Does Anyone Remember the Old Gravely Walk Behind?

Does anyone remember the old Gravely walk behind tractors? They are not well known in some parts of the country, but I have been around them all my life and couldn’t imagine getting along without one.

THE BEGINNING

The first L model Gravelys were built in 1937. Near my hometown of Charleston, WV, Is a little town called Dunbar where the original Gravelys were manufactured.  Powerful and durable, the Gravely was quite the little beast.  A small tractor like this can be fantastic for gardening as well as grounds maintenance.

I CAN DO THAT (said the little tractor that could)

Just about anything that a full size garden tractor can do, the Gravely can do also, but on a smaller scale. I used to have a field that needed mowing periodically with a brush mower. I would borrow my dad’s tractor and brush mower and do the majority of the field but there were areas that were too small to reach with the big tractor. This is where the Gravely would shine. I could maneuver it into places I couldn’t even walk and mow down everything but trees. Even some small trees, if they were small enough to be bent so the blade of the mower could reach it, could be cut (beaten to pieces) by the Gravely.

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VERSATILITY

There are many attachments available to make the Gravely versatile. These include 30 inch brush mower, 30 inch reel type lawn mower, 40 inch rotary lawn mower, snow blowers of different sizes, snowplow, fruit sprayer, chain saw, 30 inch circular saw, rotary garden plow, roto-tiller, lawn aerator, sickle bar mower, and more. Attachments are easy to change. Only four bolts hold the attachment to the front of the tractor (otherwise known as the head unit). One must be careful when changing attachments as oil can run out of the tractor, so it is best to position the unit facing uphill if possible. For those who would like more ease and no oil leakage, there is the quick disconnect feature for attachments that make the process even easier and do not open anything up to spill oil.

RESPECT THE GRAVELY, OR IT WILL KICK YOU.

Some have said they don’t like the Gravely because it is too hard to operate. Working with a Gravely walk behind does require a different way of thinking than driving the riding lawn mower over the yard. One cannot manhandle the Gravely. Do not walk between the handlebars and try to force the machine to take the path you want. If you do this you will anger the Gravely and it will kick you (that is, you will get a whack in the hip with one of the handlebars as the machine goes over a bump.)  Instead, simply let the Gravely know where you want it to go then let it decide how it wants to get there. Kind of like working with a horse.

MY FIRST GRAVELY (and then my first working gravely)

My first Gravely was a 1941, 5 horsepower, L mode. I only got it started once. My second machine was much better. It was a bit newer and more powerful at 6.6 horsepower. It did not have electric start so I had to wrap a rope around the starting pulley and then pull. Now one might think that the harder the pull the better but this is not the case. Another interesting thing about the old Gravelys is that if you crank the engine too fast it won’t make a spark to ignite the fuel. This is by design to assist in starting. One must crank it over slow…but not too slow. It takes some finesse but when you get the hang of it, you can get it started easily.

ELECTRIC START. (life is good)

I used that tractor for several years before I got my next Gravely. It was a 7.6 horsepower, eight speed model with electric start. It was not designed with a charging system so the full sized car battery it held would periodically have to be charged with a battery charger but it was so much easier to start than the old rope start one that I had been using. If I got into something too heavy and killed the motor I no longer had to drag the machine out to where I had room to rope start it. I had only to take it out of gear and hit the toe button to activate the starter and away we went again.

 

LATER MODELS

Later on the design changed. The original engines were built by Studebaker, and were quite efficient and durable. The newer Gravelys sported a more conventional style engine built by Kohler. I have found these engines burn more fuel but they are more powerful and lighter. The electric start models also charge their batteries. I have an eight horse model that is probably my favorite of my “fleet”. It is light and nimble and a bit more powerful than my old 7.6 horse.  I use it to cut brush in the summer and plow show in the winter.

 

1O HORSES TO BLOW SNOW

My most powerful machine has a 10 horse, Kohler engine. I use it with a snow blower attachment. It has a lot of power but is quite heavy compared to my others. Part of that is the tractor and part is the very heavy snow blower attachment. It takes all my weight to maneuver the thing but it does the job.

EVEN MORE POWER

There were more powerful models made as well. The 12 horsepower model looks much like the 10 horse. There is a twin cylinder model as well but it is quite elusive and I have been having trouble finding information on it. I am sure it is quite powerful but I wonder how heavy and difficult to manage it would be.

 

NO LONGER IN PRODUCTION (sad)

Gravely no longer manufactures the old style walk behind tractors. Sad to say, they are a thing of the past. There are, however, many of them left. They were built to last and they continue to last. There are Gravely enthusiast clubs and websites. Parts are still available to fix and rebuild the old models.

 

If you have a need or desire for an extremely well built, hard working, small tractor for your home or garden needs and don’t mind an older machine I highly recommend the Gravely.  I don’t know how I ever got by before I got my first working gravely. Oh yeah, I would borrow my dad’s.  

 

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Comments 10 comments

gavin 5 years ago

My best machine is the 12 hp swift-matic with turf tires a flail mower.

Also a 6.6 fitted with swift-matic diff, mainly fitted with the 36" mower or rotary plough.

South Africa


MrGreywolf38 profile image

MrGreywolf38 5 years ago Author

I didn't know there was a flail mower attachment. I could use something like that myself. I love the rotary plow. It will turn dirt, chop roots, move rocks...


ronwally 3 years ago

i still have one going to sell it only have tiller attachmeant


Bruno 3 years ago

I got a 12hp whit the grass cutter , the snow blower and something to do garden and i got all the mecanic book and the seat whit the weel. How much can i get from it. He is in a very good shap and everything work on it


RANDY 2 years ago

"L" Cannot get it started. Changed the mag. new plug & wire.

Timed the mag.

Suggestions. Is there a hinden kill wire or switch?


MrGreywolf38 profile image

MrGreywolf38 2 years ago Author

Are you getting a spark? when you crank it over, do you hear a loud click in the mag. if not, try cranking it over slower. The mag is designed to wind a spring up and then release the spring at the right time to spin the mag very fast for 1 good spark. If you crank the engine too fast, it is possible to spin the mag so fast that it won't activate the spring mechanism, but too slow to get a good spark.


dan 22 months ago

these old gravelys. love em. made well. too many weakling do nothing folks to use them these days and gravely could not compete with all the foreign junk coming into america


Bud 20 months ago

I have an old walk behind that has set up and I would like to get going again. Where can I get parts. It is a great machine.


MrGreywolf38 profile image

MrGreywolf38 19 months ago Author

I imagine you can still order gravely parts at a gravely dealer but it isn't easy. Most clerks at these shops are not familiar with the old machines. I find the best source of parts are Ebay and Craigslist.


Brian R 18 months ago

Richards Lawn and Garden in Spencer, WV has a wide variety of parts. 304-927-4550 and also GravelyParts.com in Alabama 256-764-1609. This guy has thousands of old parts on hand

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