bladed wheels and pneumatic wheels, tool frame with harrows, and end-discs to protect plants at the sides when cultivating.

8: A: Bob Andrews sold the blue-painted power-driven Bluebird lawn scarifier, it retailed for £292 in 1977, But not only did they sell the Bluebird scarifier they apparently also manufactured them too. Bob Andrews also sold the similar Lawn Doctor scarifier. Many of these very well made scarifier machines are still being used today, they can sometimes be found for sale and make a good second-hand purchase. 

9: A: Ransomes Matador was rode from Edinburgh to London in 1959. The mower still exists today in preservation and has the original number plate JDX150. There are many photos of the feat on the internet including a recent reunion. 

10: All three fantastic names are actually correct, A:Snagger, B: Snick and C: Toggle Lopper being three real names Rolcut gave to models of secateurs. Incidentally Rolcut stopped production of their secateurs to undertake work for the war effort, but by 1949 they were reported to be back to near full production.

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? 


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

Flymo Advert Printing

July 26, 2019 in Articles

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Try Flymo Free” with a free home demonstration.


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


Flymo “Get With It”

 

by alan

Bolens & Machines on TV

June 8, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

The sun always shines on TV’ goes the 1985 song by A-ha, and to a certain degree it does although it might not be the sun that brightens your day but the appearance of some vintage horticultural machinery which you’d never think would ever get on mainstream TV. It certainly is an exclamation of A-ha! when one recognises a machine on the telly. (Sorry about the bad pun – I spent ages thinking of it).

It’s rare to see vintage gardening machines on television, occasionally they appear on vintage online news clips such as https://www.britishpathe.com/* which is worth searching; with black and white film from the 20th Century and voice-overs done with real gusto as they did in the good old days. How about watching the short 1950 advert * of a fantastic radio-controlled mower on the old cathode-ray tube in the living room – it was all the future and more!

The Wartime Farm on BBC in 2012 featuring VHGMC members

In media other items appear like the immaculate 1963 John Deere 110 garden tractor on their stand at Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, a great photo shoot with Zara Philips present to mark the 50th anniversary of JD lawn and turf business.

Not forgetting our chairman and others who did a sterling job on the BBC programme The Wartime Farm* in 2012, as shown in the image on the right with a Trusty Tractor. 

The Howard gem as featured in The Good Life from 1975 onwards

We have to mention Tom and Barbara in the Good Life from 1975 on the BBC with their Kohler powered Howard Gem with makeshift trailer which they took to the road with. You can watch a replica of this rotavator and trailer setup* in action on the BBC Youtube channel – it’s entertaining! 

And then something else comes to light. You may have seen the recent VHGMC forum thread regarding a couple of ride-on mowers that appeared in ‘The Prisoner‘ which was filmed in the UK, outdoors was filmed at Portmeirion and indoors at MGM studios, Borehamwood, filming was between 1966 and 1968. For younger readers, which includes me although I recall the repeats, ‘The Prisoner‘* revolved around the imprisonment of a British intelligent agent in a surreal village on the coast and his search for information on his location and various plans for escaping. 

Bolens Suburban 26 (Left image) and Bolens Lawn Keeper on the UK TV show ‘The Prisoner’ in the 1960’s.

The two machines, pictured above, featured on a few brief occasions through ‘The Prisoner‘ series and turned out to be by Bolens. The left pictured one being a Bolens Suburban 26 and the right being a Bolens Lawn Keeper. The Lawn Keeper, of which there are a few in the UK, is an articulated machine with an out-front mower but can also take other attachments such as a snow blade, this is one of the 910 series Lawn Keeper machines and from the image appears to be powered by a Tecumseh engine.

The Bolens Suburban 26 in the left image is an altogether rarer (at present non-existent) machine in the UK. Bolens marketed this machine through the 1960’s and it had various cosmetic changes to the tin-work through that period of time. The illustrated machine has a 5hp Briggs and Stratton engine and was capable of a 26″ cut.

The Question is: Does anyone have a Bolens Suburban in the UK, or was Patrick McGoohan on ‘The Prisoner’ the only person to get a test drive? Also what was the nearest Bolens dealership to the MGM studios at Borehamwood? It may even be that the TV producer or writer saw these machines somewhere and decided to use them in ‘The Prisoner’ as something a bit quirky – you never know!  Let us know your thoughts!

Update: I’ve found that Rolfes of Romsey (referred to usually as Rolfe’s Mini Tractors) were selling the Lawn Keeper and Suburban at this time. They had an ex-demo Lawn Keeper at 6 months old for £225 in 1968, and a fair heap of Suburban ride-ons too, they may not have been big sellers, an 18 month old shop soiled machine could be yours for £85 when the new retail price was £230. A VHGMC advert for Rolfes albeit their Jacobsen sales but it has their address.

*Please note cookies/GDPR for external websites.

Note: Images/media are used for research/illustration purposes only with copyright held by respective publishers. 


by alan

Ford garden machines in the UK

May 11, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Advert for the Ford LGT 14D diesel ride on mower. Available in the UK 1987-1991

Ford is a global manufacturer and has a wide range of products under its belt with a vast array of associated advertising, one would be inclined to think that it’d be easy then, a doddle even, to find out about their mowers, tillers, chainsaws and garden and lawn tractors in the UK? This, I have found, is not the case, probably because I now know there isn’t much to find over here! For comparison I’ve spent months researching International Harvester garden tractors in the UK, their information proving sketchy, but that was surprisingly easier than Ford!

I have been looking for the Ford models actually sold in the UK rather than cataloguing the vast range they made, this has meant looking through UK specific brochures and data. However, this article may still have rather a lot of loose ends and more questions than answers but it’s a start and will perhaps inspire others to add to the knowledge base.

Having delved about with research I find that some of the first engine-powered Ford ride-on mowers seem to be of the home-made variety and date from the early 1900’s. This will come as no surprise when we learn that they were Model T Fords pulling along originally horse-powered gang mowers. Not exactly a ‘ride-on’ but the thought was there.

Ford 80 garden tractor as seen at Newark Tractor Show in 2015

The earliest purpose built Ford garden tractors that we are aware of in the UK is the model 80, manufactured for a few years from 1966. A couple have come to light in recent years, the image, right, is an example shown at Newark Tractor Show in 2015. The model 80 and 100 were manufactured by Jacobsen of Racine, Wisconsin and were essentially rebadged and Ford liveried Jacobsen Chief 100 tractors (see image for comparison). A little later the 80 and 100 were joined by the Ford 120 hydrostatic (based on the Jacobsen Chief 1200). However, of the first Ford garden tractors produced in the late 1960’s only the model 80 with the 8hp engine has appeared in the UK as far as we are aware.

Ford R8 rider mower in the US. From 1973 in the UK this could be bought as the original Ransomes-Hahn 500 in yellow paintwork.

It’s always interesting seeing which manufacturer makes what for whom, Ransomes-Hahn for instance manufactured for Ford in the US, as in the image of the rider on the right, but it appears none of these Ford badged machines made it over here. In the UK  from 1973 this machine is the yellow painted Ransomes-Hahn 500 rider model (see image for comparison) and available with 5hp or 7hp Briggs and Stratton engine. In the US these same machines were badged as the Ford R8 and R11 as in the image, right, did either of these Ford badged machines make it to the UK?

In 1973 to compliment the yellow Ransomes-Hahn 500 rider model in the UK there is mention of the larger and more tractor-like Ransomes-Hahn GT700 (see UK image) with 8 or 12hp Tecumseh engine and hydrostatic drive – since the Ransomes-Hahn 500 was painted blue and badged Ford in the US (as in the image above) I’m surprised the larger GT700 never appeared in any country as a Ford. Note: I have seen a blue Ford-esque GT700 but I think it was something that’d been bodged up from a yellow Hahn as a lookalike Ford.

Slight deviation from Ford: Whilst mentioning Hahn and the things that came off their production line in many colours, there was the 12hp Kohler powered Ransomes-Hahn Tournament Triplex mower available in yellow paintwork and with same machine being available later in the standard Ransomes green and badged as the Triplex 171 – both machines were available in the UK and were aimed at the golf course and fine lawn market. Amazing how manufacturers make, market and sell their machines under or for different brands – something which Ford was no stranger to, but for research it can be a real tangled web when one starts looking!

Ford YT16, available in a geared or hydrostatic version in the UK

Back to Ford and onto another manufacturer, this time Gilson of Wisconsin, USA. Gilson (and others) manufactured the most common small Ford machine we see in the UK that is the YT16 as in the image on the right, complimented by the hydrostatic YT16H model. This yard tractor (hence the YT prefix) with 42” mower deck was available with a 16hp Briggs and Stratton engine to start with and later a 16hp Kohler engine. It was manufactured by Gilson from approx. 1983 to 1988 followed by being manufactured by Lawnboy until 1993.  Lawnboy purchased Gilson in 1988 before all being bought by Toro in 1989 – so several hands in manufacturing the YT16 range. During 1985-91 Gilson/Lawnboy also made the bigger brother Ford LGT-18H which was available to us. Powered by a petrol 18hp Kohler engine with hydrostatic drive and optional rear PTO, this was available with a 48” mid-mounted mower deck with hydraulic lift for those that didn’t want to wrestle with a mechanical lever and spill their coffee – unlike Husqvarnas that have a cup holder to mitigate such scenarios. 

Hooray! for the frugal diesel for there is one small Ford diesel garden tractor that features in the UK, it is shown in the advert at the top of this article. In production from approximately 1987-1991 this is the LGT-14D and had 40% higher fuel efficiency than the equivalent petrol. Specification from the brochure states it has a Shibaura, 14hp, 3 cylinder diesel engine; hydrostatic drive and a 48” mid-mounted mower deck. Rear PTO was optional.  This tractor is the diesel version of the LGT-14 which was powered by a 14hp Kohler, 512cc petrol engine which no doubt gobbled petrol. Manufacture of the petrol LGT-14 was by Gilson between 1986 and 1987, and unlike the diesel Shibaura version, appears not to have been introduced to the UK – we just got the diesel one, unless you know otherwise?

Ford lawnmower. Did any make it over to the UK?

The next step up is to the larger, but still compact, Ford 1100 (2 wheel drive) and 1200 (4 wheel drive) machines. Data suggests that these were manufactured from around 1979 for about three or four years by Shibaura and featured 2-cylinder diesel engines coupled to a 12-speed gearbox. Prices were about £2500 for the 1100, and £3000 for the 1200 (see image). In the VHGMC gallery there is an image of a Ford 1220 (see image), this is from the Twenty Compact Series from the 80s/90s which comprised of the 1220, 1520, 1720,1920 and 2120 models. There was also the Ten series tractors (1983-1986) consisting of the 1120, 1210, 1310, 1510, 1710 and 1910. I know the 1120 and 1210 existed in the UK but not of the others. 

What else did Ford manufacture? My brochures say they made push lawnmowers as in the image, right. Also snow blowers, tillers and chainsaws including the super lightweight saws from the 1970’s. Do any of these Ford garden items exist in the UK? And as importantly who made them for Ford, were they also re-badged machines?

by alan

Then and Now – Gamages, Holborn

April 14, 2019 in Articles

Gamages Store (link to image and credit)

Several manufacturers names and adverts turn up on a quite regular basis, these include: Howard, Greens Mowers, Jap engines, Sheen flame guns, Tarpen equipment, Allen scythes and the list goes on, but also one other name, that of Gamages of London appears quite a lot.

But who were Gamages? Their adverts appear through the 20th Century, you may have seen their adverts in old magazines advertising absolutely every tool of the time that anyone could ever need for the garden and horticulturalist as well as multiple departments for others such as household, furniture, sporting items and motoring department (including cars). Items were available from their department store in Holborn, London, think along the lines of Harrods but bigger, although even through the later 20th century Harrods were selling horticultural equipment and machines too – it was a booming market.

‘The Famous Gamage Roller Mower’ aka Suffolk Super Swift

There’s an interesting summary on Graces Guide with adverts (link) about Gamages including their rise to fame from 1878 and subsequent demise in 1972.  Little did they know they’d grow into an enormous enterprise including a garden tools and machinery department, automobile and tools. Many garden items, made by other manufacturers, bear the Gamages name, either on attached cast plates or written on as shown on the lawnmower as pictured in the 1970 brochure, right. The mower pictured actually being a Suffolk Super Swift although advertised as ‘The Famous Gamage Roller Mower’, yours for £5,19.6.

Gamage Roller from 1910

Gamages produced many brochures detailing their gardening wares. Items could either be purchased in the store or via their successful mail order service. The first advert I have for their garden goods is 1910 with ‘Carriage paid to any goods station in England or Wales’. The advert having many items as well as garden rollers, image left, again advertised as being by them and probably that central cast medallion was emblazoned with their name. An internet search for ‘Gamage roller’ will show the vast range they sold which still survive to today.

A few unusual makes appear in their adverts too. Being sold in the early 1970’s are tools by Spearwell, image below, a company I had not heard of (and had to look it up) but is a short-lived amalgamation which is now Spear & Jackson (link to VHGMC Spearwell gallery). They had three styles of hoe for sale, the draw hoe, Dutch hoe and the Paxton hoe which is double action and has a push-pull motion.

Spearwell Garden Tools, a company with Spear & Jackson connections


Another unusual item I’ve found for sale with Gamages is the ‘Markette’ push-along lawn sweeper, image below right . With distinctive curved handles and almost circular collector bag it’s a machine of which I can find no other reference. Price was £14.19.6 

Markette Lawn Sweeper as sold by Gamages, London in the 1970’s


As this is a ‘Then and Now’ article, where is Gamages, the great department store? It is long gone, the great architecture of the London store and apparently rabbit-warren of departments once full of goods was demolished to be replaced by a more modern office building at the end of the 20th Century – link to Gamages location on Google Earth.

However, if a Gamages advert appears when leafing through the pages of a long-forgotten journal then at least you’ll know they sold a great many gardening goods, tools and machines which helped many gardeners between 1878 and 1972 and beyond. Indeed many of those early rollers and mowers bearing their name still exist today, perhaps there are more tools and garden equipment marked ‘Gamages’, do you have any? 

by alan

Husqvarna – Nearly Found One

March 11, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Some machines appear to be rare, scarce, non-existant, but are they? Or are they out there hiding in the bushes? This article is about how elusive some items can be….or perhaps I’m not searching in the correct place for the one specific item I’m after.

If anyone has ever been looking for a machine then at some point it can all seem rather fruitless, but all may not be lost because sometimes a little more information just suddenly appears – hence the ‘Husqvarna – Nearly Found One‘ title. (Note: I still haven’t actually found the 1970’s Husqvarna mower I’m looking for (pictured below)…or a non-brochure photo yet but the search continues just to prove they exist out in the wild, I’ll not give in!)

Husqvarna is a company which is generally associated with chainsaws and motorbikes in the UK, but there’s also some vintage and collectable machinery and lawnmowers. I used to have a Husqvarna mower from the mid 1990’s with a variable drive mechanism powered by a small rubber wheel which unfortunately heated up and disintegrated through time, it certainly could burn rubber but at the expense of not propelling the mower an inch. It’s very soul-destroying having to push a self-propelled mower! 

Husqvarna 500 mower – the red ones were self-propelled and the blue ones were push models.

Having had the 1990’s mower with the problematic drive mechanism I was intrigued to read a couple of years back that there had been some earlier Husqvarna mowers launched here in 1972. These were amazing 12-speed, 2-stroke, advanced machines and available in BLUE and RED colour schemes – that colour choice alone just gives them a cool edge and sets then apart from anything else that was on the market. 

My new and latest research, with specifications further down this article, tells that this was an incredibly advanced mower as mentioned in UK  gardening magazines of the time and had a couple of refinements, improved front-wheel drive and a steel rear flap in 1975, also detailed in magazines. They were out there, they were being advertised in many publications including professional journals, they were exhibited on show stands, but where are these mowers today? They cannot all have vanished after a long life being sold by dealers? If anyone ever finds one then they’ll get an incredible piece of 40+ year old, modern mower history for probably less than £50 – start searching!

After a bit of colour correction the blue model may have looked like this.

These smooth ABS shelled mowers were available as a push-version, that’s it in the unusual blue and white colour scheme, and in the red scheme was the self-propelled front wheel drive version. 

The engine is encased and has the pull handle at the middle of the front cover and the mower was advertised as having “clean, almost streamlined styling…the smooth uncluttered lines making it easier to keep the machine clean and smart“. Powered by a 120cc (3.5hp), Swedish-designed, two-stroke engine the mower was described in the brochure as ” Everywhere it has been demonstrated experts have commented on it’s low noise level ‘Environmentally acceptable, agreeable – almost silent’ “. Two-stroke?

It was also stated in the literature that it was ‘Europe’s rarest power mower‘ which is an odd thing to say when trying to sell a product, however, it turns out they were right and getting on for nearly 50 years later it remains rare, indeed where have they all gone?! Europe seems devoid of them also and I’ve even scoured Swedish auction sites and the nooks and crannies of most European countries online resources.  

Then, a year after I started looking for this mower I find a magazine advert (image right) with dealers name and address of Hyett Adams in Gloucestershire, which confirms they were sold in the UK and it wasn’t just some magazine hear-say to fill their editorial pages.

And the mower turns out to be even better than I originally thought…..finding one for £50 seems more of a bargain than ever….

It could use either it’s side or rear discharge, a system Husqvarna calls ‘Duo-Jet’. It had a low profile for cutting under shrubs and low branches as well as inset wheels so it could cut up to lawn and path edges and was height adjustable from 1″ to 3″. Then, to add to the list it benefited from front-wheel drive which, if anyone has used one, is a brilliant thing to have. 

The air-cooled engine was Swedish designed and potentially in-house Husqvarna created with a Repco ignition and Gutner carburettor. The two stroke was clever and featured two separate tanks, one for petrol and one for oil. The mixing taking place automatically by a built in pump in the fuel filler cap so that when the tank is refilled with petrol the correct amount of oil is added. 

The 12 speed was a ‘variator belt-drive’ allowing variable ground speed up to 6kph whilst the cutting blade maintained maximum speed.

So where are they all, not one can I find in existence in red, blue or otherwise. I have a few theories that after years of use then engines may not have been economical to repair; other replacement engines may not have been easy to transplant into that specific body shape; and the ABS body shells are difficult to repair if damaged and certainly do not bend or dent like steel does.

Maybe all the mowers reached the end of their useful lives and my search is at an end? Some machines are really elusive and however much searching is done, adverts, drawings, newspaper articles or technical specifications detailed, the machine just refuses to appear. 

Perhaps then, I’ll shift my focus to another machine and see if I have more luck finding one of the rare, UK demonstrated, walk behind Bolens tractors from 1927.There’s got to be one somewhere on this isle, or are we 92 years too late…?

Bolens tractor as demonstrated at Long Ashton, Bristol, in 1927

by alan

Ariens (& Gravely)

February 18, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

Ariens Jet Tiller

Many of the machines and pieces of equipment that are collected fall in to one of three categories: pedestrian machines, ride on machines and hand tools. But there are three more categories which we rarely think of, these are:

1. Popular manufacturers we know really well and the vast majority of their products are generally available. 

2. Manufacturers that we have heard of, know their products exist and they appear from time to time

3. Manufacturers or rare machines on the edge of obscurity that sometime turn up but may already be extinct or all traces passed through the scrapyard long ago. 

One company that fits neatly into the second category is Ariens from Wisconsin, USA. A company which made their first Rototiller in 1933 and now a global company incorporating Countax and Westwood in Oxfordshire. Ariens have a fantastic museum, more details at the bottom of this page.

Surely though, for the UK market in the 1970’s and 80’s didn’t Ariens just build and sell lawnmowers to us? 

Yes, they did make mowers for the UK market, although we haven’t pinpointed when any of Ariens machines first hit the UK, but Arien’s also made a range of tillers too, including the Jet tiller and the Rocket tiller with the latter being available to us. These are great machines and brilliant names from the late 1950’s with the build up to man jetting off to the moon. Shame that modern machines by nearly all manufacturers are now referred to by a list of numbers and letters and not some fanciful names to reel the customers in with. 

Ariens Super Jet Tiller 1961 (US advert)

There are some Ariens tillers out in the UK, with some savvy owners (inc. VHGMC members) having one or two in their collections. There’s also quite a range of mowers too from the 1970’s and 80’s, some which occasionally appear. 

We will start with the Jet Tiller. Powered by a Briggs and Stratton or a Clinton engine in the 3hp to 4.5hp range and with a working width of 8-20″, like a Merry Tiller this was a front-tined machine. There was also a Jet Super and a Jet Deluxe.

The advert image on the right shows the 1961 Jet Super which had the reverse included as standard and an increase to 24″ turbo tines. The Jet Deluxe had a 5hp engine. Although these machines are in America I cannot find any mention of them in the UK, perhaps you have one or a UK brochure? The VHGMC are on the search to see who has one!

But the bigger machine being the Ariens Rocket (image below right) does appear in the UK, presumably there may just be the smaller Jet lurking somewhere out there?

Ariens Rocket with 7hp Tecumseh Engine (VHGMC – Darmic1)

The larger Rocket is a rear-tined machine, as opposed to the front-tined Jet, and has engines in the 5hp to 7hp range which could turn the soil at up to 178rpm. By 1974 the Rocket was also available with optional electric start and had two forward and reverse speeds and an increase of turning the soil up to 235rpm. 

As mentioned the Ariens Rocket tillers are in the UK and are robust machines worthy of having, the image, right, is from the VHGMC archive.

In 1989 (from a UK brochure) the tiller range included the 214 (2hp B&S, 14″ front tined), 524 (5hp B&S, 24″ front tined), 5020, (5hp Tecumseh, 20″ rear tined), 7020, (7hp Tecumseh, 20″ rear tined).


Importing to the UK:

As with many machinery manufacturers we find that the importers or sole distributors can vary over the course of time. In the 1970’s Norlett (link to gallery) imported Ariens tillers, yard and garden tractors and the riding mowers into the UK and Ireland until 1981 when Lely Import LTD took over the importing. 

Some of the machines imported by Norlett included the 14 and 17hp tractors with both gear and hydrostatic drive. There was also a range of attachments including dozer blade, dump cart, rotary tiller and the mower decks which can be found in the UK although some of these may be scarce and in any event did some of these attachments also fit the Norlett tractors too?  Some of the Ariens tractors are also badged Norlett (see source image).

In 1979 the riding mowers, mostly with white mower decks, included the 7hp with 28″ cut (RM728) and the 6hp  with 26″ cut (RM626) both with optional electric start. The 11hp lawn tractor (YT1138) had a synchro balanced Briggs and Stratton engine and a 38″ cut. 

Ariens Rider Mower, RM728, 7hp, 28″ cut from 1980 Brochure

By 1981 and the installing of Lely Import LTD most of the riding mowers (8 different models were available in the UK in 1980, see source text) had optional electric start, and by 1983 all models were generally advertised as having up to six forward gears plus reverse, see source text. Available was the Ariens Flex-n-Float mower deck to give a professional finish, giving the customers a choice of collecting, discharge or mulching the grass cuttings. 

In 1984 Ariens (UK) Limited were advertising walk behind mowers including the LM21SE model which was advertised in Scottish Field magazine, see source text.

In 1985 the rear-engined RM828 (there’s also an SRM830 model), 8hp Tecumseh powered, riding mower which was designed to cope with wetter grass as we find in the UK was on sale for £1570. The design of this machine and future ones is the one most often seen (sometimes minus the mower deck) on auction websites. 

1989 sees the Ride-on mowers include the FM26E, Tecumseh, at £1091 and the FM828E, Tecumseh at £1436. Two Kawasaki powered ride-on mowers included the RM928E and RM1232E at £1608 and £1838 respectively. Attachments included vacuum baggers at £251, Dozer blade at £298 for the larger ride-ons. Front weights £84, Tyre chains £74, Lawn scarifier £114. 

YT series tractors included the YT1232BG at £2068, YT1232KH at £2528, YT1238KH at £2643. Attachments included grass baggers at £344. 42″ front blade at £401, 36″ Snow blower at £1063, Ariens trailer at £573. 

Details about Ariens complete range of vintage UK machines as well as others such as pedestrian mowers and snowblowers in the UK are sketchy, if you have any details or brochures then that’d be great, we’d love to see them and fill in some details on this page. For America Ariens have a museum in Wisconsin, and along with their Gravely machines it looks a great place – have a look at the following link to see the extensive collection: Ariens Museum*

There is also a video on Youtube* giving a tour of the machines on show, some will be as imported into the UK or as close as possible: 

https://youtu.be/H4YDjTzZLAE?t=26








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