By on March 20, 2010

After a record mild winter, the grass is calf-high, and its time to bring out my fine vintage mowers from the shed. I don’t know about you, but lawnmowers were a critical childhood gateway to satisfy my childhood lust for cars and internal combustion devices. My first mowing job came at the age of eight, when a neighbor inquired if anyone in our household was willing to make fifty cents. My mother had to start the Briggs and Stratton, and I was off on a long career of mowing, with an easy-to-push mower like this one.

But I hate the evolution of mowers; they parallel that of cars: they’re full of safety devices and cheaper materials that have made them heavy and inefficient. I gave up on my crappy new mower years ago, and have assembled a mini fleet of the finest, lightest aluminum and magnesium deck best-mowing mowers ever. These are the equivalent of old Porsches and Bugattis. And the price was right: I found them sitting at the curb with “Free” signs on them.

This old Montgomery Wards with the classic B&S 3hp engine may not be exactly a 1964 (I don’t read VIN numbers!), but it’s representative of the vintage. A featherweight aluminum deck with nice “vacuum action”, the unobstructed pathway for the mowed material means this puppy will rip through the tallest, thickest grass, weeds, brush and baby rabbits without ever slowing down or clogging a deck or bag.

Did someone say bag? The single most wretched invention in mowing since the safety handle and heavy steel decks! Leaving the clippings on the lawn is how grass naturally feeds itself! Why would anyone wan’t to go to all the effort to haul it off, and then have to spread fertilizer? This mower flays the grass so finely (and far), in a day or two, the cuttings aren’t visible. Or I long a go stopped caring.

The most pathetic thing I see constantly is people struggling to mow thick spring lawns without the bagger, and with the opening to the rear closed off; folks, it just doesn’t work! They end up mowing at a snail’s pace, and torturing the mower and themselves. I could whiz through their jungle in a fraction of the time with one of these babies. It’s another example of how what was common knowledge is now lost on so many.

These mowers are absolute featherweights; I can pick one up ever so easily, and toss it in the back of my truck of xBox. In the sixties, when people had the priorities straight, light weight was a primary selling point for mowers. You simply have no idea how effortless these mowers scoot along, even up hills. And don’t even mention self-propelled mowers: think of mowing as good exercise, not a chore. I speed walk with this one.

When I found this mower at the curbside, I was attracted by that lovely deck (I’ve become an aficionado of old alloy decks), but I pulled the starter to see if it would turn over. It was almost frozen up. The oil was totally empty. Good way to get a B&S to stop running. I brought it home for the deck anyway, put some fresh oil in it, and pulled a bit. It began to loosen up. Put in some fresh gas, and it sprang to life. That was eight years ago. And we (my younger son, mostly now) have about a dozen rental house to mow. It hasn’t shown any sign of petering out yet, except for a mild drop in compression. I know where to find plenty more of these engines, if the need arises. But the deck is a keeper.

The other mower in the fleet is a Sears (above), and it sports a genuine magnesium deck! It’s deck lacks the nice swirled chamber of the Monkey Ward, and the magnesium deck is having structural issues, such as holes appearing (from gravel?) and a big crack I had to mend with a steel plate. It probably won’t last as long as the other one, but it’s engine is still in the prime of its life, and has decades ahead of it. Well, instead of talking about them, it’s time to go put them to use. Which one shall it be today?

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80 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1964 Mongomery Wards 3hp Lawn Mower – Or Why I’ll Never Buy A New Mower...”


  • avatar
    mpresley

    As a kid, I used the old man’s machine to mow lawns for $2.50 a shot. I don’t remember the brand. It was green, and had a Briggs and Stratton; back then they all had Briggs and Stratton, I guess. Pulling the spark plug contact to stop the engine was the most dangerous part–that could easily blow your finger off (or at least it felt that way).

  • avatar
    georgie

    The first lawnmower I bought was a Montgomery Ward rotary mower just like the one in the first picture. I bought it in November of 1964 to mow the lawn around the first house my wife and I bought after we were married. It was a great mower with the B&S engine and it lasted through three consecutive homes and a lot of abuse. I finally gave it away in 1975 when we moved to a home with such a small lawn area I decided to let a gardener handle the yard upkeep.

  • avatar
    dadude53

    Paul, it`s about time somebody brought this issue up. I fully concur with all of your statements. Especially the car-lawnmower development over time comparison.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I respectfully disagree. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, had lawn mowing jobs, and used mowers much like the ones pictured.

    The BS engines usually won’t start until the 17th pull, if ever. The small wheels, often made of plastic, make them hard to push unless the lawn is very smooth -and in my neighborhood they never were.

    I greatly prefer my Troy-built Honda powered variable self-propelled mower with the high rear wheels.

    I do agree with you about bagging, but mine mulches rather than just throwing it out the side like the “classics” did.

    • 0 avatar
      poohbah

      I have the same mower as Dynamic88, and I love mine too. It replaced a POS mower from the 90s I got from my brother-in-law. I was able to add a new Honda to the fleet for less than $300!

      I have to say, I do love that Monkey Wards model, very cool Paul!

  • avatar
    ott

    My family moved to Canada when I was 11, back in ’84. Our first lawnmower was a used Snapper ride-on mower, with an 8HP Briggs & Stratton motor. I think it dated back to late sixties, early seventies. It looked just like the mower Forrest Gump rode, but with different steering. Ours had what looked like a bicycle steering tiller.

    It was always my “honor” to have to mow the 1 acre lawn during summer, so I got to know that mower very well. I found out how far it could lean before it tipped, I found out that the muffler right behind the seat means your butt will get cooked, and that 8hp just isn’t enough.

    So when I blew the motor, my dad replaced it with a 13 hp B & S, and that seemed to solve the problem. Popped a wheelie every time after that. It finally gave up the ghost last year, after my 25 years of severe punishment, abuse, neglect, bad judgments (I think it will fit between those two trees…), and what I’m sure amounts to thousands of miles of grass mowed. I had since long departed my parents’ house, but would still mow their lawn when I would visit.

    When my dad proudly showed me his new twin-deck 22hp ride-on John Deere replete with headlights and cupholder, I shed a silent tear and quietly bid farewell to the mower I loved to hate, and hated to love. Man, those Snappers were awesome. As much as I hated mowing the lawn, there was just something about that little machine.

    Paul, thanks for the memories!

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    With those plastic wheels (I’m relatively sure that in the ’60′s, the wheels were still stamped steel with hard-rubber tires), and the logos (Craftsman was still using the “crown” logo for its “Sears-Best” level of products into the mid-80′s), I would put both of them in the 74-84 time-frame …

    My mower history:
    - 1940′s mechanical hand push mower (pre-helical blade type) – wonderful sound when the blades turned, but a real bitch to mow with)
    - ’66 Wards riding mower (my dad drove and I rode in his lap) B&S
    - early-’70′s self-propelled white FMC-Bolens mulcher, B&S
    - mid-’70′s self-propelled green FMC-Bolens mulcher, B&S
    - late-’70′s self-propelled red Toro mulcher, Tecumseh power (stolen one night after garage door was left open)
    - early-’80′s self-propelled red Toro mulcher, Techumseh (by this time, I was old enough to do all the preventative maintenance and it lasted much longer than its predecessors.)
    - late-’70′s push red Snapper, B&S
    - late-’70′s push gold Wards, B&S

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Amazing, weren’t they?

    If you really want go airweight, throw a 2-stroke Lawn-Boy engine on one of those decks.

    I’m with Dynamic88, never a fan of any B&S powerplant. Always seem to have something off – they don’t seem to tolerate much abuse (YMMV).

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      Ah, Lawn Boy… My Dad bought our first one around 1974 – which lasted around 12 years. I currently have the last of the two-stroke 6.5 hp Duraforce Silver Series Lawn Boy mowers. Bought it seven years ago and it still runs like a champ.

      I liked the concept – a torquey outboard motor on a lightweight magnesium chassis with few moving parts and no oil changes to perform. The engine itself was overbuilt (in a good way) with a cast-iron piston sleeve, forged crankshaft, and larger ball bearings.

      Just took my mower out of storage a couple of days ago. After cleaning the carburetor and mower deck, and sharpening the blade, I filled it with fuel and pulled the starter rope….It fired up right on the first pull…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I love Lawn Boys, and used several that clients had in junior high, including an ancient one with a rope starter. That had to be the all-time lightest mower ever.
      I’m still attracted to them, but I don’t like the wheel arrangement, with one front wheel set way back; ok on smooth lawns, but I use these on steep banks and really rough places, and the Lawn Boys would dig in the right front on terrain like that. Too bad.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Seems like those old briggs & stratton engines were the slant 6 of mower engines. Change the spark pulg & oil every so often and they never seemed to die.

  • avatar
    Littlecarrot

    When I was a kid, growing up in Eugene, our family mower was a Lawn Boy. It had a two-stroke engine that took forever to start. I remember having to wrap the starter cord. I think it also had a lightweight aluminum deck. I honestly don’t remember mixing the oil and gas.

    I have several newer mowers now: My 42″ Toro zero-turning radius mower is probably the most reliable and most fun mower out there. I use it to mow my large lawn and occasionally our pasture. Because it has a mulch kit, I also use it as a poor man’s chipper. I totally obliterated about 500 square feet of blackberries last summer with this machine, Just cut with a power trimmer and mow over the vines. Once you have owned one of these–you’ll never go back to a conventional mower. I also have a Lawn Boy that I use for getting to hard to reach areas of our lawn. The Lawn Boy has a Honda engine, that starts well, but the carburetor is a bear to clean or repair. I also have a 40 year old Ariens tiller with an oil-bath air filter–parts are now non-existent–but I still try to keep it running. .

  • avatar
    50merc

    Lawnmowers have another parallel with the auto industry. Briggs & Stratton dominated the small engine business and saw no need for improvement even though their motors tended to be hard to start. Eventually a lot of people switched to Honda’s great little engines. Finally B&S added a cheap little carb-priming device that had been invented elsewhere. But by then Honda was dominant.

    “Montgy” Huh? In these parts it was always Monkey Ward. BTW, it was Aaron Montgomery Ward, not Mr. Sears or Mr. Roebuck, who in 1872 invented the mail order general merchandise business. Decades of management blunders beginning in the 40′s finally ended the company in 2001. Another company now uses the name.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    If I never touch a pushmower ever again, I’ll die happy. Shoving a pushmower through an acre of foot-tall grass in the middle of summer is a “character-building” exercise in misery.

    Still, I’m also done buying mowers. I picked up a Yanmar 186D with a Woods belly mower last year to cut my current 3.5 acres, and I fully expect it to run for another 50 years. CARB and the EPA would throw a hissy fit, but those old-school diesels are practically immortal for typical homeowner usage.

  • avatar

    mpresley, maybe that mower was a Lawn Boy.
    They were a bright green colour and considered a source of suburban pride for many dads when I was a kid.
    We also had a mower with a side bag and never considered why it had to have one, it just did.
    But after a couple of years of lugging heavy bags of grass to the curb it occurred to me; why not leave just the clippings on the grass?
    And like Paul said, it’s gone in couple of days,the grass stays healthy, and you’re doing the environment a favour.
    How or why did it become unacceptable to let nature do her thing instead of filling the dump with rotting organic matter?
    BTW-Lightweight and simple is nice but those two stroke motors are carbon spewing pigs. It may be sacrilege to say this on TTAC but we recycled our two stroke and got a good quality push mower. And it’s done the job very well for us at least, albeit it’s not for everyone.
    Besides mixing gas and oil sucked.

  • avatar
    poohbah

    I have two prominent memories from my youth. My folks had an old Toro that was an absolute beast. It would tear through anything. You had to wrap the cord manually, and pull the spark plug to get it to stop. I had the distinct impression it was designed with a governor that obviously was no longer governing. You could reach unbelievable RPMs and power with the throttle. Talk about noise, vibration and harshness. What a machine!

    Someone mentioned Lawn Boys and their easy pull start. I hated those POS as a kid. They never wanted to start, and had no power when you finally got them going. Toro all the way!

    • 0 avatar

      For those who have written in regarding trouble starting their mowers, don’t forget that fuel detiorates over time when unused. Therefore all engines become more difficult to start. Either replace with new fuel or use a fuel treatment catalyst that just drops into the tank and lasts a long long time – sorry for the commercial

  • avatar
    gnekker

    I had one of this B&S movers for almost 20 years. Very tough engine, never lost a drop of oil all this years, but the deck was crappy.
    Lost both rear wheels and safety curtain, but i still used it until it shot me in the leg – literally. An old dry branch was in the grass and it shot one splinter through the trousers and about 2 inches into my leg. Then i decided it was time for a new mover, self propelled with basket and all.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I’m surprised to hear some people having trouble with Briggs engines – my experience has been just the opposite – I’ve had more issues with Tecumseh engines than Briggs over the years.

    My current mower, while not very old compared to Paul’s, is a 13 year old Troy-Bilt (a real one – not one made after MTD bought the name and started slapping it on their junk). It always starts on the 2nd pull after sitting all winter and on one pull during the mowing season.

    I’ve amassed some spare parts for it (MTD obsoleted all the real Troy-Bilt parts some time ago) for the known trouble areas, and I sincerly hope it’s the last mower I ever buy since it’s the nicest one I’ve ever owned. Fire-engine red, friction type front drive, one handle height adjustment and a good hi-vac aluminum deck – I bought it not only for it’s functionality but also it’s aesthetics – it’s one of the best “styled” mowers I’ve ever seen…there’s no reason a mundane piece of equipment has to be ugly, is there?

    Edit: I just found a picture of one like mine for sale here on the local Craigslist: (assuming it’s ok to post a link?) http://detroit.craigslist.org/okl/grd/1649514490.html

    Mine is slightly newer than this one as the front drive cover is more “styled” and looks more like a power dome on a car hood than the outline of a belt and pulley drive.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Like any piece of equipment, you’ve got to take care of it. I had a lawn mowing job were I used the equipment the gentleman already owned. He was a farmer and would take great care of his tractors but didn’t give a crap about his little push mower with a 5hp engine. Thing was hard to start and hard to keep running at anything but full throttle. I think it was a lack of basic maintenance like spark plugs and foam filters.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Well how about that for timing. I just came inside from using my old pushmower for the first time this season. It’s about a 1990 vintage Sears, a little bit newer than the Sears pictured but not really different. Tecumseh engine I think. Tolerates sitting in the shed for 5 months quite well with just a little Sta-Bil in the tank. Usually starts on the first pull, took 3 I think to wake it up. Can’t see any need for anything newer or fancier.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    My mom got tired of my brother and me always finding some excuse for why we couldn’t mow the lawn. We’re out of gas, we’re out of oil (for the 2 strokes so common then), it won’t start, etc. She finally went out and got an electric mower, and despite us mowing the cord several times, electical tape patched it back up and we ran out of excuses. I had to admit that electric motors had several advantages, which is why I’m still excited about EVs. Electric mowers suffer the same constraints vs. ICE as vehicles, namely range. You would have to install multiple re-fueling stations (power outlets) around the yard if you wanted to mow big acreage, but that wasn’t a problem for the modest suburban lawn we had to mow. Kind of like how EVs could meet a lot of transport needs in the urban/suburban setting, tho ICEs will still be needed for greater range needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Highway27

      I use an electric mower for these same reasons. For my small 1/6 acre lot, it’s easy to reach with a 100′ cord. You do have to plan ahead a little bit, like always going away from the outlet, but the easy on easy off nature, and the light weight of the plastic deck make it easy to mow my lawn. Plus I don’t have to have gas or oil around, and it’s much quieter to use.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I should have said, I will never buy a new mower except an electric. But the logistics aren’t suitable right now.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Hybrid mower anyone?

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    My dad had a briggs & stratton push mower for about 25-26 years, and we never had any trouuble starting it, besides the couple of times that it needed a carb rebuild.
    I have a 90′s sears riding mower with an 18 hp (I think) briggs & stratton. It runs very well. When I was a kid I had a montgomery ward mini bike with a briggs & stratton and I do not recall ever having trouble starting it.

  • avatar
    bevo

    It is good to see we have the weepy nostalgia out for a good trot on such a nice afternoon.

    My uncle paid me a buck to mow with his mid 70s Green Machine (Toro, IIRC). The wheels were crap and the aluminum deck was a safety hazard.

    The front yard was a third rock. Unfortunately, the rocks were spread throughout the yard. The rocks first dented and then started flying through the deck.

    The back yard contained the thickest, fastest growing grass I have ever seen. The little plastic wheels slid across the yard.

    And I do not miss that mixture of gasoline to oil.

    My folks saw the deck, which resemble Swiss cheese, and that was the end of lawn mowing service. Rather than replace the mower, my uncle hired a yard service.

    You can keep those lightweight POS. I enjoy my mulcher mower with 24″ deck. Every spring, I change the plug, filter, and oil. Prime it three times and it roars to life on the fist pull.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    What is this… all you guys grew up in the 60′s and had power lawnmowers?! Your last name Rockefeller or somethin’?!

    Man, only the hip people had power when I was growing up. We had a Ward’s Signature brand push mower. I think the blades may have been sharpened once, maybe not. When I was young and let the grass grow too long or it rained, I had to take a run at a patch, and sprint right into it and hope I could cut a few lineal feet before my momentum died. Then back off and take another run… and repeat. And when I was small, if my hands slipped I’d run into the handle and it’d hit me right in the throat… ouch!

    The old man didn’t care, by cracky he used to cut hay in the field all day long and walked 70 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways, so no power mower for us, dagnabbit! But after a few years he broke down and we joined the 20th century.

    Got a 15 year old Monkey Wards mower right now, with a Briggs engine. It’s holding up fair, but structurally it’s flimsy. Wheels loose and all. And it weighs a ton. It’s RWD, but can’t say as I’m an enthusiast about grass cutting. I fantasize about planting a big rock garden for a lawn, and just walking around once in a while with a little spray bottle of Round-up.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Lovely piece , Paul. You must be as big a petrolhead as me.My first 4-stroke mower had a Tecumsah motor to which I fitted a straight through exhaust when the silencer fell off. (We don’t have close neighbours) . Since then I’ve been using B+S 4.1/2 HP units. Bought a brand new self-propelled one last year , because my wife insisted , but I seem to end-up doing the mowing these days.I do still have an old aluminium deck hidden away , just-in-case.

  • avatar
    vento97

    My Dad has a saying –

    “Those who take good care of their things shall never be in want..”

    How true – especially of the Montgomery Ward mower in this forum…

  • avatar
    H Man

    I just moved from Eugene for the time being and left 3 old lawnmowers behind.
    I’m sure they’re still in the garage; the house is unrentable now. I can give you details if you want them.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I’ve got a magnesium ’55 Foley that my father bought new, with the owners manual! (Of course, I have replaced the engine, handle, wheels, blade….)

  • avatar
    DanM

    One of the few things I hope to avoid for my son is the need to ever push a f&*k’1ng 60′s era lawnmower around a yard. I damn near killed myself every two weeks just trying to start the damn things, and was scared $h@t1ess when I had to flip down the little metal lever to short out the spark plug to turn it off. Pushing the hulking chassis across uneven ground with metal wheels attached with cotter-pins was enough to put me in serious pain the following day. The noxious smell of the gas-oil mix being burnt required almost an hour of post-mowing caughing to get out of my system.

    I’m quite happy to let my son ride his bike without a helmet . . . and if he doesn’t want the Polio vaccine, that’s fine too; but he’ll work in a coal mine before I force him to mow the lawn with a 70′s era lawnmower. Sometimes progress is wuss-ification, sometimes it’s just a good thing.

    //dan.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Dan,

      Don’t you know that kind of torture is character building? It made one hell of a character out of me. My folks were both smart and sneaky as all get out. We had the usual 22″ LawnBoy, and a huge yard. I’d get off school at 1245 on Friday, get home and was expected to mow the lawn. Which just ‘happened’ to take 4-1/2 hours with that LawnBoy. I didn’t get to touch dad’s Gravely with would have done the job in a bit over an hour and a half. Nope, just enough work to make sure I didn’t have that Friday afternoon free.

      Momma sure didn’t want me hanging out with the local kids. When I finally got a part time job at the local grocery, it seemed like they could only schedule me for Friday and Saturday nights. It took me over twenty years to finally have my suspicions confirmed.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    We would never been able to really use an electric mower, as our lot was pretty big for being in the city, 210 X 60 feet.
    By the time my dad reached his 60′s he broke down and got a riding mower.

  • avatar
    Monty

    I don’t remember mowing the lawn with the same nostalgia. IIRC, I probably started cutting the lawn in in ’66, around the age of seven, and I hated it. My father was maniacal about our lawn; it had to be cut if it was longer than 2inches, and in southern Ontario’s nasty humid summers, that could mean twice a week at least. We also had to trim all the edges where the mower couldn’t cut with clippers, and trim all the areas where grass met concrete and other man-made dividers with a special wheeled knife edge-trimmer. I just hated doing all that work, especially because it cut into playtime in the summer months.

    We had a used two-stroke Toro, from the early 50′s I think, with a manual wrap cord and to turn it off the spark plug lead had to be pulled off. I learned my fear of electricity from that blasted thing. If you didn’t mix the oil and gas EXACTLY, it wouldn’t start. If you didn’t find the exact compression point with the starter cord, it wouldn’t start. If you forgot to check the spark plug lead wasn’t perfectly tight, it wouldn’t start. It sometimes took more time to start the mower than it took to cut the grass!

    What’s funny is that now, I keep my lawn at a consistent height, I trim all the edges, I weed whack anything I can’t cut with the mower and keep all the greenery neat and tidy. I turned into my father.

  • avatar
    Jseis

    Ha, our current DR mower will eat that pup for lunch while munching smallish trees of the 1+ inch diameter nature. The two best mowers we had were a 2 stroke (no kidding) built in the late 50′s that spun that 18″ blade to the speed of sound. Absolutely screamed at 5000? rpm as it tore through wet grass, light brush. It’d throw rocks 100 feet with ease. Then there was the Gravely walk behind that weighed more than any 4 kids on the block. It redefined “self-propelled”. As in “dragged around by the handle bars”. Ah the good old days when all you needed was spark and fuel.

  • avatar
    handplane

    There is a fair-sized cult of vintage Lawn-Boy users across the land, united by the internet. Most of us have embarassingly large collections of mowers. I’m currently looking at ways to build an annex onto my shed so I’ll have more room for these old machines.

    An old 2-stroke L-B is not only an effective mowing device due to its power and low weight, but to me it’s a way to thumb my nose at our increasingly gubmint-regulated state. Besides, my wife likes the smell of the exhaust.

    vento: the E-series (Duraforce) engine is stout, and I need to add one to my collection. A number of folks complain about them surging since they have non-adjustable carbs set to run lean. A judicious drilling of the main jet can remedy that.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      When you find a Duraforce, I made two modifications to the fuel line that I would highly recommend:

      1) Added a fuel cutoff valve. Make sure you close the valve when you’re finished mowing for the day – otherwise, fuel will drain into the engine compartment, exhaust ports, and into the muffler. Ironically, the pre-Duraforce Lawn Boys had the fuel cutoff valve positioned just under the fuel tank (I have no idea why this wasn’t offered on the Duraforce-series).

      2) Added a fuel filter. I added a Briggs & Stratton-type fuel filter – in which replacements are readily available.

      Other than that – periodic air filter cleanings, spark plug changes, and a 32:1 fuel/oil mixture (Lawn Boy brand 2-stroke oil – one can to every two gallons of gas), and you’re good.

  • avatar
    Campisi

    I’m only twenty three, and we’ve used a Thirties-era reel mower all of my life. I don’t know if I should feel young or old… I shouldn’t complain, though, because we just bought an old California Trimmer.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    I got my first mower in ’78 when I was 12. By then the decks came with safety flaps on the back, but it still had the little plastic wheels and the B&G 3.5 HP pull start engine. Well after reading your piece Paul, I guess I wasn’t such a weird misfit – I also enjoyed mowing yards. I was probably more fascinated with the engine than anything else. I loved to work on it and play with it. The throttle was on the handle with engine cutoff so I didn’t have to shock myself killing the engine. Now my grandfather’s old 60s era mower, well that’s another story.

    And when I mowed yards for money, if I liked the customer, I’d aim the chute away from their house. If I thought they were a-holes, I’d aim the chute towrds their house, firing dog doody against their walls.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My current mowers are a much battered but servicable ’77 IH Cadet 80, sit down. My trimmer is a Lawnboy 2 stroke of the same vintage. I stopped buying mowers about 15 yrs ago. I pick ‘em up free. This summer, I picked up a pair of walk behind mowers. a 1/2 dozen bolts between them were all they needed to be put to rights. The Toro has a Suzuki 4 stroke, and the LB has a Tecumseh OHV. I have found that a cap full of Marvel Mystery Oil in the gas keeps them humming. I also have a pair of Ariens snow blowers that I have resurected.
    Mowers today are designed as throwaways. They have been for years The EPA got involved,OPE is 2nd to cars on pollution. No more 2 strokes, no more flat head 4 strokes. Fixed lean jets. Engine gets hot, the idle goes wonky, cooks oil.. Power to the wheels is evn cheesier. Cables break, belts fray, blade gets dull. Cost more for a “pro” to fix, than you can get a new un for, toss it. I like tinkering with OPE and getting them running. It ain’t rocket surgery. Most times the trouble is a dirty carb. I have a couple ’80s Toro Aluminum deck mowers. I’m set for awhile

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I agree completely, I have an alloy deck Lawn boy with the two cycle Clinton motor. I bought it for 25 dollars two years ago and I wouldn’t part with it after breaking my back with all those stamped steel monsters with the dead man switches. The Lawnboy has one of those levers on the bar, but instead of killing the engine it disengages the clutch. Brilliant!

  • avatar
    Zarba

    We had a no-name (the decal had long ago disappeared B&S powered reel-type mower.

    That thing would shred steel bolts. Nothing like having debris thrown back at you as you mow. I had to fiddle witht he carb until it dripped gas to get it to start, but once it was running, you never had to shut it off.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    We had a 60′s vintage Monkey Ward mower when I was a kid. I kind of remember it being beige with gold/yellow markings. One of the greatest days of my childhood was being able to mow the lawn for the first time.

    I also rebuilt a 3 1/2 horse B&S for the Power Mechanics course in High School, so I have a preference for those motors over the Tecumseh and their dodgy carburetors. I painted my Ford blue (no idea why) and when I rebuilt it I installed this cool spring-loaded crank handle starter. Instead of pullin the rope you’d unfold this handle, wind up the spring like a clock, fold the handle, push the lever and VROOM… or whatever the Briggs equivalent is.

    Great story.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      The folding wind-up crank was a fifties thing on many B&S mowers. We had one for a while. I didn’t like that; took to long to wind up each time.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Wow – I could have written this post myself! I cut my mechanic’s teeth working on lawn mowers, and at my peak had a couple of dozen of them before going off to college (mostly acquired for free).

      Regarding the crank start mowers–I have owned several of them, and if tuned up properly, most of mine would start on one crank.

      I was under the impression that the crank-start models came into vogue in the early to mid 1960s (I was born in 1965). I obtained several of them in the mid 1970s, and am still using one to this day, although I had to switch to a pull-start cover after I rebuilt the motor. Why? Well, when setting the valve clearance (my very first engine rebuild, at age 10), I was upset that the exhaust valve was not closing fully until the top of the compression stroke, so I ground off the tip of the valve a bit more to prevent this from happening. Little did I know at the time that this was B&S’s “E-Z start” feature! It starts just fine now (probably a bit more power too), but the crank spring wasn’t strong enough to overcome the added resistance.

  • avatar

    How funny this strikes a chord with so many. Me included. Except in my case, the mower collection is of the old non-motorized pushmowers. As a toddler, I pushed a toy lawn mower while my father mowed the grass with one of these; when we finally returned to Seattle just after I turned 7, after 3 years in Boston, one of the first things I did was to mow the lawn with the (real) mower. That mower did not come back to Boston with us the following year (my father got an offer; my mother wanted badly to be in Boston for her own work). We had motorized mowers after that, but I wasn’t allowed to use the thing until I was 14, and it wasn’t the same to me. (It was a very light weight something or other where you had to do the pushing.)

    Anyway, if I ever decide I need a motorized mower, after occasionally using my neighbor’s modern motorized mower (after I was away for a month) and having had all the problems you describe with slow torture as the mower chokes on the grass, I’ll look for an old one.

  • avatar
    texan01

    Growing up Dad had a 1974 Sears 20″ mower with the Tecumseh engine, always started and ran, until I ripped the upper cover clean off, taking the mounts on the block with it! So we set it aside, and he bought a POS Murray around 88 or so. That mower would never start unless you threatened it (B&S engine)

    In my bike rides through the alleys around Richardson, I discovered an old broken mower, so I dragged it home, put gas in it and cleaned the plug, it fired right up and easily (B&S), swapped that onto the old blue Sears and it was a happening machine again. used it until I found a self-propelled Sears for $20 bucks in a garage sale, bought it, an 1983 model according to the label, and used it for a season or two, until the oil pump broke and it shot the rod through the block. It needed more power as 3.5 hp wasn’t doing it, we found a 5hp motor for it and it was a great mower, until the deck cracked in half.

    Now dad has a 1994 Sears self-propelled that will probably last longer than he will.

  • avatar
    skor

    B&S engines started and ran fine, if you were a motor-head. The old engines used breaker points and primitive carbs, everything had to be set up just right. I never had a problem starting dad’s old B&S engined mowers — they’d usually go on the second or third pull. Today B&S engines use electronic ignition and carbs with primer bulbs. Even most(but not all) girlie-men can get those to start.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    I thought this was a forum to discuss the pros and cons of Canadian vs US health care systems?

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Let’s see my first mower experience was a B&S powered reel mower one of our alcoholic neighbors let me use to mow his lawn at the ripe old age of nine. However, the thing was 200 years old in the early 1970′s, and it died not too long after I took the job. He had a double lot, and needed me to keep his grass in compliance with the township’s rules, so he got me a cheapie stamped steel 20″ mower with a B&S motor (which sorry to say, was pure crap, even brand new). Our neighbor lasted eight more years (he drank a lot) and so did my first job.

    My dad was cheap, basically, and we had an old Clinton with a 4 stroke, but I don’t remember who’s motor it was. It too was pretty old and dead by the early 1970′s and we replaced that with a nice Firestone branded MTD 22″ 3.5 horse B&S mower. I used that thing until the early 80′s when we replaced it with a FMC Bolens 21″ mulching mower. With B&S 3.5 horse motor. Still crap. I think it was the foam air filters, and the points ignition.

    When I bought my own house, my next door neighbor was an elderly lady and needed someone to mow her lawn. These were homes built by the local Westinghouse factory for the employees in the early-mid 1920′s, the houses and lots were small, and I hadn’t bought a mower for myself yet, so no worries. In her garage, she had a 1965 (I think) steel deck mower with a Tecumseh motor. It hadn’t run since 1974, with a new spark plug, fresh oil and new paper air filter, a couple of pulls on the cord, voila’, 12 years later, the thing runs.

    I had a quarter acre lot in Georgia, and I bought a new mower in 1997 after the circa 1965 mower finally gave out (rings). I got a nice little MTD with Tecumseh motor at the local Target store. I still have the MTD, although pushing that heavy steel deck up my hill is kicking my middle aged back’s ass thoroughly. I bought a cheapie Chinese made reel mower (not powered, but very lightweight) to give my back a rest. However, the cheapie Chinese reel mower has cheapie Chinese blades, which I seem to be sharpening constantly.

    If I stay in this house much longer, I will probably replace the MTD with a nice electric or battery powered mower. Some days, I hate firing up ‘Old Stinky’ just to level out this fairly tiny lot, an electric or battery powered one would probably get it done, without all of the maintenance hassles.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Paul,
    Given your obviois distaste for safety and weight gain in cars and lawnmowers, do you also bemoan the passing of the old-style washing machine with the pressure roller dryer, which would suck your arm up and shred the muscle off without skipping a beat? They were ever so light and elegantly simple…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      You misunderstood. I don’t have a distaste for safety equipment in cars, and I think safer lawnmowers are ok too. I just happen to like these simple old mowers. And I have a high tolerance for risk: I drive a 1966 Ford pickup; the automotive equivalent of the old lawnmower. But I don’t recommend it to others. The title of the post wasn’t “Why You Shouldn’t Buy A New Lawn Mower”.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Liked the post bout the wind-up starter. We had one when I was small. I barely remember it, but I think it was on a Craftsman. I was “decommissioned” around ’71-’72. So a build date from the late fiftes seems logical.

    We had moved right after that point to an old estate that a builder was sub-destroying and had over an acre of grass alone. Dad was on a business trip to Des Moines, IA when he saw a display for Massey Ferguson tractors. He bought a MF rider which became my gateway into the world of mechanical things. I used to pump up the tires hard, jam in the governor a bit, and eventually changed the sprocket on the output shaft of the transmission to increase the speed. the brake disc (singular) was replaced with larger disc and I fabricated a bigger caliper out of some kind of clutch assembly from a discarded piece of machinery. This puppy was quick; I guess I was ahead of my time as there are people who actually “tractor race” these things. I still have it tucked away in my garage awaiting restoration…

    Technology has given/taken in the world of mowers/engines. I do prefer the cleaner running of today’s equipment and I have no love for two-strokes. I also like the electronic ignition. Anybody who has broken a flywheel trying to get to the points has to appreciate this. And mulchers are a great idea because bagging sucks. But not being able to leave the engine running without holding down the handle is a drag. I disabled that “feature” on my Toro on day 2. Also, handle mounted controls are sorely missed, too.

    Have to add that I am now a grass hater. Much prefer wooded lots with small lawn areas. The less yard work, the more time for things I like…

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    We had a Lawn Boy for 25-years. The Lexus of lawn mowers, it had a 2-stroke engine, cast magnesium deck, under deck exhaust, and asymmetric wheel arrangement. It was easy starting, low maintenance, light, quiet, maneuverable, reliable and durable. After a zillion cuts it was smoking out the neighborhood. It’s probably still running in lawn mower heaven!

    Today’s Lawn Boys aren’t in the same league. They’re Toro’s cheapest line. Various models have 4-stroke Briggs and Stratton, Honda or Tecumseh engines and stamped steel decks.

  • avatar
    nikita

    I got an old McLane reel mower from a garage sale for $15. The 2.5 hp B&S starts on two or three pulls as long as it has fresh gas. The amazing thing is that it can handle tough Bermuda and St. Augustine with that little power. The Black and Decker electric will do a light trim, but bogs down badly if it has to take off more than a half inch or so.

    My choice would not to have lawns here, not just because of the work, but water and chemicals. Tenants and neighbors like to see grass.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Moved into my first house ten years ago this month. Feeling all Tom Vila, I dropped $400 on a Craftsman mower, which worked like a charm the first year, and died the second year. Weeks of tinkering later, it finally started up, only to die again the next year. Sears pleaded the fifth and refused to fix it.

    I bought my current generic lawnmower in 2002 for $5 at a garage sale, and it starts and runs like a charm.

    I donated the Sears mower to the local women’s shelter, and the woman who ended up with it called me to complain that it never starts.

  • avatar
    John B

    I’ve been using this on our suburban lawn for the past half dozen years (see model B). It doesn’t get simpler than this – and it’s very easy to push as well.
    http://www.leevalley.com/garden/page.aspx?c=1&p=10190&cat=2,2160,51170

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      The cheapie Chinese mower I have is very similar to Model C. However, I find the handle to be a total piece o crap. Of course, with as many carriage bolts and wing nuts as it takes to assemble the thing, I’m not surprised. It’s waaaay too flimsy for pushing up and down hills comfortably. I’m seriously considering welding the whole thing together so I can get some stability out of it. Or finding a source for a different handle altogether.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Yeah, but why the heck can’t your tenants mow the lawn themselves? If I rent a house, I take care of the damn garden.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      That would typically be the case, but our house are not typical. They’re old houses that were going to be torn down, so I moved them all unto a large lot, and created a cluster, or a tiny village. Each house has only a very small private fenced area, and the rest are common areas: a large yard with playground equipment, and some other shared areas. It just works out better for us to take care of that. And the tenants I tend to attract, like grad students, would rather not have to invest in mowers.

  • avatar

    When my brother and his friends were teens, they all had lawnmowing businesses. The preferred brand was Lawn Boy – the decks didn’t rust, they were light, and the engines ran forever.

    But if you really want your grass cut cleanly, you need to use a reel, either hand or power. We had a Monkey Ward power reel mower for years. Yeah, they’re expensive to sharpen but there’s a difference between a knife and a scissors.

    Considering how many tools are now cordless I’m surprised there aren’t battery powered mowers yet. I currently use an AC powered mower. The cord’s a bitch but the thing has tons of torque.

    BTW, if you have a relatively flat lawn and you don’t let it go too long between cuttings, a good hand reel mower, like the Scott Silent can do an outstanding job. I think it’s now marketed as the Scotts Classic and I think other companies make their mowers.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      A battery powered mower –

      http://www.neutonpower.com/

      I agree with you about the Scots Classic. I use it on my yard. I have a Troy-built for doing Mom’s yard and for leaf mulching.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Cool article as usual. I always hated Lawn-Boy because they were a division of the dreaded Outboard Marine Corporation-the GM of marine companies! ‘nutcase

  • avatar
    relton

    I started paying a lawn company to mow the lawns 20 years ago, and never looked back. $10 a time, and well worth it.

    Bob

  • avatar
    CopperCountry

    Curbside mowers are the best! – people never realize what they’re throwing away. I must’ve dragged at least a dozen of these things home over the years. Wife used to shake her head when she saw me coming home with another one, but she knows the challenge of resurrecting a lifeless mower (or any power equipment) makes me happy. Plus, I usually get $20-to-40 for them, or give them to someone who needs one.

    Fresh oil, fresh gas – with a dash of Sea Foam in the tank and some Marvel Mystery Oil in the crankcase – and someone’s junk goes on to work for another 10 years.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    We had two lawnmowers: a Toro and a gigantic walk-behind. First the Toro.

    The Toro was your conventional lawn mower. Pull start (10 pulls before it started), with a flap in back to prevent your legs from being hit by stones. The achilles heal of this mower was the drive shaft. If you hit a large rock or log buried in the grass, it would shear the shear pin, and the mower had no drive. We took it to the local repair shop 3-4 times for this.

    The gigantic walk behind was a monster. I had no idea who made it, but it had two large BMX 5-spoke ‘mag’ wheels in the back (complete with knobby tires) and two smaller, yet still large, wheels in front. It also had BMX bicycle handles in the back. The deck was quite a bit wider than the Toro, and the blade was belt driven, so if you hit a log, the belt slipped, rather than breaking a drive pin. It was self-propelled by either a B&S or Tecumseh engine.

    My father would use the smaller mower to trim around the trees and fence, and I would use the big brute to mow the bulk of the yard.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    You guys are all kidding, right? ALL THIS posting about LAWN MOWERS? I figgered this CC HAD to be a gag….wanted to see what the punch line was……but there ain’t one?

    I wonder if it would be against the anti-flaming edict if I were to suggest that some people need to obtain lives at their earliest possible opportunity….

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Marc, I realize that we can’t always have the cars of our choice on this site to look at and post about. The only vehicle I liked this week was the econoline. When I looked at the other choices such as the daihatsu, accord and audi I picked the lawnmower, because I thought of it as more exciting to look at and talk about than those cars.
    I’m sure more cars that I like will come shortly though.

  • avatar
    compaqxp

    First time I ever mowed the lawn was with a B&S mower from about 91′. The deck was rotten (Things here rot fast), motor barley worked, handle was broken, carb was taped to the air filter. All in all it sucked.

    Now I’m using a very well maintained mower. The engine is from 80′ and I just put it on an old Mag deck. Starts first pull every time. I couldn’t be happier. I did want some more safety with it so I rigged up a kill switch on the handle which also works great.

  • avatar
    ClassicTVMan1981

    The mower itself is from the early 1970s while the engine currently on it appears to be taken from a 1978-82 era MTD-made lawn mower. However, MTD had made the majority of Monkey Ward mowers, even before it had acquired Yard-Man from Wards in 1975, back in the ’60s as well.

    Likewise, the original engine on the Sears Craftsman was a 10-cubic-inch Tecumseh-made “Eager-1″ engine that was exclusive to Sears at the time. The engine currently on that mower is a Briggs & Stratton unit from the ’70s-early ’80s.

  • avatar
    ClassicTVMan1981

    Electric mowers: I have one… it is a 1983 Sears Craftsman 91412 (by Aircap/Mastercut) twin-blade model.
    However, I hope to find those (and other lawn & garden tools) by Black & Decker, such as:

    *8008 – 18″ Deluxe Single-Blade Electric Lawn Mower (1982-83)
    *8018 – 18″ Deluxe Flip-Over Handle Electric Lawn Mower (1984-86)
    *8021 – 18″ Deluxe Dual-Blade Electric Lawn Mower (1972-76)
    *8124 – 16″ Deluxe Shrub & Hedge Trimmer, Double Insulated (1974-90)
    *8144 – 22″ Commercial Duty Hedge Trimmer, Double Insulated (1974-90)
    *8207 – 10″ Nylon Line Weed/Grass Trimmer, Automatic Feed, Double Insulated (1977-80)
    *8209 – 12″ Deluxe Nylon Line Weed/Grass Trimmer, Automatic Feed, Double Insulated (1977-79)
    *8224 – 8″ Heavy Duty Edger-Trencher, Double Insulated (1976-90)
    *8231 – (same as 8207 except with 2-speed motor) (1980)
    *8241 – 12″ Deluxe Nylon Line Weed/Grass Trimmer, Automatic Feed, Double Insulated (1980)
    *8242 – (same as 8241 except with 2-speed motor) (1980)
    *8251 – Cutter 10″ Command Feed Nylon Line Weed/Grass Trimmer, Double Insulated (1981-84)
    *8255 – (same as 8251 except 12″ swath, 4.3 amps and 10,500 RPM) (1981-84)

    ~Ben (ClassicTVMan1981)


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