Lawnside Classics: The Old Briggs And Stratton 3 HP Gets A New Ignition Coil – And The Lawn Boy Needs Something A Bit More Serious (Updated)

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(first posted 4/7/2016.  The B&S on that Sears magnesium deck finally wore out last year. I found a fairly recent cheap little mower with a B&S engine at the curb, and I couldn’t resist. It needed a new head gasket and then ran like a champ. I didn’t like the cheap steel deck, as it had a bar on the bottom of the side discharge that tended to plug up. Our grass here gets very heavy in the spring, and I don’t mow often. I need an unobstructed side discharge to plow through it quickly. So I mounted that engine on this ancient lightweight deck; works like a charm, even in the thickest grass and weeds.

But: I have a new tenant with a teenage son, and his dad bought him a mower and string trimmer, and I’ve hired him to mow the large common yard at my cluster of rentals. Yea! Now I’m down to just the group home down the alley where my daughter lives.)

I love vintage lawnmowers, and not just because I pick them up for free from the curb (or $5, for the Lawn Boy). It’s because they’re super light (the Sears in front has a magnesium deck, the Lawn Boy an aluminum one), and they have a side discharge, because I don’t bag and haul off the very stuff grass likes to feed on.

Well, mowing season started here with a vengeance about ten days ago; since I have several properties to deal with, so it was time to wheel out my preferred rig, the 60’s Sears deck that I swapped on a very healthy Briggs and Stratton engine from the early 80s or so. An engine that always starts on the first, or possibly second pull, even after a very long dormancy. Not this year; not the slightest sign of life. Good thing I had the Lawn Boy as a backup.

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I picked up this LB model 7268 a few years back for $5 at our local recycling center. it was marked “Parts”.  But it called to me, and I took it home, knowing it was a risk, having long wanted to have a LB. They have such a devoted following for being rugged and long-lived. And when I was about 12 to 14 or so, I mowed several neighbors’ lawns, two of which had Lawn Boys.

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One was very ancient, like this one, with an exposed flywheel-fan, and no recoil starter. One just wound the pull rope around the pulley on top, gave a good yank, and….it purred to life, with that distinctive LB two-stroke puff of blue smoke and oily smell. Exposure to it at an early age leaves one with a permanent taste for both of them.

My LB started up quite readily, but it didn’t purr quite as nicely as they should; there was a metallic overtone to it. When I took off the muffler to check if the exhaust ports were clean, I noticed that there was a bit of play when I wiggled the crankshaft back and forth. No wonder someone donated it to the recycling center; a damaged crankshaft or rod. But it runs just fine, and the noise isn’t really all that bad bad.

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When I last wrote up my fleet of featherweight lawnmowers back in 2011, this 1964 or so Montgomery Wards was my primary machine. I had picked it up from a curb, where it had been discarded. I was mainly attracted to its light aluminum deck. The poor engine was totally devoid of oil, and barely turned. Someone had just run it until it ran dry and it finally stopped. On a lark, I put in some oil, and kept pulling, lo and behold, it got easier and easier, and soon enough it fired up with a belch of smoke and ran, quite well too. And I used it for several years. But its compression was never good (made for very easy starting, though), and eventually, it just sort of faded out. I got four years more use after its first death. And the deck is still good; the problem is finding an engine with just the right length shaft; they vary.

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So this became my front-line defense against grass. The deck is a 60s vintage Sears, of magnesium, for ultimate lightness. Obviously, it’s been repaired along the way by a previous owner, due to structural deficiency.

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There are also holes in the deck; I’m not sure from what exactly. But they get plugged up by tufts of grass. The Sears engine, which were made by Tecumseh, is long gone, but I found this early 80s vintage B&S with a vertical-pull starter somewhere, and its still in the prime of its (long) life. This puppy will rip through calf-high grass.

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Well, if it would start. I checked the ignition with a little tester: dead. These Magnetron engines were the first generation of B&S with a Capacitve Discharge coil, so blame it on the electronics. But for some thirty bucks, a new one was found on Ebay, and installed. The plug was cleaned, the oil changed, and the air filter washed and re-oiled. One good pull and…ROAR! I do love me the sound of a B&S.

Well, I love both four and two strokes, so I’m an equal opportunity small engine aficionado.  And have been, ever since my first exposure to them, including my less-than-stellar attempt at taking one apart when I was a kid. I wrote that story up here. But it did run again, just not with a governor.

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Given that I have two to chose from, which will it be this year? The one thing I’m not so wild about the Lawn Boy is its staggered front wheels, which is less than ideal on rough ground. I have one steep bank that does not agree with it. So maybe I’ll keep them at separate properties, and that way I won’t have to haul one there, in the cart behind my riding mower. Now that’s a story for another day.