Curbside Classic: 1964 Mongomery Wards 3hp Lawn Mower – Or Why I'll Never Buy A New Mower
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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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.
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)