The REO Lawn Mower: A Different Spin

Counter-clockwise rotation and other unique design features of the REO lawn mower caught Gary Pieper's interest at a young age and inspired him to amass a collection.

| May 2006

For men of a certain age, a teenage stint with a push mower is a near-universal experience. While most exit that stage without looking back, Gary Pieper has built a unique collection in honor of the push mower, specifically, the REO lawn mower.

In his early teens, Gary (who now lives at Eagle, WI) was a fledgling entrepreneur, repairing small engines and rebuilding lawn mowers and snow-blowers. "I could turn repairs around faster than most of the small shops around," he recalls. "In high school, most guys were taking small engine repair because it was a prerequisite for shop. But I took it so I could use the tools."

His dad quickly found that Gary could rebuild most push mowers that had been relegated to the junk heap. A REO Flying Cloud, however, was a fresh challenge. "My dad got it at an auction when I was about 12," Gary says. "It was different; I'd never seen one like it."

REO mowers were produced by a division of REO Motor Car Co., which was founded by Ransom Eli Olds of Oldsmobile fame. Olds earlier founded the Olds Motor Works, home of the Oldsmobile, but left that organization in 1904 to found REO Motor Car Co., parent company of REO cars and trucks, in Lansing, Mich.

REO began producing mowers in 1946 with a 17-inch push-type mower and 21-inch engine-powered reel-type mower. Clinton and Briggs & Stratton engines were used until 1949, when the company came out with its own engine, a cast-iron engine with the cylinder head slanted 45 degrees. In a dramatic departure from most other small engines, the REO's flywheel rotated counter-clockwise.

"That engine was originally designed for reel-type mowers," Gary says, "where they needed to reduce the engine speed to accommodate the reel-type mechanism." In a novel solution, the engineers opted to take the power off the end of the camshaft. "They actually put a decal on the flywheel so you'd know which way to wind the rope," Gary says.