My lawnmower

I like my lawnmower. I think it’s better than yours.

My lawnmower is a 1948 Super A International Harvester Farmall tractor with a 60 inch three blade hydraulic lift Woods 503 A Belly Mower.

The tires have been on that tractor longer than you or I have been alive. And if you have been alive longer than those tires shouldn’t you be doing old person stuff instead of hanging out on the internet? At least your grandkids probably think you’re cool.

As designed the tractor developed 18 horsepower, and is such a reliable and great design that the Russians bought one, copied all the parts, and still use them for farming.

It’s an antique, but it’s not a prettied up antique, it’s a working tractor. It was here when I bought this farm nine years ago, and it’s going with me when I leave in two weeks.

It wasn’t working then. It was covered with dust in the back of the barn. I bought the shop manual, drained the gas, cleaned the lines, changed the oil, and turned the handcrank, and it started up.

I then changed some leaky gaskets, bought the belly mower and used her for the next 8 summers.

It may be a cliche, but they don’t make them like this any more. There’s a lot of thick iron on this tractor. Things don’t break or wear easy. There are few plastic parts.

I am in admiration of the engineer that designed this thing 60+ years ago. He built to last. Most modern machinery is overengineered, built to operate at excruciating tolerances. No part is stronger than it has to be, and it’s a battle between efficiency, cost, and marketability. Things aren’t built to last, and they don’t. It is only with the greatest of care that a modern ride on lawnmower will last ten years. Mine lasted 60, and I abused it, and the previous owners did, as well.

I personally sunk this tractor in a pond by accident. I think there’s a pretty good chance somebody died on it. At one point, it had been rolled. The steel bar which holds the steering column had been severely bent and bent back. One look at this bar and you know the tractor rolled. One look at the tractor, and you know what that means for the rider.

From the way it was stored, and what was piled around it, it had probably been in the barn for 10-20 years.

It’s a problem of complexity, I think.

My tractor has no water pump. The water circulates by convection and gravity feed, and it works surprisingly well. It’s a six volt positive ground electrical system, and it takes leaded gas.

Last summer, white smoke started coming out of the oil breather, and I figured the head gasket was blown. I ordered parts and this winter I took it apart. It still had the original steel gaskets in it. I was the first person in this engine since it had been built.

There were other problems as well, and I wondered if this was not the tractor’s death senctence. The grime in the engine was over an inch thick embedded with steel parts and pins which had shorn themselves off. The head gasket was certainly leaking, but that wasn’t all. It looked like the block was cracked. The valves were ugly, as was every other moving part.

I called the guy that mows my field. He’s a Mennonite that works in a tractor salvage yard, and is an aspiring mechanic. We took the front end off, the whole thing apart, and sent the block to Lancaster to be x-rayed. No crack, but there was a casting flaw causing a coolant leak. Somebody, probably at the factory had put a touch of solder and it had held for nearly sixty years.

So I had it fixed.

I decided against buying a rebuild kit, as I thought the original parts were better quality then what might come in a kit.

I had the crankshaft turned, the valves carefully lapped, and ordered more parts pins, and wiggarmordoozies than I can recall. It seemed like every part had to be sent out for remachining, and over the next two months we put it back together.

The cylinders had to be bored out to the next size, I needed new sleeves and everything else. We put an adjustable carbeurator on it, and when I started pulled the little ring tab to the starter, she fired right up. When it was tuned we took it to a dynanometer and got 29 horsepower on the PTO.

I mowed with it twice and a v-belt broke to the mower, and I had to replace the front wheel bearings.

This week I changed the break in oil, fired her up and listened with a critical ear as she warmed up. I eased the choke down until she purred. Well, she doesn’t purr, really. She makes this rapid clanking, but you get the idea.

My lawnmower can go 25 mph on a road. I mow at about 15 miles an hour in 3rd gear, and don’t bother to downshift even on 20-30 degree grades. It can pull trucks out of mud.

My daughter loves it when I take her for rides.

Here’s a picture of one. Not mine.

And, if you want one, you can buy one here.

I think mine’s more cherry, though.


My vote is for the 1954 Allis_Chalmers, though. My grandfather’s is still running, and has never had a major rebuild.

The only concession my uncle has had to make is using non-detergent oil, as detergents will wash out the gunk holding a lot of stuff together.

you are leaving the farm?

Somehow I thought the saga of my lawnmower would garner more interest.

Yeah, I’m moving.

I move the Thursday before Memorial day.

If it makes you feel better, you slashdotted the geocities page you linked to. But the pictures on ebay look great. That is a magnificent piece of engineering.


The current issue of Mother Earth News has a large article on old tractors like yours. It says that most new owners have the same experience you do. I was seriously thinking of buying one for myself instead of a new lawn tractor but I only have 2.5 acres so it may or may not be a bit of an overkill.

Here’s Scylla’s thread about selling the farm.

Sounds like one hell of a tractor.

Of course, if I built a shed in my yard to store a tractor like that, I’d have a lot less lawn to mow! I think I’ll keep pushing my Craftsman mower around the yard.