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Old Iron: When a vintage mower makes the cut

Lance Phillips for Progressive Forage Published on 02 October 2019
The IH Cub 154 Lo-Boy

I haven’t had time to do very much farming this summer, but I have spent a lot of time on a zero-turn mower trimming and maintaining the farm. Here at the house, I decided to take a different approach to taking care of the yard this year instead of the twenty-plus-year-old Craftsman 50-inch-cut riding mower.

A few years ago, Dad and I bought an International Harvester (IH) 154 Cub Lo-boy from an old family friend. He had bought it new in 1971 from Sanders Equipment in Johnson City, Tennessee. As seen in the photo, we have the original bill of sale as well as the original operator’s manual for the tractor and mowing deck.

Paperwork on the tractor

Extensive records and paperwork were maintained on this tractor – and pretty much everything he owned. I probably have almost every receipt for all the parts he ever bought and for any work that was ever done to it. He even kept detailed notes on the blank pages in the back of the manual (that are usually always left blank) to list any aftermarket parts he bought, special part numbers, certain specs he wanted a quick reference to and dates of any service that had been performed.

The tractor came with an IH 222 hydraulic lift belly-mounted sickle-bar mower (already mounted) and an IH 3260 60-inch mowing deck. I was always afraid to use it very much because it has a wooden pitman, and the tractor is geared so fast that every time you hit a tough patch of grass, it sounded like something might break. I’m used to the smooth-running belt-driven mowers, so it was just a different animal for me. The extra-low gear that was optional on these tractors would have been very useful with the sickle-bar mower, as it would have been ideal to mow under the electric fence, etc. A three-point hitch was another popular option on these tractors, but mine doesn’t have that.

I had a brainstorm back in the winter while making plans for the mowing season I was dreading so badly. I needed to do something to cut down mowing time, so I decided to take the sickle-bar mower off of the 154, mount the mowing deck and use it to mow my yard this year. The deck had been in storage since we bought the tractor, so I had no idea what shape it was in at all. I started with a new set of blades and a new deck drive belt and decided to leave the old deck belt that had been on there for who knows how many years. Hamilton Bob’s Cub Parts has been an excellent source of parts for this unit when I’ve needed something. Bob is great and is almost always personally always available to talk Cubs, and his son is very helpful with parts and ordering. If you ever need parts for yours, please give them a try.

After removing the sickle-bar mower and tweaking the brackets and pins, the mowing deck was on and ready to work. It was impressive right from the start. There were no weird noises or vibrations, and I couldn’t believe what a great job it did. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? It’s certainly not my Toro zero-turn, but it’s hard to beat a mower that has an actual clutch and transmission, real sheet metal and a PTO. The hydraulic deck is definitely my favorite feature of this machine. The tractor runs perfectly, but I am afraid it may need an engine overhaul sometime in the not-so-distant future. It may even be the winter project this coming year.

I’ve had a couple other mowing tractors in the past, including a Cub 70 with dual rear wheels and a 7-hp Kohler engine and a Massey Ferguson 10 with a 10-hp Tecumseh engine and variable-speed transmission. Let me tell you, that thing would fly.

Dad has a couple of vintage John Deere mowers, including a 110. These are nice machines, but they don’t hold a light to the 154. The next time I need to buy a lawnmower (which is hopefully several years down the road), I’m going to look long and hard for the right vintage mower. Old mowers like the 154 were built to last, and I can’t wait for the next one to come along. I hate to have sent the old Craftsman into retirement, but it has definitely paid off and worked out better than I ever expected.  end mark

PHOTO 1: The IH Cub 154 Lo-Boy soaking up the southwest Virginia sun after a long, hot July afternoon of hard work.

PHOTO 2: The original bill of sale stapled to the original operator’s manual from when the 154 was sold new in 1971 at Sander’s Equipment, an IH dealership in Johnson City, Tennessee. Photos by Lance Phillips.