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Collection, Preservation and Display of Old Lawn Mowers

ATCO 14 cylinder mower

I bought this old 14" mower today enroute home. Looks in good condition. Gave it a quick power wash and sprayed some WD40 on the bolts etc. The fuel cap wouldn't budge at all. I unscrewed the fuel line to release any pressure but only horrible yucky gunge dribbled out. I then took the fuel tank off to try to twist the cap in a vice. Again it didn't budge. Frustratingly, the filler neck came off with the cap still on it. The inside is rusty. A bit annoying but that's the joys of working on old machinery. The rear roller goes forwards happily as do the wooden rollers but won't 'reverse'.....

I am guessing it's a 1950s model? 

wristpin Mon, 27/04/2020

Nice find and nothing that a soldering job won’t fix. No “reverse” , seized ratchet or chain.

Grass box?

About the same age as the Rotoscythe?


Triumph66 Tue, 28/04/2020

Thanks Wristpin.


Made a bit of progress today. I have unfreed the stiff foot pedal and the flywheel now spins. I have taken off the cover where the gears and chains are. When I release the nut and remove the cogs off the roller, it rotates back and forth fine but when refitted it only goes forwards...... 

I am in the process of removing the flywheel cover to clean the points.

There  is a grass box with the ATCO.

Triumph66 Tue, 28/04/2020

Two photos of the ATCO with the grass box. The petrol tank is being cleaned hence its absence. The mower been outside for a few years but it doesn't look too bad considering. I took the flywheel cover off to try to access the points but it was too awkward to access it properly. So I am thinking if dismantling the handle bars and take off the actual flywheel so I can clean them properly. Is that the right procedure?  I have cleaned up the spark plug and squirted some thin oil down the plug hole to aids lubrication. 

wristpin Tue, 28/04/2020

To do a proper job of cleaning the points it's best to remove the flywheel which, on a Villiers usually has a "self extracting nut" which pulls it off.  The downside of removing it is that in removing the flywheel you loose the ignition  timing setting and will have to re-time after reassembly . Re- timing is not a problem but can be a bit hit and miss until you get used to it. There's plenty of information on line and there may even be a bit on this forum but before you remove the flywheel have a good look for any timing marks  - usually an arrow on the flywheel rim and nib (knib??) on the ignition stator backplate. There may also be a notch visible on the end of the crank that corresponds with Top Dead Centre when vertical. 

Keith Wootton Tue, 28/04/2020

The date is probably early 1950s - I have one that is 1953 which is almost identical.

I think you have put the box on upside down.

Triumph66 Tue, 28/04/2020

Keith, I am glad someone spotted my deliberate mistake..... I have just nipped out to put it the right way up! I blame the Lockdown.......

Thanks Wristpin; I have seen the arrow on the flywheel and will do some research on line prior to the task of dismantling the flywheel.

Any thoughts on how to to unseized the chains so I can roll backwards?  

wristpin Tue, 28/04/2020

If the chain links  themselves are  seized leave them to soak in diesel or kerosene, taking them out occasionally to flex them a bit will aid penetration. 

Triumph66 Tue, 28/04/2020

Thanks again Wristpin. I think the chains aren't too bad. I have sprayed them with chain lubes to see if that works. Don't want to appear ignorant but where are the rachets? Under the cogs? Thanks Andrew

wristpin Tue, 28/04/2020

No cogs, sprockets please!  I was guessing that there may be a spring loaded free wheel mechanism to allow the machine to be pulled back or pushed. Sometimes incorporated into the roller drive sprocket or the cutting cylinder one.

hortimech Tue, 28/04/2020

It has a split rear roller, so the ratchets are probably in the middle of the roller.

Triumph66 Tue, 28/04/2020

Thanks Wristpin. Another thing learnt;  Sprockets!

Thanks Hortimrch; yes it's a split roller. I guess I just need to undo the bolts on either sides and tease out the rollers and split them.

wristpin Wed, 29/04/2020

I guess I just need to undo the bolts on either sides and tease out the rollers and split them.

Before you do that let's have an image of the drive end of the roller with the chain case cover removed and the sprocket in place.

Triumph66 Wed, 29/04/2020

Here are the photos of the cover removed for Wristpin's attention. I am going to use the air line to clear out the grunge.

wristpin Wed, 29/04/2020

Definitely no ratchet there!! As H says there may be some form of ratchet/free wheel mechanism between the rollers  - it will be interesting to see as even my oldest parts book (undated) shows a solid 14"roller with an exterior ratchet. You may find that the reason that you cant pull the machine backwards is just that one or more of the chains is a mite over tightened. The primary chain does look quite tight. Often people adjust the cutting cylinder to the bottom blade and forget that in doing so it tightens the chain.

As an aside, the primary drive chain (top shaft to cylinder) in your last image shows the chain closing link clip the wrong way round. The closed end should always be in the direction of rotation as per the secondary/intermediate chain . The final drive one is out of sight 

Triumph66 Wed, 29/04/2020

Interesting. When I undid the nut on the large sprocket on the far right and took both the chain off,  the rollers rolled freely in both directions. This suggests that the chain is too tight and that the ratchet isn't seized at all. I need a diagram to identify the various sprockets such as the primary drive.

I presume this is the chain closing link clip is the attached photo? If it is, I have swapped the position 180 degrees. I suspect this is wrong but it's a process of elimination. If that's in the correct place, how much contact should the chain have against it? 


wristpin Wed, 29/04/2020

From the wording of your last sentence you  seem to be confusing the chain closing or joining link with the tensioner . The closing link is to the right of your image and the U shaped clip holds it together. Best practice is for the closed end to face the direction of travel , not the open end as it is in your image.

The tensioner was the correct way round and is now wrong . It should not press hard on the chain . Subject to you showing us what is or isn’t inside the rear roller it may well be that the inability to pull the machine backwards was down to stiff or over tensioned chains or even a dragging clutch. On machines of that era it was not unknown for the roller to be in permanent connection with the whole drive train .

We await a peek inside the rear roller.

hortimech Wed, 29/04/2020

I would go with stiff chains, if you closely at the last picture, the cylinder drive chain isn't bending around the tensioner correctly. I also think there is a ratchet involved in the cylinder sprocket, though this doesn't preclude ratchets in the rear roller.


Triumph66 Wed, 29/04/2020

Thanks both of you. After my last post, I put the tensioner back in its original position this afternoon as I thought that just possibly couldn't be right. I can now see the closing link that you refer to. Is it just a simple job of pulling it off and inserting the correct way? Again I have taken some photos as it is now. Is the chain bending correctly around the tensioner?

Triumph66 Thu, 30/04/2020

This afternoon, I sprayed some chain oil onto the chains and I went round with a screw driver to loosen up each chain individually by twisting it backwards and forth. I will leave the lube to works its magic and then repeat the process. One or two were a tad stiff but generally I thought they weren't too bad. 

wristpin Thu, 30/04/2020

No images but it sounds as though you are heading in the right direction but nothing beats removing the chains and soaking in diesel.  You may well find that properly lubricated and not set too tight the machine will pull back. The other thing that may restrain the drive train from rotating is worn clutch thrust pads. If you follow the lever down to where it engages the clutch release collar you will see two small square pads. Yours may be metal , later ones were some sort of fibre and the final versions in the Atco DeLuxes of the 70s , a hard plastic substance . A small drop of grease on those thrust pads may allow the drive train to rotate more freely when the clutch is disengaged.  If the pads are too worn the yoke on the end of the lever exerts too much friction on the withdrawal collar.

Back to the chains , in the 50s motor cycle shops sold round metal “pie dishes” filled with an evil black grease . Curl the chain up, immerse ,  place on the cooker and warm until liquid, bubbling and fuming. Then leave to cool for the potion to penetrate the chain links. Those were the days!

Triumph66 Thu, 30/04/2020

Hopefully a few days of the grease penetrating might do the trick. I will try greasing the collar tomorrow evening after work; another good tip thanks. I can see my self taking the chains off and immersing them in some diesel. 

I bought a clean fuel tank to replace the damage one which I hope will turn up next week.....Anither small step in the right direction.......


wristpin Thu, 30/04/2020

I would be inclined to slacken the tensioner a little. It should not be pushing in on the chain but just controlling any flap. 

Triumph66 Fri, 01/05/2020

After work today, I followed your suggestions and applied some grease to the collar and slackened the tensioner too. I sprayed some more chain grease in the chains and will tease the links tomorrow evening. No joy yet but again some small progress. 

Triumph66 Sun, 03/05/2020

This morning,  did the nuts on the sprockets to take off the chains to be soaked in diesel. I also soaked the sprockets for an hour to remove the congealed grease. One sprocket in particular was packed with old grease, grass, dust etc accumulated over a few years. I have loosely put the sprockets back in situ hater a quick clean and I smeared light coat of oil on both surfaces. I did noticed that one of the springs had no tension as pictured. What are they called and what's the part number. Also where can I source a set please? I have left the chains in the diesel to soak through for a few days and then will rinse them in Petrol prior to refitting and then lubricated with chain oil/grease.



wristpin Sun, 03/05/2020

So the sprocket with the pawls and springs is the inside of  cutting cylinder drive one ?  It would help if we could see its mating ratchet wheel laid inside it as it would be if assembled. I’m guessing that it is keyed or sits on a hex on the cylinder shaft . The springs will not be under tension until the pawls have the ratchet wheel to press against, so you may not have an issue there. Unless someone like Jon Cruse has some gathering dust on a back shelf you are unlikely to find any but they would appear to be fairly easily made from a bit of old recoil spring or similar.

Triumph66 Sun, 03/05/2020

Yes that's correct that it is the cylinder sprocket showing the springs etc. I am hoping cleaning the accumulated grease and grass on the middle sprocket will be of some help.

wristpin Sun, 03/05/2020

I think that getting the chains moving freely will be of the greatest benefit in getting the machine to pull backwards.

Meanwhile, if you can remove the ratchet wheel from the cutting cylinder shaft and instal it in side the cylinder sprocket we can assess the state / assembly of the pawls and springs.

Triumph66 Mon, 04/05/2020

As it's raining tomorrow, I will endeavour to remove it and take photos of it . I also changed the diesel this afternoon as it was absolutely filthy and the bowl was full of detritus from the chains. Following Wristpin's tip, I coiled the chains and placed them in fresh diesel. 

Triumph66 Sat, 09/05/2020

I had a look at the chains yesterday that been soaking in diesel. I gave them a rinse in Petrol and they are certainly loosening up. However, there are two that are stiff still so I have been moving them back and forth to loosen them. I put the 3 chains back in the diesel to soak through again. I bought a second hand fuel tank and gave that a quick rinse and bolted that back on plus the fuel tap was also soaked in diesel too give it  a clean. I need to access the points easily to clean them etc. Do I wedge the cover with a piece of thin  wood to stop it rotating? And does it unscrews clockwise or anti clockwise? Thanks 

wristpin Sun, 10/05/2020

You can access the points between the spokes of the flywheel which will be revealed by removing the “ tin” cover after removing 3? small  countersunk screws in the vertical face of the flywheel . One is visible in your second image. The kick start ratchet gear can remain in place while inspecting, cleaning and setting the points.

If it’s necessary to remove the flywheel you will need to first undo the big hex outboard of the ratchet gear which will then give access to another hex which is the “ self extracting “ nut for the flywheel itself.

Atco supplied a special “ hammertite” or flogging spanner for undoing and retightening that flywheel nut   but with care an appropriate whitworth ring spanner or socket can be used.



villiers98 Sat, 16/05/2020

Wristpin - re the rear roller, I believe that that a 'de luxe' version of these 12 in  and 14 in mowers was offered for a while in the early 50s as I have several . Differences were split rear roller with ratchets, microset bottom blade adjustment with alloy rather than steel bottom blade carrier, 'lo tone ' silencer in place of pepperpot type and larger  capacity longer fuel tank. The handlebars were also different .

villiers98 Sat, 16/05/2020

Triumph 66  - to clean the points I would suggest you do remove the flywheel as Wristpin details . It is difficult enough to see even with the flywheel off . When the points are clean and set to 15 thou do up flywheel just loosely to check there is a healthy spark when spun carefully by hand. Loosen flywheel on taper then to set timing turn crank to tdc and then back til piston has fallen by 5/32 of an inch ( measured with vernier caliper guage down plug hole ).  Hold the crank in this position by the clutch end and slowly turn the flywheel forward until the points just seperate. Push flywheel towards engine to bed it on taper and tighten the nut by hand . Recheck timing. Then tighten flywheel nut and re fit kickstart pinion. Good luck. If you use a new plug and always run til the float chamber is empty they start fine . I ve found full choke, flood carb and use plenty of throttle til it fires is best

wristpin Sat, 16/05/2020

to set timing turn crank to tdc and then back till piston has fallen by 5/32 of an inch ( measured with vernier caliper gauge down plug hole ).  Hold the crank in this position by the clutch end and slowly turn the flywheel forward until the points just separate. Push flywheel towards engine to bed it on taper and tighten the nut by hand . Recheck timing. Then tighten flywheel nut and re fit kick-start pinion. Good luck. 

That is the text book, basic principles method -  nothing wrong with that but on many of their 2-strokes Villiers made it a little easier by doing all the measuring and then putting an arrow on the flywheel coinciding with a nib on the mag backplate with the crank at top dead centre. If the engine has that marking, adjust the points , set the piston to TDC , line up the arrow and tighten up. 

On most Villiers two-strokes the recommended points gap is 12-15thou so I always aim for the mid point and when tightened re- check that nothing has moved and taken it out of the 12-15 band.

Triumph66 Mon, 01/06/2020

I have been very busy with work and my apologies for not replying to recent posts.

The chains are still soaking in the diesel and are now very clean. The two smaller chains are are fine and everything moves freely. The longer chain has one or maybe two really stiff links. I have periodically moved them up and down and I sense there's is some easement there but nowhere as free as the other links. I was wondering if I should use a blow to torch to heat up those two links to free it? Any suggestions?

There is an arrow on the flywheel and I hope to get the flywheel off for ease of access to clean and adjust the points.

 Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread; much appreciated.

wristpin Mon, 01/06/2020

Warming up the offending links may help but don't over do it and upset the metallurgy.