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
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.