Some of us have manged to fall in love with all sorts of powered machinery in our lives. Ever since I figured out how to start an ancient self-propelled mower and hook a wagon to it to ride around the Yoder’s barnyard as an eight-year old, I’ve been smitten. I’ve shared my motley collection of old lawnmowers here, and I’ll get to my riding mower soon. Eugene is famous for its curbside classics, but if your fancy runs to classic riding mowers and garden tractors, we have that base covered too, thanks to Burt’s.
Burt’s has been a fixture on Hwy 99 since well before I moved here twenty years ago, selling used Lawnside Classics and such to the cognoscenti for whom a modern badge-engineered machine just won’t do. Like with so many things (appliances, etc), today most consumer riding mowers are made by just a handful of companies. Burt’s is almost a museum, but you can buy whatever catches your fancy, like a Ford to match your blue Crown Vic. Let’s take a look around.
Or this very husky Bolens, which had a rep for making tough machines. Genuine gear and shaft drive to the rear wheels; no belts here, except to the mower.
Simplicity is one of the pioneering makers of riding mowers and tractors, and they’re still independent. This is one of their big ones, with a horizontally-opposed twin (Kohler, I’m quite sure).
Wheel Horse is also a pioneering brand, from at least the early fifties, when the growth of suburbia opened up a big new market for riding mowers.
Something a bit more modest: a Montgomery Ward 8 hp rider. It looks to have been likely built by one of the mass-producers of lower end equipment, either MTD or Murray.
An Allis Chalmers, to go along with your big AC farm tractor. After John Deere and International got into the riding mower/garden tractor business, smaller farm tractor makers like AC had to do. It wouldn’t look right, having a loyal AC customer riding a John Deere on the lawn. I suspect it was built by someone else, a very common practice in this business; then and now.
Inside the fence, its a bit of a jumble.
Lots of John Deeres, including this 112, a direct descendent of the first JD garden tractor, the legendary 110 from 1963. Kohler engines were used, and they deserved their rep as being the best of their kind.
I drove one of these “professionally”, in a short-lived job as a gardener’s assistant at a hospital in Catonsville, MD. It was a new-ish suburban hospital, and a giant expanse of lawn. I was sent out to spread fertilizer in the spring, but I wasn’t careful about my “lines”, and a week or two later, there were very obvious pale green strips between the lusher dark green swaths. That did not endear me to the boss.
Here’s an fairly early IH Cub Cadet. IH beat JD into the garden equipment market, with their original cub Cadet from 1960. The first three years of them had a belt drive to the transmission, but was then re-engineered to have direct drive, using the transmission from the larger four-cylinder Cub. Those Cub Cadets had a superb rep too. But IH sold the Cadet line to MTD in the early 1980s, so they’ve been badge-engineered for a long time.
More recent John Deeres are Burts mainstay, in terms of sales. They’re well built, and always in demand, although their lines sold at the big-box stores are not as well built as the “genuine” JDs sold at dealers.
A view of more machines, including a couple of Hondas (the two red ones behind the one in front). Although Honda is very successful with regular lwnmowers and such, their riding mower line didn’t catch on, and they exited the market in the mid-nineties.
A colorful collection of garden tractors, featuring a wide range of styling gimmicks.
But here’s the star of Burt’s collection: a Fairbanks-Morse riding mower that dates back to the late forties or early fifties.
Here’s how it looked in its prime. Fairbanks-Morse was one of the most storied industrial pioneers and giants, dating back to 1823. It made a huge array of industrial products, and its opposed-piston diesel engines were legendary as submarine engines, and used in FM’s line of locomotives. In the post-war era, FM expanded into consumer products, including a line of riding mowers.
This is a rather unusual machine, with its single powered wheel in the back. And its mechanical arrangement is rather different too.
This one has had its original engine replaced, which had a rubber wheel on the front of its crankshaft that drove the mower deck’s big aluminum wheel, via friction. I assume the engine could be tilted to engage/disengage the mower deck.
But the original round drive belt for propulsion is still there, looking a bit frayed. Good luck finding a replacement!
That takes power to the rear, where a rather complicated arrangement with a second (vee) belt, which has an idler to act as a clutch, and then finally a chain drive to the rear wheel. And it even has a tow hitch.
American ingenuity. Sadly, FM’s fortunes took a dive in the fifties, as the result of family squabbles and a changing marketplace.
David Bradley was another pioneering manufacturer of small self-propelled tractors and farm equipment. Their new Suburban line of garden tractors came out in the latter fifties, and was soon picked up by Sears, which sold it as their Suburban.
Here’s an early Sears version. Sears was (and still is) a big source of riding mowers, and their Suburban line was highly regarded. Back in those days, 10hp was about as powerful as it got in these machines. The early John Deeres and Cub Cadets started out with 7 and 8hp engines.
Here’s the rather complicated guts of
the Sears/David Bradley a Simplicity tractor transaxle; a mixture of belts and gears.
Another Bolens. FMC was another American industrial company that went through a lot of changes since its founding in 1883. The Bolens line was also eventually swallowed up by MTD.
Another view, although some of you are probably more interested in that police-spec CV for sale next door.
See anything that catches your fancy?
If so, Burt’s the man to see. But hurry; some of his oldest machines are starting to be bought up by restorers/collectors. Yes, there’s folks who just have to have what they rode on in their youth, or saw Dad or Grandpa ride on. I understand about that…
Burt’s is located on Hwy 99 in Eugene, Oregon. Phone number is 541-343-8358