Gardenside Classic: 1988 BCS 715-6 Two-Wheel Tractor – My Italian Exotic, Which Always Starts On The First Pull

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Warm weather is here, and it’s time to get out the exotic Italian in my garage garden shed for some al fresco tilling. I know Italian products get maligned a lot for being fragile and unreliable, and yes, sometimes that reputation was deserved. But there are exceptions, and the BCS isn’t the only one. After owning this BCS for 26 years of hard work, I can rightfully say this has been the best-built, most reliable piece of power equipment I have ever owned. Nothing has ever broken or needed fixing, and most impressive of all, it ALWAYS starts on the very first pull every time, even after sitting all winter.

Now I know a tiller isn’t going to get a lot of juices flowing here, but bear with me. The BCS is more than a mere tiller; it’s a two-wheel tractor and just one component of a complete system of powered equipment, including the ability to be converted into a 4WD rideable truck-like vehicle. Why do you think I bought one in the first place? I had an acre back then, and reading the catalog got me all excited about its many possibilities.

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The heart of the BCS is a rugged all-gear transmission with three forward speeds and one reverse (some models have multiple reverse gears). One of the reasons for the reverse gears is that that the handlebars can be turned 180 degrees, the tiller attachment removed, thus allowing front-mount equipment to be used.

BCS sickle bar

Like this sickle mower. I actually had someone give me a sickle bar for my BCS, and it was perfect for when I owned a two acre empty lot, because I could just wait until the grass had gone to seed (some 3′ – 4′ tall), and the sickle bar just laid it over ever so effortlessly, like getting a buzz hair cut. Trying to mow very tall grass with a conventional mower is a total pain. I passed it onto a small-scale organic farmer after selling that lot.

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A conventional mower can also be attached, along with a riding sulky. I won’t show them all here, but there’s a myriad of attachments for the BCS, including chipper, log splitter, plow, brush mower, flail mower, snow thrower and blade, and more. Here’s their website.

BCS Utility_Dump_Cart

There’s even a dumping trailer with seat. But that’s not the ultimate attachment, the one that really got my juices flowing.

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Here it is, on page 33 of the owner’s manual: Trailer With Driving Wheels. Brilliant; the trailer’s wheels are connected to the PTO output, turning the BCS into a 4WD truck with an 800kg load capacity. That’s 1763 lbs! Or 563 more lbs than my F100 is rated to carry. These rigs were designed to be an all-purpose primary farm equipment for small farms in Italy and especially in the hilly and Alpine region. BCS is the largest maker of this type of equipment in Europe.

This is a short and not so-great video of a BCS with the powered trailer at work.

But this one, with a very similar Grillo 8 hp diesel, is shown being put through its paces. Top gear gives a 10 mph top speed.

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Well, the world of two-wheeled tractors is a huge one, and they play an outsized role in Asia, where rigs like this 12 hp  Chinese Sifeng is hauling 5.6 tons of rice.

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Two wheeled tractors originated both in Europe and the US in the first few years of the 1910s. This Detroit from 1913 is considered the first in the US, and is quite large. Given the larger farm sizes, four wheel tractors became the default here. But two wheel tractors found use in more specialized tasks.

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The Gravely became the dominant compact two-wheeled tractor in the US, thanks to its extremely rugged build. The Gravely is really the analog of the BCS, and I had been quite intrigued by them as a kid in Iowa.

Gravely tiller

The Gravely was a versatile machine, but the one key difference from the BCS is that it couldn’t be readily “turned around”, which meant its powered attachments were always in front. That’s not quite so ideal for a tiller, and meant that there were no 4WD powered trailers and such.

Gravely tractor

When the market for riding tractors and mowers really took off in the US, Gravely added a front axle and a riding seat, and turned it into the only rear-engined riding tractor. Quite clever, and it kept the Gravely alive for some decades more. Gravely was owned by Studebaker for many of its years.

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In the end, I realized that I didn’t really need a cart with driven wheels, or any of the other attachments. We wanted to garden, in our place back in Los Gatos. So after spending some time perusing the BCS cataloge, I decided I really couldn’t justify their bigger machines and bought this 715 with a 6 hp engine. And I turned this…

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Into this, thanks to a couple of loads of well-rotted cow manure hauled from the last local little dairy and my new BCS tiller. Our first vegetable garden was an outsized  success. More like a jungle. And we’ve been doing it ever since.

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Rather oddly, BCS started replacing its legendary “Acme” engines (gas and diesel) with Kohlers, and later Honda engines for the US market, shortly after I bought ours. I presumed then it was because American dealers just didn’t have much experience with the Acmes, because they had a rep for being extremely tough. But it appears that BCS has now wholly switched over to Honda and other engines, even in Europe. It’s probably was more expedient than building their own.

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The little 6hp Acme is beautifully made, all in alloy with nicely detailed castings, back when most American engines were cast in iron. Its carburetor (on the other side) is a gem, and as I said at the opening, this engine always starts on the first pull when cold, which never ceases to amaze me after sitting all winter. When I pulled it out of the shed last Saturday, I called Stephanie to witness the annual ritual: open the gas petcocks, wait 30 seconds, close the choke, give the starter a tug…and sure enough, it did it again. I should have made a video.

We actually don’t till our beds much anymore, and it sat two years recently, and still started right up. And that’s using regular pump gas, with 10% ethanol. I’ve had problems with my other equipment due to the ethanol, but not the BCS.

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There are/were several companies making two-wheeled tractors and such in Italy, including…Ferrari. Ok, not the same company as the cars, but if there had been a Ferrari available at my implement dealer back then, I doubt I could have resisted. By the way, BCS bought Ferrari tractors some time back, so now it’s just another brand of theirs.

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Like any well-built equipment, the BCS is a joy to run, or just admire. I’ve ended up using it for all sorts of landscape jobs on my rentals, as well as eradicating a half-acre of English Ivy.

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And although I’ll have to leave that trailer with driven wheels in the realm of imagination, I’m quite happy to walk behind it and turn compost, amendments and soil into black gold. Green Acres is the place to be…