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Choosing, Mounting and Using a Bush Hog Type Mower
Looking around at my new neighbors, most of whom are city raised and have recently acquired their first mini-farms of five to fifteen acres and also from reading questions ask at various discussion sites on the web it is frighteningly apparent that a great many guys (and a few gals) are learning by trial and error and mostly error how to use a very dangerous piece of farm equipment. It is also very apparent that these folks are getting a lot of very poor and often very dangerous advice from people who are often even more poorly informed than they are but still more than willing to portray themselves as experts.
If I am going to claim to be the expert here, I guess I should give my basic credentials in order to assure you that I am not just into my second year on three or four acres. I was born into farming in 1942 when my dads 9N Ford Ferguson tractor was still just a couple of years old. By 1949 we had three tractors and today I farm with nine tractors. My first experience with a "bush-hog" type mower was about 1956 with a pull type Continental borrowed from a good friend and neighbor. He pulled it behind a Farmall B which was too small for it but overloaded tractors were the normal in those days. We hitched it to a Ferguson TO-20 which had been boosted to 30 horsepower with a piston and sleeve kit. That five-foot "hog" really pulled hard as it not only had the regular cutter blade but also a second blade at a right angle about a foot above it and a stationary blade mounted on each side half way between the other two blades. It not only cut the brush but chopped it extra fine at the price of creating a tremendous PTO load.
Since that time I have always been on the farm even though I held several off farm jobs and operated several small businesses. I even put in one year at Ball State University after high school before deciding that it just wasn't me. I did spend five years in the late 1960's virtually married to a computer system that would have filled a small house and two years in the late 1980's as farm manager on a local research farm with a major seed corn company. There we grew test plots scattered over three states and harvested it with a computerized combine.
One of my part time enterprises was a mowing business mowing mostly rough commercial properties some of which were so rough and full of old steel and concrete as to be downright squirrely.
I might also mention here that I still have all of my fingers, toes, arms ETC. And have never had a disabling injury (an awful lot of farm machinery users can't say that) (knock wood).
"Bush Hog" is a trade name which is almost universally used in a generic fashion to refer to any brush cutting farm mower in general conversation and is so used here. Bush Hog Corp. Is a division of Allied Products Corp. Bush Hog has a neat web site at http://www.bushhog.com .
When you set out to buy a bush hog, you should try to match it to your tractor. You should not try to hang a six or seven-foot mower onto a little 25-HP tractor likewise a three-point mower won't do you much good if your tractor isn't equipped for it. Your first mower question is to decide between mounted or pull type. Most people prefer mounted, myself included but if your tractor doesn't have a hydraulic lift your options are limited. Three point lift conversion kits are available for most older farm tractors but they don't come cheap and if your tractor doesn't have a hydraulic pump the cost of conversion could cost more than another tractor.
There are three primary disadvantages with a pull type mower. First they are harder to back into corners and tight spots as they are essentially a two-wheel trailer. Second is the problems caused by having to transmit power around a corner through the PTO shaft when turning whereas a mounted mower is always sitting straight behind the tractor. Frequent sharp turns can really eat the universal joints on the PTO shaft. The third problem is the biggest, I have seen a bush hog pick up a rock the size of a volley ball and throw it fifty feet in front of the tractor. If you use a pull type mower, you should have a very heavy screen guard mounted behind the operator to catch sticks and stones. Always remember rule number one, never, ever bleed on your tractor! If it gets the taste of human blood, you will have to have it put to sleep.
There are several different types of hitches on mounted mowers, category one three point being the most common. This is the type of hitch you see on the 8N Ford and many similar tractors. Many Allis Chalmers tractors use a snap coupler hitch which is attached under the center of the tractor by a long tongue with a ring formed in the end of it, the implement is then lifted by either chain or bar links attached to the upper lift arms. If desired this is an easy conversion to three point. Some IHC farmalls use a two point "fast hitch" which has latching sockets at the ends of the two lift arms to receive two matching prongs which extend from the front of the implement. This also is an easy conversion to three point. This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with either the Allis hitch or the IHC hitch it's just that the three point bush hogs are easier to find.
Most older tractors were size rated more by how big a plow it would pull than by horsepower and were referred to as "one bottom, two bottom" etc. Most one and two bottom (about 16 to 30 HP) tractors were equipped with 1 1/8" PTO shafts while most larger tractors were equipped with 1 3/8" PTO shafts. Since a larger tractor could use smaller implements the factories starting producing everything with 1 3/8" couplers on their equipment, which produced a lively market in PTO size adapters. This may or may not be a factor you will have to deal with, most "farm and suburban" stores carry these.
Regardless of the possible need for a size adapter unless your tractor has a "live" or "independent" PTO (tractor ground travel will stop while the PTO shaft keeps running) you will definitely need an "over-running clutch" attachment. If your tractor uses a hand clutch to obtain a live PTO such as an Allis CA, WD, WD-45 ETC. And a foot clutch for normal driving I would also recommend an over-running clutch as sometimes in a tight spot it is hard to remember to grab the hand clutch. If you have a tractor like a John Deere or a number of others that have a hand clutch for normal driving, you will already be used to grabbing for it. If you don't use an over-running clutch, the flywheel effect of the bush hog can push the tractor ahead even with your foot on the clutch and the other on the brake, you won't be able to take the tractor out of gear until after it is smashed tightly up against a large walnut tree (don't ask how I learned that).
I will go through the attachment of a bush hog to a category one three-point tractor such as the 8N Ford or similar unit as that is extremely popular with mini-farms and is one of the safer setups. Do not attempt to use a bush hog until you become familiar with driving the tractor by itself and have a good feel for it. Using a bush hog is not like using a large lawn mower!
Start of course by backing up to the mower as accurately as you can to line up the ball connectors on the lift arms with the pins on the mower, this is more important than you might think as many backs have been injured trying to lift the implement to move it to line it up with the tractor (sometimes a six-foot pry bar helps). Connect the lift arm which does not have the leveling crank or device (usually the left one)first. Insert the lynch pin in the hole and if you are going to mow in a brushy area put a wire through the ring and around the lift arm so that a stick can't lift the ring (trust me). You will want to buy a good supply of these inexpensive little dudes at the farm store as elves carry them off at night. Next connect the other lift arm which you can now crank up or down to line up with the pin. It can be easier to move the tractor forward or back carefully to line it up than to pry the mower around. Insert the lynch pin and wire this one down also if needed. Always fasten the top link last. Attach it to the mower first then connect it to the tractor from the seat while carefully using the hydraulic lift to lift the front of the mower. Next SHUT OFF THE TRACTOR while connecting the PTO shaft, most use a button/pin you push in while sliding the splines together. Be sure the button/pin engages the groove in the shaft and pops out fully. This is a good spot for a little oil. Some couplers need a pin through a hole in the shaft instead, if so buy a regular PTO pin or if you use a bolt be sure it is just long enough to fit. You don't want anything sticking out to wrap up grass or maybe even parts of you.
If you are using a pull type mower the PTO shaft should be shielded even though you should never get off your tractor with any bush hog while the mower is running or even coasting to a stop. If you are using a mounted mower on a tractor that you climb on from the back the shields are even more important than ever as some of these shafts run very close to the operator. A spinning PTO shaft can grab an article of clothing with unbelievable speed and your body will usually follow at which point you are history, often causing someone you love, to have to discover someone they love, wrapped around a still spinning shaft in a bloody pulpy mass. Sit and think about that for a minute.
Now to the using part. If possible you will want to make use of some kind of anti-sway device. On an 8N Ford and others like it, this consists of two bars that attach to short pins on brackets which are mounted to the bottom end of the fender mounting bolts under the axle with the other end fastened to the pins on the mower. These were an option so you may have to pick up a set at a farm store. These are not required but if you don't have them the mower can swing off to one side usually at the worst possible time, like at the corner of a building or next to your wife's favorite fruit tree.
It can be almost impossible to maintain a proper mowing height with many tractors particularly the Ford Ferguson 9N and 2N or the Ferguson TO-20 and TO-30. The 8N Ford and some of the Allis tractors had "position control" settings that sort of work but not really great. A better solution is an adjustable linkage often made with heavy chain which allows the mower to lift freely, but limits how low to the ground it will go. The New Idea Corp. (a quality short line equipment builder with a long history) had a system where two chains attached from the pins on the mower in an inverted "V" with the upper ends attached to the tractor at the top link mount. This also serves as an anti-sway device when the mower is down. The upper end of the chains fit into a keyhole shaped hole in the upper bracket which allows you to change height settings. The lower brackets were welded directly to the chain and have holes to fit over the pins. A blacksmith or welding shop can make you a set.
If your mower has a tail wheel (highly recommended) your top link connection should allow for some movement of the rear of the mower separately from the front. Often this is provided by a chain or section of chain in the links from rear top link connection to the rear of the mower. Some makers use a slotted hole connection of different types at the rear top link connection. Some provide you with nothing, which won't do a smooth job on rougher ground. Do not ever replace the top link from the tractor to the mower with a chain, If the leading edge of the mower hits a solid obstacle the mower can pivot almost 180 degrees on the lift pins crushing the operator on the seat with the rear of the mower faster than you can say "squish."
I recently read of someone advising a beginner to set the front of the mower four inches higher than the back which is ok for a few problem spots but unless you have horsepower to burn it will really strain your engine. Think about it a minute. You will cut it once at the front, you will be cutting it two inches shorter in the middle, and you will be cutting it off another two inches at the rear. You never stop cutting that same blade of grass the whole time it is under the mower. You will also be cutting the grass two inches shorter in the center of the cut than you will at either side, leaving a washboard appearance as you look across the entire lot. If you set the mower about ½" to 1" lower in the front than the back it will operate with less engine pull because after the first cut at the front the mower, the blade never touches that stubble again.
Now I will make some of you mad, many of you can't resist allowing your children to ride with you as you mow. There is a word for that. It's spelled "S-T-U-P-I-D"! ! ! Sorry, I can't be any kinder. It's bad enough to fall from a tractor and be run over and crushed (and yes, children do fall from tractors often) but to be chopped up by a bush hog? Spend another minute thinking about that one. These are not toys folks. The bush hog type mower can be one of the most dangerous pieces of farm equipment in production today. Another major hazard is the fact that you are often driving nearly blind in tall grass, weeds and brush and often on very rough terrain with hills and ditches that can cause an overturn. My very lucky brother-in-law turned his tractor over on level ground by hitting an eight-inch tall stump. A roll bar (rops) on a mowing tractor is money well spent. If you think you can just jump clear, your just kidding yourself. Do not allow anyone to stand around where you are mowing (remember that volley ball sized rock I mentioned).
As I sit here in my home office writing this article, my police scanner jumped to life with an emergency call. As this sad mini drama unfolded over the next half hour or so I couldn't help but notice the irony. A local radio announcer that I am acquainted with was mowing a lot when his three-year-old grandson ran up behind him and tried to jump onto the back of the mower. You could hear the extra level of anguish in the voices of the dispatchers, paramedics and veteran officers as they called for the Lifeline Helicopter from Indianapolis Methodist Hospital and announced that his leg was amputated just below the knee.
This is the next day and the child is critical but will probably live, what a price. Like I said before, "these things are not toys" keep children completely away!