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

Nobby Fletcher and Bolens

December 12, 2017 in Articles

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

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

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

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


by alan

Build a Better Wheelbarrow

August 20, 2016 in Articles, Uncategorized

Ironcrete Joyride 1968

Ironcrete Joyride 1968

The wheelbarrow is indispensable for moving soil, loose materials and tools around. Easy to use, manoeuvre and depending upon the ability of the driver and the grip of one’s boots a wheelbarrow can traverse the trickiest of terrain. But is there a better solution?

Over the decades manufacturers have tried to redesign the humble wheelbarrow, even create something more cutting-edge as in the Kirk-Dyson Ballbarrow of the mid 1970’s (image below). Mechanisation always plays a part too, why not add an engine, or even add a barrow body as an add-on item to an existing machine to give it another use? Everything, including wheelbarrows slowly evolve and change from a pedestrian operated item to specific engine powered machines as in the images of many different machines posted below. 

Kirk-Dyson Ball Barrow

Kirk-Dyson BallBarrow

Historically wheelbarrows go back many centuries but the one that gardeners would associate as being ‘old’ is a wooden affair of hefty construction that’s a load in itself. Take the 1909 wheelbarrow (image below) from Coopers of London, made of the best elm boards, ash legs and wheel and ‘well ironed up’ this was a piece of construction once loaded up to test the ability of a young Edwardian under-gardener.

Wheelbarrow from Coopers of Old Kent Road, London. 1909

At the other end of the scale are the 1960’s lightweight yet sturdy wheelbarrows from Ironcrete. These were a large range of wheelbarrows to suit the busy gardener and available with either a galvanized or a red polythene body. Ironcrete wheelbarrows had a lightweight tubular frame and either a solid narrow wheel or a pneumatic tyre. This is something our Edwardian gardener would have dearly loved to have had no doubt. 

The load capacity of the Ironcrete ‘Whopper’ (what a brilliant name!) could be increased with an extension top taking it’s capacity from 4 cu ft and doubling it to 8 cu ft for the adventurous gardener. 

Ironcrete Wheelbarrows from the 1960's.

Ironcrete Wheelbarrows from the 1960’s. The galvanised ‘Whopper’ could have additional side extensions doubling it’s capacity (and unstable-ness no doubt).

Although deviating from the true shape of a wheelbarrow, Ironcrete also created the oddly named ‘Joyride’. A pull-along and push-around affair with two small wheels and an optional tool tray. It’s advertising states that it is ‘Most suitable for ladies and those who find an ordinary wheelbarrow too heavy to manoeuver‘. 

Ironcrete Joyride with optional tool tray.

Ironcrete Joyride with optional tool tray.

In the mid 1960’s British Anzani made something similar to the Joyride and called it the ‘FoldAKart‘ which could be used as a barrow or attached to the back of the British Anzani Lawnrider mower.  Obviously it’s master stroke over all the other wheelbarrows and carts was that it could be folded quickly for easy storage. It also had the British Anzani name which made it stand out as a strong and robust make. 

British Anzani FoldAKArt advert and photo - £9 9s in 1964 for the FoldAKart

British Anzani FoldAKart advert and photo – £9 9s in 1964 for the FoldAKart

As mentioned, wheelbarrow type bodies became added to other tools to increase their usability, a great idea! Amongst the attachments available for the Jalo push hoe such as ploughs and cultivators was indeed a barrow body. This appears to be a clever attachment and not one that would be instantly thought of. 

Jalo Barrow Attachemnet (Ivan Clark)

Jalo Barrow Attachment (Ivan Clark)

Flymo the well known lawnmower manufacturer who also produced a multitude of other garden machines had a barrow attachment for their DM garden tiller, as the advertising says it’s ‘The motorised wheelbarrow that also digs your garden‘, although to be fair I think there’s a fair bit of operator presence required to achieve the task. 

Wheelbarrow attachment for the Flymo DM tiller cultivator

Wheelbarrow attachment for the Flymo DM tiller cultivator

Merry Tiller had amongst it’s fantastic range of extras a load carrier. Not a true wheelbarrow but a motorised helping-hand to get items from A to B with as little effort as possible. 

Merry Tiller Load Carrier

Merry Tiller Load Carrier

Similarly Mayfield also had a great range of attachments. See an image of their brochure.  They also included a front barrow attachment for moving large loads around the plot. 

Mayfield Barrow Attachment

Mayfield Barrow Attachment

The advantages of having a barrow to move items around was not lost of Barford either. Making  ‘A Tipping Truck every Gardener Needs’  to go with the Barford Atom it was ‘a most useful conveyance for garden refuse and produce

BArford Atom Tipping Truck and Advert

Barford Atom Tipping Truck and Advert

Another two manufacturers were Winget, the makers of tractors and also dumpers made the Winget Power Barrow (image left) and Allen made a load carrier (image right) for their Allen Scythe although it does appears a little precarious depending on the load.

Winget Power Barrow and Allen Scythe Load Carrier

Winget Power Barrow and Allen Scythe Load Carrier

Ride on mower manufacturers were not going to miss a trick either and Snapper made a front load carrier for their 1960s/70s Snapper Comet Ride on mower.

Snapper Comet Load Carrier

Snapper Comet Load Carrier

AutoBarrow 1974 Vintage Advert

AutoBarrow 1974 Vintage Advert

There are some other notable manufacturers specifically making load-carrying machines. The most obvious is probably Autobarrow (image right) with a various range of items for their multi-purpose handling unit.

Many other manufacturers have produced barrow attachments or made dumpers and carts over the decades. If you know of any additions then let us know.

Also have a look at the Trucks and Carts  gallery to see what else was available.

by alan

Mini Ride on Mowers

June 28, 2016 in Machinery, Uncategorized

Mowing the lawn can sometimes seem like a bit of a chore but a ride-on-mower can add a dash of fun and a bit of one-upmanship too. What better way then for the average suburban gardener of the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s to justify getting their hands on an affordable ride-on mower than to buy one of the many mini ride-ons that were available? However diminutive the lawn there was probably a ride-on that could fit the space even if a pedestrian mower may have been a better alternative. The sole purpose of all these machines listed below was for mowing duties and at a push a little bit of pulling a small cart or pushing a snow blade about perhaps, these machines have either mid-mounted or front-mounted engines as opposed to something like the Mountfield 25 rider with a rear mounted engine.

Here is a list of the makes of mini ride-on mowers we know about in the UK:

Mowett Mustangs on Show

Mowett Mustangs on Show

One of the best known is probably the Mowett Mustang dating from the 1970’s onwards (image right). These are quite popular in the UK and there are many about. This is a machine of US origin that was sold mostly via mail order (see advert). With either 5, 7 or 8hp Briggs and Stratton engines this mower was also rebadged by Deckson and also Continental  with their own decals and livery. This is certainly a small mower with a fixed-in-place 25″ single bladed mower deck, the mowing height could be altered by putting extra spacers on the drive shaft so the blade was closer to the grass. Mustangs have a single speed forward/reverse gearbox by Foote and have one feature missing – they have no brakes. 

Following in a similar design are the Huffy mowers (image below), these are fairly common and again feature a single bladed deck of about 24″ and with a standard 5hp Briggs and Stratton engine one could be yours for £169.00 plus £3 carriage. These machines have a simple gearbox setup but thankfully these feature brakes and have height adjustable mower decks too so a massive leap forward on the Mustang. 

Huffy Mower Tractor Advert

Huffy Mower Tractor Advert

Gutbrod mini ride-on-mower

Gutbrod mini ride-on-mower

All these machines follow the same design with a steel channel chassis with a mid-mounted mower deck (sometimes bolted in place) with an engine directly above to drive the blade.They are all low machines too with mostly small solid 8″ – 10″ wheels and basic steering linkage. It’s no surprise then that many manufacturers followed the same overall easy, cheap and basic design when creating their mini machines. Even manufacturers such as Gutbrod (image right) produced a small ride-on.

The pressed light steel small ride-on-mower market must have been fairly lucrative as Dennis the manufacturers of quality cylinder mowers produced their own 1971 mower called the RotoRider at £140.00 (Image left below). The very scarce Dennis machine has origins to another rare mower called the Pacemaker (Image right below).

Dennis Roto-Rider (Left) and Pacemaker (Right)

Dennis RotoRider (Left) and Pacemaker (Right)

As machines get slightly larger (and potentially more expensive) they start to differ from the basic Huffy and the Mustangs, they start to get pneumatic tyres and pivoting front axles and a little bit more comfort and usability too.

There are some machines of Australian origin. This includes the Bartrop/Greenfield mowers which made their way over to the UK (Bartrop (GM) Ltd, Swindon) (Images below). Although this is a slightly more sophisticated machine with the pneumatic tyres, pivoting front axle and a few more levers to aid the user, it still has a 5 or 8hp Briggs and Stratton engine and a 25″ mower deck as per basic machines.

Bartrop/Greenfield Ride-on-mowers

Bartrop/Greenfield Ride-on-mowers

In the UK Landmaster had their own small ride-on, this is getting into the area of being a larger machine, but is still primarily a mowing machine. It again has a pivoting front axle and pneumatic rear tyres whereas Mustang, Huffy, Gutbrod, Dennis and Pacemaker do not. Note that it has the same solid front tyres though.

Landmaster Ride-on-mower

Landmaster Ride-on-mower.

There may be other makes of basic ride-on-mowers like the Mustangs that we have missed from the above list, do you know of any?