The Mower with a History

By Staff
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Kevin Hesse’s circa-1921 Ideal mower uses a horizontal air-cooled engine. R.E. Olds was the driving force behind the company.
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The Ideal mower was complete and well preserved, needing only a good cleaning to get it running again.
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The Ideal mower’s nameplate
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The Ideal came complete with its original tools.
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This view of Kevin’s Ideal mower shows the belt drive that transfers power to the drive roller. The reel-type mower blades spin as the front wheels turn.

In the early 1960s, Dad hired a man to install
an alarm system in our house. The man installing the system noticed
the old engines and tractors that were in our barns, and he told my
dad about a job he had worked on near Detroit, Mich.

R.E. Olds – of Olds Gasoline Engine Works and Oldsmobile
automobile fame – had a summer estate on Grosse Ile, an island just
south of downtown Detroit in the channel between the U.S. and
Canada. After Olds passed away in 1950, the estate was divided. One
of the people who had bought a piece of the estate had hired the
same installer to install an alarm system for them. While working
there, he noticed an old lawn mower in a shed with an engine that
had heavy, spoked flywheels. He had never seen anything like it,
and when he inquired about it to the new owners, they said it had
been used on the estate when R.E. Olds was alive. They gave it to
him as partial payment of the job and he took it home.

He only had it for a few years, but never did anything with it.
He did not collect old engines, and when he noticed Dad’s
collection, he asked if Dad would like to have it. Dad agreed to
give it a new home, mostly because it had belonged to R.E. Olds,
not because he was interested in having an old mower.

The mower was brought to our place and stored in the loft of the
barn, were it rested for the next 40 years. One day a couple of
summers ago, I talked Dad into hauling the old mower down so I
could restore it. We blew off all the old dirt and grass that
covered every inch of the machine and, surprisingly, found it was
in excellent shape. In fact, most of the paint was still on it, and
the toolbox still held a grease gun, a spark plug socket, a tool to
adjust the cutting blades and even some extra belt lacing for the
drive belt. The dry cell batteries were useless, of course, but
everything else looked as if it had been running just a few days
ago.

We put fresh oil in the oiler, gas in the tank, hooked up a
battery, and on the third crank, it fired up. I took it for a run
around the field, and it never missed a beat.

That evening, I surfed the Internet looking for information on
the history of the mower. I discovered it was made by the Ideal
Mower Co. in Lansing, Mich., around 1921, but the big surprise was
learning that R.E. Olds was the founder of the company. It’s no
wonder the mower was in such good shape. It was made by his company
and used on his estate, and it undoubtedly had the best of care. We
decided that beyond cleaning it up and replacing some of the
wiring, we would leave it as it had been found – perhaps looking
just as it did the last time R.E. Olds saw it, when he watched it
mow the lawn around his estate one summer day 60-some years
ago.

Contact engine enthusiast Kevin Hesse at: 6028 E. Joy Road, Ann
Arbor, MI 48105; khesse@comcast.net

Early Ideal mowers were equipped with 3/4 HP engines, and while
the nameplate on Kevin’s Ideal mower, serial no. 05620, doesn’t
list power output, it’s assumed to be the same.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines