In June of 2002, I was at a show in Bowling Green, Ohio, exhibiting some of my engines and smaller equipment when a fellow came by and asked a few questions about my equipment. He introduced himself and forwarded a business card, along with an invitation to visit his farm and see some of his old 'stuff.'
A few weeks later I took him up on his invitation and paid him a visit. He had a barn full of old equipment, including a lot of old mowers, and he called my attention to the fact that everything had a price tag. I thought an old sickle-bar mower in his collection would look good taking up some more space at my home but, as many of us know, when confronted with these opportunities we can count on having an empty wallet. I told him I had no money, and we parted ways.
One year and one month later, I happened to think about the old (1889) wheel-powered sickle-bar mower he had, and by golly I had a wee little bit of money beginning to burn a hole in my pocket. I made the 50-mile motorcycle ride to his farm, but of course he wasn't to be found since I showed up unannounced. But another week and another trip found him working his garden. He remembered me by name, and he remembered the mower I had taken interest in the year before, which he still had. We talked a bit, and not only did I purchase the old sickle-bar mower but four other interesting pieces of small equipment, including a 'Reiter Manufacturing Co.' mower.
Upon getting everything home I paid a bit more attention to 'the stranger,' a mower unlike any I'd seen before. Its overall appearance resembles a push-type power mower, in that it has a gasoline engine on top of the deck and a handle bar sticking out the rear. But that's about where any similarity with a conventional mower ends.
Power comes from a 2 UP Model AU-7B Continental 'slant-cylinder' engine. The engine is original to the mower, but it's locked up solid from exposure to the elements. The rear wheels are driven, with power supplied from the engine through a small transmission mounted on the rear axle. The rear wheels and tires are 7 inches in diameter, and the rubber was in bad shape, with one tire completely rotted. Luckily, I had rescued a pair of 7-inch tires from a scrap yard years ago thinking 'these just might come in handy someday.' The front 'wheels' are simply a pair of 3-inch diameter caster wheels. One was missing, but I was able to replace it from yet another scrap yard.
The cutter blades are where things really get interesting: They are not your ordinary blades. As the photos show, the mower has two vertical spindles attached to the deck, which pass through the mower from the upper side of the deck to the lower side, with a cutter attached to the end of each spindle. Each cutter consists of a stationary plate underneath a rotating disc equipped with five knives. The best way to describe this arrangement would be to call it a 'rotary sickle-bar.' Total cutting width is 24 inches. Further, instead of being driven by a single v-belt, the spindles are turned by individual v-belts running from the power-takeoff side and the flywheel side of the crankshaft - and both belts make a 90-degree twist in route to the spindles.
The only information about the mower is stamped on the nameplate: Reiter Manufacturing Co., Holgate, Ohio, Model No. C-24, Serial No. 104, Pats Pend. I live 60 miles from Holgate, so I took a drive to the Holgate public library to see what I could learn. I asked the librarian for information on the Reiter company, and upon hearing my request she picked up the phone and made a call. Five minutes later an older man walked through the door and introduced himself. The man was Joe Biler, a nephew of the founder, owner and sole employee of Reiter Manufacturing Co., Corbin Reiter, now deceased. Corbin, Joe told me, started the company in the mid-1950s working out of a small brick building on Squire Street in Holgate. The mower's design came out of Corbin's head, and despite the fact Corbin was a machinist, he didn't put anything on paper. Although the nameplate says 'Pats Pend,' Corbin was never issued a patent, and in fact never even applied for one.
As best as can be recalled, Corbin built these mowers for about five years. Some of the parts for the mower were manufactured in Napoleon and Defiance, Ohio, and then sent to Corbin, who assembled the mowers one at a time. He only built one model, and they were expensive both to build and to buy. Unfortunately, Corbin was building his mowers at a time when competition was tough, and mowers were relatively cheap. He couldn't compete, so he quit building mowers and returned to his trade as a machinist.
Except for the engine, this mower is in surprisingly good shape. Fortunately, I have an AA-7 Continental that is, except for horsepower, almost identical to the AU-7B, and I plan to install the AA-7 and restore the mower to the last detail. How many of these were built is anyone's guess, but if anyone knows anything more - or better yet owns one of these mowers - I'd love to hear from them.
AT A GLANCE, BUILDER: REITTER MANUFACTURING CO. HOLEGATE, OHIO, MODEL NO: C-24, SERIAL NO: 1U4, ENGINE: 2 HP CONTINENTAL MODEL AU-7B, BUILD DATE: CIRCA 1955
Contact engine enthusiast Marty Zirger at: 149 Ella St., Tiffin, OH 44883; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org