When John Brinly set up his Simpsonville, Ky., blacksmith shop around 1800, he couldn't have imagined that his legacy would include highly sought-after garden tractor collectibles 200 years later. Nor could his son, Thomas E.C. Brinly, have imagined that the steel plow he fashioned from an old saw blade in 1837 would set the stage for a 165-year-long plow-making run. And neither man could have imagined a business in 2006 devoted almost exclusively to building implements and attachments designed for the suburban homeowner's lawn and garden. But that's exactly what the Brinly-Hardy Co. (which remains privately held) excels at today.
According to Bill Doering, retired vice president of engineering at Brinly-Hardy, the company first became interested in making implements for garden tractors in the mid- to late 1940s. "They wanted to find a use for their product line of mule- or horse-drawn small garden plows, cultivators and the like," Bill recalls. "They also had a line of larger tools for smaller tractors, such as the Ferguson, at that time."
Brinly's line-up of modern-day garden tractor implements trace their roots (and, in some cases, their model numbers) to the early 1960s, when Bill was first hired as chief engineer. It's the company's interesting array of attachments (some quite short-lived) from those years that really captivate collectors. "We weren't in the business of creating collectibles," Bill says. "We wanted to help people get the most they possibly could out of their garden tractors."
As a company devoted to making garden tractors more useful, Brinly-Hardy focused on a niche that tractor manufacturers appreciated, especially since production numbers for specialized implements were often quite low. Low production numbers translate to low profits. Even worse, costs associated with a garden tractor implement's development might never be recovered. Brinly's solution to that problem was to make common attachments that could fit on all brands of garden tractors.
The company's early efforts were frustrated by variations in hitches. "We could use standard parts at the working end of the attachments, but we had to accommodate all of the different hitches," Bill explains. "As an implement manufacturer, our goal was to benefit owners, tractor manufacturers and ourselves by developing hitch and drawbar standards for garden tractors."
In the early 1960s, Bill's engineering team put together a proposal for the first-ever lawn and garden tractor standards by submitting drawings and measurements to the appropriate American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) committees, which were made up of the tractor manufacturers' representatives. After only minor changes, standards for drawbar, tubular sleeve hitch and Category "0" three-point hitch were adopted by the ASAE for lawn and garden tractors.
"Once the standards were accepted, we could standardize our implements," Bill says. "And then we started making hitches for some manufacturers OEM (original equipment manufacture)." Hitches weren't the only garden tractor parts that Brinly-Hardy manufactured on an OEM basis, however. They also produced rotary tillers, tiller tines and other tools for John Deere, Elecktrac, Ariens, Massey Ferguson and others.
Garden tractor enthusiasts collect Brinly-Hardy implements for a number of reasons, but one of the most compelling is to get more "seat time" doing productive work with their favorite little machines. Among many fairly traditional garden tractor attachments, Brinly-Hardy moldboard plows continue to draw lots of collector interest. In fact, the little soil-turners are so popular that many garden tractor plow days are organized each year just so that owners of vintage tractors and plows can give the units a workout. At larger events, it's not unusual to see more than 100 garden tractors turn up to 40 acres of ground in a single day. Brinly once made those plows with 8- and 10-inch shares in addition to the 12-inch size still available today. Collectors particularly seek plows in the smaller sizes, and those with white-painted beams and intact decals.
Brinly-Hardy's other soil-working tools - discs, cultivators and spike-tooth harrows - are also favored by collectors because of their utility in the garden. Those tools demonstrate that vintage garden tractors were built for heavy-duty, ground-engaging work - just like a farm tractor. Since the discs can be single- or double-gang models and the cultivators can be equipped with spikes, shovels or spring shanks, there's enough variation in seedbed preparation implements alone to intrigue virtually any collector. As with the plows, the older model harrows and cultivators with white-painted tool bars and frames are more desirable.
Among the most highly sought attachments to bear the Brinly name is the Model KK-100 vegetable planter. Ironically, Brinly didn't build it. "The planter was built to our specification by Cole Mfg. Co.," Bill says. "The sales volume was too low to offer it for many years." Couple low sales volume with the ephemeral nature of sheet metal - especially when it comes in contact with corrosive salts in fertilizer and/or rodent waste - and you end up with an implement that is very difficult to find intact. Even when a collector finds a relatively complete planter, it rarely has more than a single seed plate with it. Although some folks continue to plant their gardens with Brinly planters, most consider them to be too valuable to use.
Another pair of unusual and highly sought Brinly garden tractor attachments were creatively inspired by the need for temporary forward or rearward ballast when a garden tractor was used with heavy front- or rear-mounted implements. For example, the BB-100 dump-cart attachment, which consisted of a small stamped steel wheelbarrow pan bolted to a hinged plate that pinned to the tractor's rear sleeve hitch, wasn't designed principally as a carrier.
"We were making snow blades for most brands of garden tractors in the early 1960s," Bill explains. "The dump-cart was designed to hold bags of sand or salt to help with traction." However, unlike a dedicated weight box, the dump-cart also converted the tractor into a 150-pound capacity wheelbarrow for general material handling when a heavy front implement wasn't mounted - and it was easily removed from the tractor by pulling a single pin.
In addition to heavy front blades, Brinly produced some weighty rear attachments that had a tendency to make the tractor's front end come off the ground. Brinly's solution was the Model LL-200 Gard-N-Cart. This unique attachment looks like a heavy-duty grille guard when in the raised position. When lowered to horizontal, it makes a perfect perch for bales of peat or bags of fertilizer. So even as a gardener worked the ground with a Brinly engine-powered tiller on the rear hitch, soil amendments carried up front helped keep the tractor properly balanced. When the extra front ballast wasn't needed, the Gard-N-Cart was still a convenient platform carrier for lighter loads - and no doubt it saved many grilles from damage.
A wide diversity of possibilities makes collecting Brinly garden tractor implements and attachments fun and challenging. Pieces like the 60-inch wide TT-100 tool bar, which provided the framework and hitch for connecting any manner of implement to the garden tractor, were among the most flexible. In addition to the TT-100, Brinly offered several kits specifically designed to make the tool bar more useful. In one early 1960s catalog, cultivator, scarifier, scraper, disc, scratcher and pulverizer-packer kits were all available. No doubt the TT-100 also inspired many gardeners to fabricate custom attachments to suit their particular needs.
Other hard-to-find Brinly-Hardy implements include the Rol-Aerator, Model SS-100 rolling spike harrow, and the Model RR-100 rotary leaf and grass rake, among many others. And as if that weren't enough, the company also produced rear-mounted transplanter attachments, broadcast seeders, spike-aerators, turf thatchers, sweeper-compactors, rollers, drag harrows, rear-mount box scrapers, rear-mount angle graders, pull-type spreaders, carts and more. Indeed, the number of lawn and garden implements the company has produced in the last 50 years is enough to keep any collector very busy.
Although a highly efficient 21st century corporation today, Brinly-Hardy has earned an enviable reputation with collectors of yesterday's implements. Tales of positive encounters when communicating with the company either by telephone or electronically have achieved near legendary proportions. For example, there are numerous reports of replacement parts that have long been out of production being found thanks to an employee's willingness to do a little searching. And when the part can't be found, sometimes its drawing can be located and copied so that the collector might fabricate the piece himself. In many instances those parts and drawings are offered without charge.
Brinly-Hardy's creation of collectibles may have been totally accidental, but in the process of creating useful little tools for garden tractors, Bill Doering and his team created lasting demand for the company's products. FC
For more information:
- Brinly-Hardy, 3230 Industrial Pkwy., Jeffersonville, IN 47130; (800) 626-5329; www.brinly.com
- The author thanks Myron Bounds, Joaquin, Texas, for the loan of his extensive Brinly-Hardy literature collection.
Oscar "Hank" Will III is the Editor-in-Chief of GRIT magazine. Contact him at email@example.com.