On the Cutting Edge

| December 2004


A trio of Olivers

For most people, lawn tractors are little more than a tool used to cut grass. For Lowell Brusse, Spring Valley, Minn., they represent a unique (and still accessible) category of collectibles. Lowell has quietly built a fleet of more than 200 lawn tractors, and there's no end in sight.

'I have a fault like a disease or something,' he explains. 'When I go into something, I go into it too wildly. I didn't expect it to end up this big.'

The collection began innocently enough. During a time when Lowell was a scratch toy builder, a customer at a toy show made him an unusual offer. 'We had made some F-30 Farmalls, and were selling them for about $55,' he recalls. 'This customer wanted to trade a 1966 Minneapolis-Moline lawn tractor for one of those F-30s.' Lowell accepted the trade. 'That got me investigating old lawnmowers,' he recalls. 'I did some research, and found out they were hard to find. That's how I started.'

Lowell eased into the hobby, partly because he had a small yard, and partly because he was still selling toys, an activity that claimed increasing amounts of space in his basement. 'Quite a few years went by before I got another lawnmower,' he says. 'I can't remember which one I got next - probably an older John Deere. I mainly collect the implement brands like Ford, John Deere, Case, Oliver and Moline. I don't get into the aftermarket Dyna-marts and Murrays, although there is a vintage lawnmower club that collects anything from the 1950s and older, which has all kinds of names ... old names you've never even heard of.'

Today, the hobby is gaining popularity. Clubs and collector publications are springing up all over the country. 'It's really fairly new yet,' he says, 'but it's getting bigger all the time. More and more people are getting interested in this.' Many collectors have found what Lowell discovered years ago: The engines are not complicated, and the units are easier than full-size tractors to store and transport. 'I like mechanics, and this is something that's about the right size. You can still handle everything. With cars, the technology is so advanced that you can hardly keep up. And if you collect full-size tractors, you need pickups and trailers to haul them around.'

Because the lawn tractors are still comparatively affordable (and sometimes even free), Lowell is actively building his collection, with the help of his brother and youngest grandson. 'I have so many nice, rare ones I could fix up, and I'd like to spend more time working on them than I do,' he says. 'But right now I spend a lot of time looking for them, because if I don't do it now, it's going to get harder and they're going to get more spendy. That's why I'm going at it more aggressively now.'