Lawnside Classics Update: My 1960’s Sears Mower Is Still Ripping Through Tall Grass – Why Can’t I Buy A New Side Discharge Mower?

Back in 2011, I did a CC on my then-current lawnmower, a 1960s Montgomery Ward with a B&S 3hp engine. I mow a lot of lawns, most of my rentals. Until last year, I also had a 38″ riding mower, so the push mowers were used for small areas and such. The riding mower, a cheap low-end MTD, just sort of fell apart from 20 years of abuse. So last summer and this, I’m back to pushing, which is actually very good exercise, and I rather enjoy it, more or less.

But the ’80s vintage B&S on the Montgomery Ward just wore out, and had very little compression. But I had this fine 1960s Sears, also with a later B&S 3 horse, waiting in reserve. And it’s now finished its second season working solo.

There’s a very good reason I prefer these old vintage mowers: they have a side discharge. Our mowing season here in Western Oregon is fairly short but very intense, meaning the grass grows like crazy from about mid-April until mid-June, when the rains stop for the whole summer and it goes dormant. No mowing for the rest of the year, unless we get early fall rains in September, like we did this year. It starts growing again and needs maybe one or two more mowings, like this one in September.

The key point is that I let the grass get pretty long, and these side discharge mowers rip through it. And I never bag; the clippings are of course what feeds the lawn (perish the thought of putting down fertilizer). A mulching mower really struggles with grass this tall and lush.

Here’s a picture of that Montgomery Ward mower back in its prime. I found the mower sitting at a curb, with a “Free” sign. The engine was essentially seized and had zero oil in it. I put oil in it, and just kept pulling on the starter rope, and it got looser and looser. Put gas in it and it fired up. I used it for some 7-8 years, but eventually its earlier abuse caught up with it. I still have it in case I happen to run into another engine with the right length shaft. Not too likely.

And here’s the current Sears, the picture also taken back then. I put that motor on it; it came off some 1980s or so mower with a nasty steel deck. It was in rude health, but I have to say, after two years of ripping through a lot of tall grass, it’s starting to show it now, as in a pretty good puff of smoke on start-up. Hmm. If only I could buy an electric mower with a side discharge and really stout batteries. Maybe make my own?

I still have this vintage Lawn Boy I picked up for $15 ten years ago, but somewhat oddly, I’ve never used it much. I’m not a fan of the set back front wheel on one side. I’m sure it’s fine on a nice smooth lawn, but some of mine are anything but that. But it does start up every couple of years, just to keep it a bit exercised.

Ironically, my youngest mower, a cheap Murray or MTD from 1994, hasn’t been used in years. I bought it new after we moved here, because I gave our similar but not high wheel mower to some friends that really needed one and were in a financial pinch. But I don’t like the high wheel thing; it’s heavy and the supports for the rear wheel are not as sturdy as they should be.

But given that my younger son helps me mow over at the rentals, I figured it made sense to pull it out from the very back of the shed and get it running. But I couldn’t get the carb to prime, as the primer bulb was shot. And even after starting it with starter fluid, it wouldn’t keep running.

So since I needed a primer bulb anyway, I went to Amazon, and found a kit that included everything and more, for a mere $16.99. What a deal. Of course it’s all from China, but the price was more than right.

And it started right up, and runs like a top. So now I have three running mowers again.

Here’s how the riding mower looked about ten years ago. I tossed the hood early on, as it needed a steady diet of the carb lower half, a crappy plastic thing that plugged up way too often. I really abused this thing; in addition to all my rentals, I also owned a two acre lot for a couple of years. Yes, two acres. Rough, stumps, rocks, etc. And then I still owned another empty lot, which was a real mess. How many blades I bent from hitting big rocks and pipes and stumps. I’m actually impressed at how long it lasted, and I could have fixed the slipping drive belt, but I was kind of sick of it. I got my $599 worth out of it, and then some.

My plan had been to get away from mowing tenants’ lawns, but it’s been harder than I expected. Most are grad students and such, and they don’t have mowers, and…I do. I have two or three I’ve weaned, but the rest are a work in progress.

In any case, I’d like to move into the electric world. As much sentimental attachment I have for old gas engines, fixing and servicing them regularly gets old, as does the sound. But I’d need to find one with a side discharge and be powerful enough to rip through a bunch of lawns behind my quite rapid pace.