vintage

by alan

The Perils of Collecting…..

November 22, 2020 in Articles, Machinery

Whatever you are collecting the machine may be out there!

We are possibly all guilty of wasting time looking through classified adverts in the tractor or vintage magazines or browsing online auctions, this is usually done under the guise of ‘research purposes’ even if we sometimes just accidentally end up purchasing the item. The purchase can then be further justified as saving another piece of history and the item joins the ever expanding collection without any sin being committed.

These are my personal thoughts on collecting all things horticultural. Easy and from the comfort of one’s own home, one of the best places to find things is online. But I find online auctions can sometimes be a complete muddle of contradictory statements. For instance a heap of rust for sale doesn’t correlate with its dubious glowing description of a machine needing nothing more than a bit of TLC, or the fact that the engine is scattered between several Tupperware boxes doesn’t necessarily constitute an ‘easy DIY repair’. Other adverts can bring a smile to the face of the people who know the seller is trying to big up their merchandise like a street trader hustling items from a suitcase, making it sound like it’s a once in a life-time opportunity, which it rarely is. Conversely, some rare or unusual machines have passed under the radar, sadly their sales description letting down the unknowing seller from getting a better price or a potential buyer missing out on finding that desired machine.

My favourite online auction machinery description to justify the potential that a machine is still in working order is: “Was working when last used”. Quite frankly, I hope it was working when last used! I often wonder if the rest of the selling statement could be ‘…but not working now’ or possibly ‘…but we cannot get it to start/run/move since it’s been sitting in the shed for thirty years’, which rather puts a damper on the auction.

There’s a huge range of machines out there – but will they run and work as intended once they’ve been brought home?

In this Northern household we take the view that anything with a petrol engine isn’t going to run when purchased, accordingly “Was working when last used” is taken with a pinch of salt. If it does run then it’s a complete bonus and we celebrate by taking the whippet for a pint down’t pub.

I’ve also been dismayed when clicking on a garden tractor advert that’s still at its 99p starting bid only to find that the seller is actually selling the machine for spares. Acting like Arthur Daley of the mower world the seller cunningly announces one is bidding “for a wheel nut only”. I’m always tempted to ask to buy all the wheel nuts, thus hopefully leaving the buyer with a wheel-less and immovable machine in the middle of his garage floor that he can fall over for the foreseeable future.

Having a machine that is moveable is pretty important. It reminds me of a trip one spring to somewhere south of a great metropolis to collect a non-running garden tractor that turned out to also have a couple of flat tyres. Google Street View did a tragically poor job of warning us of the front-garden-cum-municipal-tip-devastation we had to extract the tractor from. We knew we were in trouble when even the owner went out for the day and left us to sort it out for ourselves. A challenge wading through a sea of pizza boxes, beer cans and half a scrap yard, including the ubiquitous car up on bricks and a safe with the door jemmied open, and all at the front of a semi-detached house. I’m told it’s called character building but I’d call it unfortunate; yet we did rescue a tractor and that means it’s another guilt-free purchase.  

The tractor we rescued had one additional label, it was that of an auction. Over the years we have had a few machines that have obviously been bought for tuppence at a local sale and then put online in the hope of bagging a magnificent profit. I’m all for enterprise and if people can find a bargain then sell it on for a profit then good for them and I wish them every success. It’s possible that many machines that are now in collectors hands may have been sourced from agricultural sales, house clearances or free-ads before filtering down through online auctions. I wonder how many machines and tools have been saved from the scrap man because they ended up on online auctions, their last chance of rescue before being dismembered or going to the crusher?

Perhaps collecting hand tools would be an easier option?

But this collecting lark is not without perils. If you are into collecting hand tools with no moving parts then you are very sensible and on to a winner, probably spotting all the bargains I blindly overlook. The most problematic that simple hand tools can get is rust, broken welds or woodworm. However, if any collectable has an engine, gearbox or anything of mechanical importance to the machine actually working as intended, then the money can start flowing and all hopes of saving up for that holiday in the Maldives vanishes. Who needs a foreign holiday anyway? Hours wasted whilst sat idly at an airport when instead one could be back at home trying to source no-longer-available parts for a knackered Tecumseh engine!

Of course the machines we collect are getting older and for some the original spares are getting rarer and some aftermarket reproduction parts can be a potential gamble. Sometimes this can mean turning to the lucky dip put forth by the internet and sticking our oily hands into the digital bran barrel of parts that may or may not fit. I’ve found that cross-referencing part numbers between different machines and manufacturers is a skill, it’s almost an art form; I’m getting good at it.

Once parts have been identified and ordered it’s at this point that doubt could set in, especially if the confirmation email says that the parts aren’t located in the UK after all, the website plainly lied. Imagine if Google Street View comes up trumps this time and, with glee, informs the buyer that indeed the heavy crankshaft for the twin cylinder engine isn’t coming from a seller in a picturesque Cotswold village, instead it’s coming from a bedsit in a backstreet in China that looks scary even in daylight. Will the purchase turn up? Estimated delivery time: Eventually. Plus the frightening thought of import duty and VAT. But that’s a story for another day.

by alan

Engine Replacement Guide

October 25, 2020 in Machinery

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

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

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

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

Download A4 Replacement Engine Brochure

Download A3 Replacement Engine Sheet


by alan

Build a DIY Tractor

May 17, 2020 in Articles

There are plans for many machines, including this petrol-powered shredder in 1966

I’ve found many references in various online archives referring to home made garden machinery. Interestingly there’s many plans for garden tractors including both the two and four wheel variety. I suppose this should be no surprise as with a bit of inginuity, some workshop skills and a pile of parts, namely an engine, gearbox, wheels, and some means of steering or control, then anything is possible. 

I’ve also found a book from 1951 which looks like it could be of use….

….But before getting excited about sticking mechanical parts together in some sort of over sized Meccano kit experiment, lets  scrutinize carefully the advice given decades ago about concocting a tractor from bits…

1: The 1951 book advises that  the parts required may actually be a greater cost than buying a second hand machine, it quotes that a home made four wheel machine should cost no more than £25.0.0 and a two wheel machine about £5.0.0. Considering that at the time a new two wheel Farmers Boy started around £58 and a Gunsmith about £178, a considerable saving could be made. 

2: Spare parts may not be available in the future for the parts that the home made machine is compiled from. It was advised that it would be prudent to keep a stash of spares for when (not if) the home made machine breaks down. A spare engine and gearbox was suggested.

3: The home made machine may not (probably not) have the equipment and devices to keep the operator safe, like guards and easily accessible controls. This is referred to nowadays as an accident waiting to happen. 

Having satisfied ourselves that the project may be possible, we next need to have a suitable workshop. I’m reminded of a family story where a young person in the 60’s decided to overhaul his motorbike. Having nowhere suitable he decided the spare bedroom would be a solution. Revving the engine and attempting to drive upstairs was not a happy outcome when, in cartoon fashion, the stair carpet was ripped from it’s mountings whilst the motorbike remained at the foot of the stairs. The calamities did not end there as the eventually bedroom’ed motorbike was treated to a through clean, the result being spilled oil and petrol seeping through to the ceiling below. Outdoor space is therefore advised, plenty of room being a must for the intended project, unlike a long ago neighbour who had to remove the end of his garage in order to extract the trailer he had made.

Just like a cookery book, the 1951 book gives a list of ingredients but in mechanical form, yet doesn’t divulge any way of attaching one to another.

But if we want to jump in at the deep end and proceed with our 1951 book and muddle a machine together in an ad-hoc manner then it recommends the following parts for a four-wheel tractor, but no instructions:

An engine (7hp), gearbox, clutch, radiator, steering (modified), front axle (inverted), and a shortened chassis (4′ 8″) all from an Austin 7. A rear axle and differential from a Wolseley Hornet, 19″ rear wheels from a Trojan, and two 8″ wheel barrow wheels for the front. This would create a 6′ 5″ long tractor. 

A two-wheel tractor would again require scavenging parts from an Austin 7, these would be the engine, gearbox and clutch. The chassis would be home-made from angle-iron. The wheels would be 19″. This would give an 8′ long by 3′ wide machine. 

Without plans this may turn out to be a big challenge, but help is at hand to help us achieve a home-made machine, at least in the USA anyway….

1944 Shaw tractor advert

….Through the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond In the USA many adverts appear ( try Popular Mechanics magazines) providing plans and diagrams to build a garden tractor, these would be a great idea as, presumably, many others have followed the plans with great success. 

The Shaw MFG. Co. of Kansas (image on the right) were offering plans for their tractors at $1 in 1944. This was due to the war limiting production of their own machines and therefore you could follow their plans and build your own using old car parts, and powered by a 3hp Briggs and Stratton engine. A two wheel garden tractor that was powered by a 1/2hp to 3hp engine could also be made. Apparently a machine could be constructed in a few hours, that is if the parts were readily available. 

Build your own battery lawnmower in 1947

Or how about creating something futuristic from 1947 and building a battery powered lawnmower? Advertised as an ultra-modern rotary mower it could be made from inexpensive parts and an old motor, it looks interesting, and at just 35c I may enquire. 

We could also make something even more amazing like  the tracked Mini-Dozer or Mini-Beep lawn tractor in the style of a Jeep from Struck in the USA in the 1960’s. I know I’ve caught several peoples attention with the Mini-Beep pictured in the advert, below!

The Mini-Beep was a 4/5 scale, DIY kit of a WWII Willy’s Jeep. It was made out of plywood and had a mechanical 2wd or 4wd system. More impressive is that the Mini-Beep plans are still available to buy from the company today and the Mini-Dozer is available in kit form, too. The Mini-Beep would be a great project to undertake, especially as it can be fitted with a dozer blade or have a trailed mower for cutting the paddocks. Without a doubt, for me, I’d end up with a superior result rather than hacking an old Austin 7 to pieces!


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

by alan

1967 Book Review

February 10, 2020 in Articles

The Terrex spade, still available today as the Autospade

It’s not often, if ever, that a book review for horticultural machinery and tools for the garden appears. But here it is, a very short review, albeit fifty three years late, because this particular gem of a book I hold within my hands was published in 1967. It’s a small hardback book of just 80 pages and is a guide to buying and using machines, tools and an array of equipment for the garden. A recent purchase for 10p from a second-hand book shop, it’s price already reduced from 70p, but it’s got a few dozen photos of machinery from the time upon it’s pages and on the back pages is an extensive list of manufacturers and their addresses, for 10p it was a bit of a steal. 

Would such a book be published today? A helpful guide to the homeowner wishing to buy and use tools and machinery in a most efficient manner? I’ve had a look on Amazon and nothing in book form appears to exist. This format is generally now superceded by blogs, websites and some consumer magazines testing and comparing machines and giving (hopefully) unbiased views on what to buy. Sadly numerous adverts for modern domestic machines are selling their wares on low price points and as long as the advertised machine does the job then little else matters, it’s perceived as a bargain!

Lay your decorative driveway and garden paths the easy way with the Temple Pavex in the 1970’s. I’d swear that’s Tom & Barbara from ‘The Good Life’.

Also, times and fashion change with smaller and more suburban gardens tending to have also gone through a transition of being more decorative and reflecting the inside of a home than being horticultural, the result being that they just don’t need as many tools, or indeed the people to recommend what they should be buying. Social media showing a growing trend for the removal of herbaceous borders, shrubberies and the veg patch at the bottom of the garden, to be replaced in some places by short-term items such as decking, artificial turf and unnecessary lighting. The modern plastic throwaway garden, with plastic tools, anyone?

Anyway, back to the book, a publication that was ahead of it’s time and was the equivalent of a blog but in book form. The sad fact is this book, which was published just once, is that it was rapidly out of date regarding the lists of manufacturers and machines it contains. It needed constant updating. But the extensive list of those manufacturers, all existing in 1967 at the same time, is a fascinating snapshot of what was about.

The list of manufacturers on the back pages of this book along with their 1967 addresses are listed at the bottom of this article. It would be interesting to see if these addresses and premises exist today. Have a look through the list and see if any are local to you. 

The book begins: ..Dreary weekends spent digging, weeding, and lawn maintenance are often regarded as the inescapable cost of a presentable garden”, and this is why folk today consider opting for the (perceived) easy artificial turf and minimal planting schemes. “The battle to trim fast growing hedges, keeping the lawns in order, or fighting with perennial weeds. These are jobs bad enough when one is young and fit…”…Ok, where’s the phone number for the astro-turf and decking people? I’m only on the first page and it’s already putting me off gardening. It does redeem itself with “The purpose of this book is to suggest how the use of modern machines, chemicals and other aids can reduce this hard labour”. I hear the thoughts of a young generation in 1967, sat in their gardens and flicking through the pages of this book, marvelling at how chemicals and modern machinery can make their lives easier, whilst tucking into a bowl of newly introduced pink ‘Angel Delight’. The future had arrived.

The book is full of useful advice and ‘Getting The Best From Your Machines’ is a useful chapter. It details that six months storage in a damp shed can cause greater depreciation than many hours spent cultivating or working. It’s very true. How many of us have prized machines (restored or otherwise) which after a few months winter storage have shown slight corrosion or fading of once shiny parts! Making sure that machines are in good, clean condition before being put away is always time well spent.

A Mountfield rotary mower with rear roller for that stripey lawn

On lawnmowers it says that caked on mowings are the chief menace, it’s true they rot steel decks, perhaps labels should be attached to mowers in the DIY chains? This reminds me of one place I worked which asked TV viewers to send in their gardening tips, the best ever received was a gentleman who said that a plastic kitchen spatula was ideal for scraping grass clippings from a mower deck – a second-hand brilliant tip from the VHGMC there! Again with cultivator blades they should be kept clean after use and hedge trimmer blades should be clean, dry and lubricated before storage, these are all standard pieces of advice and I’m thinking a book on garden tools such as this one from 1967 would actually be a good idea once again. 

The chapter on ‘Hoes & Hand Cultivators’ tells us that ‘conventional gardening tools, evolved over many years, are not easily bettered but many modern tools contribute towards saving time and effort’. Two items mentioned are the Wilkinson Swoe (a long handled hoe) of which millions of that design must be in use today, and also the Wolf range of garden tools which from experience have been fantastic. I notice that many vintage Wolf tools are appearing upon online auctions, still capable of a good days work and built to last too. 

Mention of the Dennis Swift in the ‘Flexible Drive Systems’ chapter. I have never heard of this, I may need to do further research but appears to be a trolley mounted engine unit. It was detachable for use with a flexible drive in places where it was not convenient to push the engine. Much like the Tarpen system it could be used for jobs such as hedge trimming and log sawing.
 
Lets move on from the text and to the important bit of having a look at a few items recommended for the domestic garden at this time, these machines seem quite common now, but were probably prized machines on some very tidy gardens. What is great is that examples are still around today and working too! 

 

The Jalo Gardener, a useful time-saving tools which can be equipped with many attachments.

The brilliant British Anzani Lawnrider, and the Tarpen Raser rotary electric lawnmower.

Three machines for looking after the vegetable garden: The Howard 300, Merry Tiller Major, Landmaster 100.


hhhh

Spraygen made the Wunda Spray for keeping the garden bug free. Everain made a clever adjustable garden sprinkler.


Sheen made a lawn and driveway sweeper. Centre is the 34cc lawn edge trimmer from Andrews. Right is the Tudor Newington push lawn aerator.


Do you know if any of these 1960’s premises and factories still exist where you live?

Advon Engineering Ltd, St. John’s Road, Hampton Wick, Surrey
Andrews Lawn-Edgers Ltd, Sunningdale, Berks.
John Allen & Sons (Oxford) Ltd, Cowley Oxford
Associated Sprayers Ltd, Elliot St, Birmingham 7
Auto-Culto International Ltd, Reading Bridge House, Reading.
Autogrow Ltd, 9 Station Road, Cullercoats, North Shields, Northumberland.
E.P.Barrus (Concessionaires) Ltd, 12-16 Brunel Road, Acton, London, W3.
Bayliss Chemicals Ltd, 37 Bedford Row, London, WC1. Berk (Retail) Ltd, 8 Baker Street London, W1.
Bering Engineering Ltd, Doman Road, Camberley, Surrey.
Black and Decker Ltd, Cannon Lane, Maidenhead, Berks.
British Anzani Eng. Co. Ltd. Upper Halliford, Shepperton, Middlesex.
Broadbent and Co. (Rochdale) Ltd. Grove Spring Works, Lincoln Street, Rochdale, Lancs.
Joseph Bryant Ltd, PO Box 111, Bristol 2.
Butlymade Ltd, Haywards Yard, Brockley Rd, Crofton Park, London, SE4. 
Calidec Ltd, Station Approach, Solihull, Warwickshire.
Cooper,Peglar and Co, Ltd, Burgess Hill, Sussex.
Thomas Cowley and Sons Ltd, Quadrant Works, Leamington Road, Gravelly Hill, Birmingham.
Cultivex Ltd, 2-3 Norfolk Street, London, WC2.
Delfa Associates Ltd, Westminster Works, Victoria Road, London.Dennis Bros.Ltd. Guildford, Surrey
Dorman Sprayer Co. Ltd. Ditton Walk, Cambridge
Doxams Ltd, Kates Bridge, Thurlby, Bourne, Lincs
Drivall Ltd, 207 Crescent Road, New Barnet, Herts
P. J. Edmonds Ltd, Itchen Abbas, Winchester, Hants
Eclipse Sprayers Ltd, Rawlings Road, Smethwick, 41, Staffs. 
Donald Edwards (B’ham) Ltd, 22 Grove Road, Harpenden, herts
Edward Elwell Ltd, Wednesbury, Staff.
Farmfitters Ltd, Gerrards Cross, Bucks.
Findlay, Irvine Ltd, Bog Rd, Penicuik, Midlothian
Richmond Gibson Ltd, Bishops Stortford, herts
J.D.Gillet & sons, Old Market, Wisbech, Cambs.
Gilliam & Co. Ltd, Purley way, Purley, Surrey.
Thomas Green & Sons Ltd., P.O.Box 45, North Street, Leeds. 
Hayters (Sales) Ltd., Spellbrook, Bishops Stortford, Herts
Heli-Strand Tools Ltd, Winchelsea Road, Rye.
Highlands water Gardens, Rickmansworth, Herts.
Honda (UK) Ltd, Power Road, Chiswick, London, W4
Howard Rotavator Co, Ltd, west Horndon, Essex
Hozelock Ltd, 5 High Road, Byfleet, weybridge, Surrey
Industrial & Agricultural Improvements Ltd, 5 St.Andrews Rd, Malvern, Worcs.
Jalo Products Ltd, Longham, Wimborne, Dorset
J.P.Engineering Co. Ltd, Meynell Road, Leicester
Ladybird Appliances Ltd, Molly Millars Lane, Wokingham, Berks
Landmaster Ltd, Hucknall, Notts
Lloyds & Co, Letchworth, Herts
Loheat Ltd, Everlands Road, Hungerford, Berks
G.D. Mountfield Ltd, East Street, Maidenhead, Berks.
Mow-Rite Engineering Co. Ltd. 8-12 Queens Road, Reading , Berks.
Murphy Chemical Co, Ltd, Wheathampstead, St.Albans, Herts
Mytaz Flame Co, Bridge works, Alfreton Road, Derby.
H.R.Nash Ltd, Nash’s Corner, Ashstead, Surrey.
Nutt Engineering Co .Ltd, Stapleford, Cambridge
Charles H. Pugh Ltd, Atco Works, Tilton Road, Birmingham 9. 
Qualcast Ltd, Sunnyhill Avenue, derby.
Ransomes, Simms and Jefferies Ltd, Orwell Works, Ipswich, Suffolk
B.A.Rolfe and Sons Ltd, Mile Hill, Romsey, Hants
Ryland Works Ltd, Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
Sheen (Nottingham) Ltd, Greasley Street, Bulwell, Nottingham
Simplex of Cambridge, Sawston, Cambridge
Sisis equipment (Macclesfield) Ltd, Hurdsfield Industrial Estate, Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Smith & Davis Ltd, Beacon Works, Friar Park Road, Wednesbury, Staffs. 
Solo Sprayers Ltd, Solo Works, Progress Road, Southend-on-Sea, essex
Spear & Jackson Ltd, Aetna Works, Savile Street, Sheffield
Spicers Ltd, Langston Rd, Loughton, Essex
Spraygen Sprayers Ltd, 10-12 Carver St, Birmingham
Stanley-Bridges Ltd, York Road, London, SW11
Suffolk iron Foundry (1920) Ltd, Sunnyhill Avenue, Derby
Tarpen engineering Co. Ltd. Coronation Road, Park Royal, London, NW10
Temple Pavex, Temple Mill, Passfield, Liphook, Hants
Tudor Accessories Ltd, Beaconsfield Road, Hayes, Middlesex
Victa (UK) Ltd, Victa House, 16 North Pallant, Chichester
Philip B Waldron Co. Kings Road, Tyseley, Birmingham
H.C.Webb & Co. Tame Road, Witton, Birmingham
Wolf Electric Tools LTD, Pioneer Works, Hanger Lane, London W3
Wolf Tools for Garden and Lawn Co, Ross-on-Wye, Hereforshire
Wolseley Engineering Ltd, Wolseley Works, Electric Avenue, Witton, Birmingham 6

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


by alan

Fifty Years Ago…..

January 9, 2020 in Articles, Machinery

The mower of the future, but from the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sisis Auto-Cutter and Turfman

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

John Allen & Sons 5-26 ride-on mower

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

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

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

Toro Teesmaster which was distributed by Flymo Ltd

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

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

Masport 18″ Premier mower with Johnson Iron Horse engine

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

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

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

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

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

by alan

Coverella 21 and Dynamow

November 14, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coverella mower original design drawing 1968

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

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

Coverella mower for sale January 1970

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by alan

Webb Mowers

October 12, 2019 in Articles, Machinery

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Wonder hedge trimmer and strimmer


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

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.

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