American Heritage: The Horse-Drawn Mower

Museum-quality horse-drawn mower collection trains the spotlight on a bygone era.

| May 2015

Lowell Graves’ collection of more than 100 horse-drawn mowers creates a dazzling rainbow of colors. Built over the course of 20 years, and housed at his farm near Hartford, South Dakota, the collection is a carefully researched and handsomely restored display of American agricultural history.

Lowell’s collecting journey started on an August afternoon at the nearby Humboldt Threshing Show, where he displayed the 1-horse McCormick mower his father had used on the family farm. “As I was loading it to bring it home, I got to wondering just how many different mower brands there were,” Lowell says. “Since then, I’ve found out there are quite a few.”

The brands represented in his collection include Adriance, David Bradley, Dain, Deering Harvester, Milwaukee and many more. Some pieces bear multiple company trademarks, a testament to the feverish consolidation of implement manufacturers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Building a collection

While many of the mower designs are very similar, slight differences in size, weight, color and wheel design set various brands apart. Common features include closed gears and open gears, rubber-tire and cast-iron wheels, vertical and non-vertical lifts. Cutting knives and knife guards, grass boards, lifting springs, cutter bars and pitmans were fairly standard in each design.

Most companies cast their name or trademark into the mower’s steel frame, making identification easier decades later, after paint has faded or is gone altogether. Serial number plates installed on the underside of International Harvester mowers even show the build number and production date.

Some of Lowell’s mowers are local pieces; others come from a distance. An aging farmer near Rock Rapids, Iowa, proved to be a good source for some of his most unique pieces, including an Adriance and a Milwaukee chain-drive mower. “I didn’t buy all his mowers at one time,” Lowell says. “I visited him over a period of years before I was able to obtain the ones I wanted.”