Frank Thornton has an eye for the unusual, and for a guy who just started in the old iron hobby he's already managed to find some pretty interesting rigs. One of Frank's first finds was a hand-built John Deere tractor powered by a JD Model E hit-and-miss, and not long after that he found another hand-built special, this time a Fairbanks-Morse Eclipse-powered tractor built by a Case enthusiast. What drew Frank to the Case was its incorporation of parts from horse-drawn Case farm equipment. In fact, with the exception of the FM engine, Frank says every piece on the rig was sourced from horse-drawn Case implements.
The wheels, for example, came from an old Case seeder, the ornamental flywheel originally saw duty on a Case combine and the signature Case Eagles came from a 1909 Case implement. This is a fully functional rig, as Frank's 91-year-old grandmother can attest after recently running the Case around Frank's property on the outskirts of Houston, Tex. But perhaps the rarest item in Frank's rapidly growing collection is the David Bradley Grass-O-Matic Tri-Cut riding mower he recently restored.
In some measure the term 'rare' doesn't quite describe this DB item - unheard of is actually closer to the mark - because even diehard David Bradley owners and collectors have never heard of this particular unit.
When Frank found the Tri-Cut a little less than two years ago it was sitting in a barn on flat tires in the mud, a boat seat substituted for its original perch. Frank had actually gone to look at a Ford Jubilee for sale, but when he saw the Tri-Cut he knew he had to have it. Only problem was it didn't belong to the man on whose property it sat, but rather to the man's brother, whom Frank was told had bought it new, last using it some 20 years ago.
Frank went back a few times trying to buy the Tri-Cut, and finally after a few weeks he made an offer that was accepted. Frank says the owners thought he was crazy to actually want to buy the old mower, but he knew he was getting something special. Frank had made some initial investigations into the Tri-Cut, finding out in the process that nobody had ever heard of one. Frank knew it was a legitimate item, as the owner still had the original manual for the Tri-Cut, clearly illustrating how it appeared when new and designating it as a Model 926.55751
The finished David Bradley Tri-Cut. Although the Grass-O-Matic decal predominates, the original manual lists the mower as a Tri-Cut Model 926.55751.
When Frank bought the Tri-Cut it was brush-painted John Deere green with white accents. But as he pulled the old mower apart he found traces of the original blue paint under the motor. Slowly stripping the paint from the rest of the unit, the raised outlines of the original decals surfaced. At that point Frank stopped his paint stripping, turning instead to tracing the decals so he could record their size and basic design.
Frank Thornton's 91-year-old grandmother at the controls of his hand-built Case.
Using the paint he found under the engine as a guide he had fresh paint mixed, and working from the decals he had traced and pictures in the manual he had new decals made.
Power for the Tri-Cut comes from a single-cylinder Wisconsin 5.6 HP engine with electric starting. Frank says he spent about five months on the restoration, his friend Mike Clary lending invaluable help, and he's hoping that his finished DB will jog some memories from other enthusiasts so he can learn more about this evidently singular mower. Best guess is it was made sometime in the early 1950s, but whether it was actually made by David Bradley or simply labeled as such by Sears & Roebuck, who were the sole retailers of David Bradley products, is unknown.
Contact engine enthusiast Frank Thornton at: 14638 Garrett Rd., Houston, TX 77044.