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Rainbow of Antique Mowers

Michigan couple’s antique mower collection paints a rainbow.

| April 2014

  • Dennis Merlau astride his GEMCO Reelrider. “Anybody can afford an old mower,” he says. “You can get one for anywhere from $25 to $200. But they do seem to reproduce. Sometimes they just plain follow you home.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • This mower kit was produced in the late 1940s by Sensation Mower Co., Ralston, Neb. The kit contained a wooden deck, rotary mower, spindle, handle and wheels; the buyer provided his own engine. “I put a first year Kohler K7 (about 2 hp) on it,” Dennis says. “Kohler only made that model in 1949-’50 and then stopped.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • You won’t see a Jacobsen as complete as this very often: Hoods for this 1949 mower are scarce as hen’s teeth. Designed for use on golf course greens or upscale residential lawns, the 2-cycle mower has a Jacobsen engine. “I just love this mower,” Dennis says. “The cast iron is so ornate and heavy, and it’s a very quiet running mower.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • With a 9-inch swath, this Jacobsen mower was used for trimming. It dates to 1947-’49.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • This 1957 Model 75 Farm-Ette was built by Tom Moore Tractor Co., Mantua, Ohio. Equipped with a Kohler 4 hp engine, the mower’s transmission is positioned sideways. “It’s a good transmission, especially compared to a Wheel Horse or Bolens,” Dennis says. “But as clean as it looks, this mower was not user friendly. The controls are impossible to reach. It has go-kart steering and the lift mechanism is atrocious. It was one crude dude; it’s not a fun little rider. It was just ‘hurry up and get something on the market; we can refine it later.’”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • This 1958 GEMCO General was built from a kit that the buyer attached to a self-propelled reel mower (in this case, a Montgomery Ward Master Quality), converting it to a rider. This one (equipped with a Lauson engine) has a centrifugal clutch like a go-kart. When Dennis got the mower, its frame was in bad shape but the sheet metal was good. The seat — a unique design crafted from heavy metal screen — was shot, but Dennis was fortunate to find a NOS replacement. In the early days of riding mowers, kits like this made riders affordable for the working class.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • This three-wheel GEMCO Reelrider, built by General Mower Corp., was sold in the late 1950s as a kit. “Everything I’ve painted reddish-brown was part of the kit,” Dennis says. “Frame, wheel, seat and clutch control. You mount it to the deck of a self-propelled reel mower. This one is on a Delux Pincor mower. The mower has a transmission with forward and reverse gears and a very intricate multi-disc clutch.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • When Dennis got this 1956 Fairbanks-Morse Model 24 riding mower, it was not running. He also had to build new fenders for the unit. Built by Root Mfg. Co. for Fairbanks-Morse, the Model 24 has a Clinton 1100 engine (about 2-1/2 hp). “The piece has three wheels (one in back) and was hand built,” he says. “It was all stick welded. It was a tremendous amount of handwork by today’s standards.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • The original fiberglass seat on this 1957 Garden Mark (built by Moto Mower Co. and sold by Montgomery Ward & Co.) flips up, providing access to a Clinton engine. The rear wheel functions as a wheel but in effect is a roller. “To my knowledge, this was the only company to develop a mower like this that allowed you to roll the lawn while mowing,” Dennis says. “The step-through design was great for older users, and it had a very stable design for mowing or rolling.” The three-wheel mower has an all-aluminum body and a lightweight engine (with forward and reverse but no brake).
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

When it comes to antique mowers and garden tractors, Dennis Merlau knows what he likes. Red ones. Green ones. White ones. Orange. Blue. You get the picture.

“We like color,” he says, describing one aspect of the hobby he and his wife, Deb, share. “We would not want a line-up of just one color. We very much appreciate those who do that, as they are the ones to go to if you need answers on their line of equipment.”

The couple’s rainbow philosophy supports the other hallmark of their collection. “I love color and I love stuff that’s different,” Dennis says. “If it looks old and mechanical, I’m interested. I like funky.”

An early enthusiast

Collector interest in lawn and garden tractors is at an all-time high today. Small units are easy to store and haul, they’re affordable and they’re family friendly. “Little kids love this stuff,” Dennis says. “Going to a show with Grandpa is not something to be dreaded.”

Dennis got an early start in the hobby. While mowing his grandmother’s lawn when he was about 10, he decided her mower needed some work. “I remember her coming out of the house after it got quiet, when there should have been mower noise, to find me with her mower all apart, ‘fixing it.’ I’m sure as she walked back in the house, in her mind she knew she would have to get it repaired or buy a new one,” he says. “But in a short matter of time I was back to mowing with it. She was surprised and pleased, and I was just pleased.”

After that there was no looking back. Dennis took a job right out of high school working on lawn and garden equipment at a John Deere dealership. “I learned about the large tractors and equipment as well,” he says, “but my favorite equipment was and is the small things.”

5/7/2020 2:30:54 PM

Does anyone know the rough value of a 1950's Goodall Oak Hill Rotary Mower that is still in the original box? Brand new, never been assembled.

12/16/2018 7:30:37 PM

I am using the internet to track down groups who share my love of old lawn cutting equipment. I am new to this but my love starts with a single blade electric mower from Black & Decker in 1972. I like manual reel mowers and some gas mowers.

7/25/2018 6:02:03 AM

Just out of curiosity, what would be the value of a 1951 lawnmower by indian motorcycles? Thanks John D


Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

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