Late 1920s Bolens garden tractor

Walking a relic


Late 1920s Bolens walk-behind garden tractor

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From a very young age, I became fascinated with trains, construction machinery, farm tractors and anything else with wheels.

I remember the unloading of Fordson tractors from railroad flat cars, and observed the progression of tractors, engines and mechanical devices from the 1920s to the present.

A true relic
When a longtime friend was cleaning out a storage shed, he unearthed an ancient Bolens garden tractor that his father used to maintain their garden many years ago. After some negotiations, I acquired the old garden tractor to satisfy my curiosity. As a piece of machinery, garden tractors intrigue me, perhaps because you have to walk to operate them. I finally got around to examining the machine, and the first thing that rang a bell was the large grease cup on the clutch shaft. Grease cups date to the 1920s.

A little bit of sleuthing
Checking the Internet, I found that the tractor was made from 1928 to 1939, with the Briggs & Stratton engine on it dating to 1927. I decided to take another look at the machine and was surprised to find some interesting features, including a No. 50 chain and wood cones on the 6-inch clutches, as well as shafts lubricated via oil holes. I had to make a new clutch release fork, drive sprocket and several other items. There were also many attachments, including plow, cultivator, harrow and wheels to control the depth.

The moment of truth
Next came the engine. I removed the plug and gave a powerful pull on the wrap around the starting cord, but it failed to spark. I removed the flywheel, and lo and behold, the magneto coil was a mess of tar. By that time, my enthusiasm to see it work was getting out of control and I decided to go to battery ignition. I installed a 12-volt ignition coil and mounted a 12-volt battery on the frame. I wired the points to the coil via the spark plug wire and I had a spark.
With a little tinkering with the tiny carburetor, the engine started and ran well. After some frustrating experiences with the enormous roller chain drive and after freeing up the clutches, I found myself walking behind the old machine. I also found it was no place for my 92-year-old muscles.

Help with the canning
As a historian, I think it would be appropriate to point out one reason why the machine was conceived – canning. Mason jars provided safe preservation of food the year round, and filling those jars required a big garden. A large percentage of households had gardens on the premises, or nearby. Seed catalogues would arrive in the winter and set the stage for the spring planting. Often times a person with horse, plow, harrow and wagon would make a business of spring preparation of vegetable gardens. Then the Bolens tractor arrived and pioneered the development of the walk-behind garden tractor.

Contact Dick Holcombe at 1 Cemetery St., R.R. 4 Box 4377A, Dushore, PA 18014 • (570) 928-8208 •