Home Made Lawn Vacuum
I thought some of you might get a kick out of my homemade lawn vacuum (don't laugh at the Murray tractor! It's been replaced with an Ingersoll 448 and a CUB 6284 CUT this year). See photos below.
I mow over 2.5 acres of slightly hilly and tree covered yard and our grass grows so thick that even mowing several times a week would result in windrows of cut grass. When we first moved to our place ten years ago we had no mower since we had moved from an apartment. Since we had stretched our budget just to purchase the house (sounds better than saying I didn't know better) I went right out to Wards (they were still around) and bought the last Murray riding mower they had on hand for the season. It was a shiny green riding mower with a Briggs 18 HP horizontal opposed engine, hydrostatic drive, and a 42" deck.
As soon as I got the Murray home I started putting it to work - not only as a mower but also as a hobby farm tractor. In defense of the Murray, I have put it through **** over the years. The last several years I have been repairing it repeatedly and it has started leaking oil. The compression is low and the engine is loose enough that when you shut it off it continues to spin (not dieseling) for what seems at least 15 minutes. Still, I think I can charge the battery and hose it off and still get a hundred for it from someone that can't afford more.
Anyhow.... After raking the grass up several times I soon realized that I needed some method of picking up the grass as it is cut. The only thing offered for the Murray is a bagging system that I'm sure would choke the first time it saw our thick grass. Also, I imagine the bags would require emptying every circuit around the yard. No, I needed something with a real vacuum assist and a trailer to hold the clippings.
Now I know that there are vacuum systems available on the market that feature a 5 - 8 HP engine and vacuum on the hitch, but I'm your basic cheap S.O.B. Never buy anything you can build from seemingly totally unrelated components and in no more than the next five years. In fact, for this project the need was so great that I shortened the project timeline to under 1 year.
So to create the core vacuum unit for my lawn vacuum I turned to my favorite department store - e-Bay. After watching the various ads for some time the perfect item (a Billy Goat) popped up one day at a great price and only an hour and a half from home. To ice the deal I pointed out to my wife that if we purchased it the sellers location would be roughly along the route to her mothers place and we could make a weekend road trip, picking it up on the way home. Done.
To those of you not familiar with Billy Goats, they are gasoline powered vacuums designed for vacuuming large areas such as parking lots and factory floors. Mine sported an 8 HP Briggs and Stratton engine. At $350.00 I paid a comparatively good price for it and some of the unwanted components I stripped off it I resold on e-Bay. After removing the collection bag and other unnecessary items I was left with a four wheeled machine with the 8 HP engine and vacuum housing attached.
The next step in the project was to fabricate a new exhaust housing to channel the debris into a pipe/house to direct into a towed trailer. This was cobbled (welded) from an old steel freon tank and some heavy gauge steel shelving. The results were not pretty, but it served my needs. I also removed the original wide vacuum pick-up and welded the resulting hole shut with a plate. This left the vacuum hose connect left on the vacuum side of the housing. I then fabricated a catch hood from steel VAC ducting to attach to the deck discharge of the Murray and hook up to the vacuum hose. This was beginning to look like something!
I now built a trailer tongue to attach to the hitch on the Murray and created a hitch to hook up a trailer at the rear. My lawn vacuum was now complete. But before I could put it to use I had to build a wood frame and screen top for my trailer that would catch the grass and leaves while allowing the blown air to escape. Now I was ready.....
The first time I hooked up everything I stood back to admire my handy work and realized I had created a lawn train. The whole rig actually maneuvers quite well I have found as long as you don't drive into an area you would need to back out of (for obvious reasons). A few circuits around the yard amazed me at how well the rig picked up the grass clippings and how much better the Murray mowed with it attached. That Billy Goat generates enough vacuum to suck gophers out of their holes!
For many years now I have mowed using what has come to be known as my Lawn Zamboni. Though the process of mowing our yard takes at least three hours every week (42" deck, remember?) the resulting attractive lawn was certainly an improvement over the pre-Zamboni days. The biggest problem I have had with the outfit is the fact that the green grass clippings are blown so hard into the trailer that they compact into a solid mass that is nearly impossible to get back out when it is time to empty it - even using a pitch fork. Another issue is that the compacted green grass weighs so much that it is straining the load capacity of the trailer and when full really strains the Murray hydrostatic tranny.
Another bonus to having this rig is the amount of grass and leaf mulch available to us that we never had before. We find plenty of uses for it and I like recycling everything we can. Oh, and did I mention this thing is awesome in the fall when all our leaves come down!
So Murray is being retired this spring. The Ingersoll has an available hydra-vac unit that mounts to the back and runs off the tractor hydraulics which I hope to acquire soon. If that happens I will probably seek a new home for the Zamboni as well, though I am sure that with a newly fabricated deck adapter would continue to serve. We'll shall see.....