Five Toughies – THE Competition in Turf Equipment?

Aimed at: Professional groundskeepers with LOTS to do.

Pros: Toughly built for a long life and very easy to operate. They are not toys, they do the job.

Little Wonder and Classen turf care equipment, marketed by Mantis UK Limited, is probably most well known by users who have significant amounts of land to look after. These machines are, without exception, toughly built in that simple “if it ain’t broke no need to fix it” American tradition. Largely made from sheet steel either welded or bolted together, they have a long working life built into them. Routine maintenance is generally easy because key parts are easy to get to by the simple wielding of a spanner or screwdriver. The almost universal adoption of consumer-favoured Honda four stroke motors has helped too – all five of the machines I tested used these, and despite all of them being brand new, they all started and ran without any difficulty, often on the first pull of the starter cord.

My overriding impression of the five machines I used was that they outperformed my expectations of them, making difficult and tiring jobs easier to do. As a relative novice, even I was capable of a level of productivity that astounded me. I could only guess at the productivity possible in the hands of an experienced and expert operator.

With guiding hands and sound advice from David Goose, MD, and Malcolm Mullender, Regional Sales manager, I was let loose on an umpteen acre area of land on which to test the machines. The tests were very realistic, encompassing steep inclines, heavy brush, the best damp English Autumn rain and heavy Sussex clay soil.

First up was the Little Wonder Pro Edger. These machines have been built in a similar way for over fifty years and what the pros want is a machine that is easy to use and will cut edges at around 28 metres per minute. The simple steel deck and tubular frame hold a 118cc Honda GX120 motor that drives the cast iron cutter head with two cutter blades via twin drive belts (no slippage and extra power delivery) User adjustment is tool free and easy – a ratchet system is used to set the cutter height and the motor is controlled from the handle that have anti-vibration grips. I was very quickly able to get the hang of edging with this machine because the four-wheel design makes it stable. At the same time it is easy to adjust side-to-side movement from the handle because the centre of gravity of the machine is quite low. I was able to look back over my shoulder at a 20 m long strip of edging that I had done that was not only quite straight, but didn’t need any further attention from a spade.

For the uninitiated a wide expanse of green grass usually signifies a healthy lawn, but apparently it is not that obvious. Grass needs to be raked regularly to ensure that moss and other intergrowth does not slowly choke it. The machine for this is the Classen TRS-20H Turf rake. A self propelled (thank goodness for that – I used it on quite a steep patch of field) machine with a top speed of around 3.4mph with forward and reverse drive. It is squarely and solidly built with a 5.5 hp Honda engine. The four wheels are semi pneumatic and the rear two are big enough to ensure grip and drive on slippery grass surfaces. Height adjustment is via a lever on top of the machine and the handle can be folded for easy storage in a greenkeepers’ store or the back of a truck. When I first used the machine it just seemed to chew up the grass surface, but when I cleared away the debris a bit, it was clear that the grass survived very well, only the entangling moss was ripped out, leaving a lot more room for the grass to spread out evenly into the space cleared.

Also needed for healthy grass is aerated soil. I remember helping my dad do it on our small lawns at home - plunging a pair of garden forks at intervals into the soil. We only did it once! The Classen RA-21 reciprocating aerator is the professionals’ way of doing the same job, and believe me, it is the only way I would consider doing it again. A look “under the bonnet” of the RA-21 reveals a sturdy cast iron crankshaft with the aerator cores attached to it. These cores can be solid or hollow according to need and soil type, but it clearly needs the powerful Honda GX120 motor for this demanding job. The steel chassis and foldable tubular handle are rigid and strong. There is no need for self-propulsion because the action of the cores into the soil drives the machine forward at a very controllable 2.8 mph and the specs say that an operator should be able to cover about 26,000 square feet per hour. I can believe this – I managed to aerate several hundred square feet in a few minutes, leaving a carpet of cores behind me.

What better to clean up the mess I had made with the rake and aerator than to try the Little Wonder Pro Vac SP? It is a big solid machine, but with its 270cc Honda engine and hydrostatic transmission it is very docile and easy to control. The vacuum nozzle is easy to set at the correct collecting height and it incorporates a shredding blade so that by the time the waste arrives into the 282 litre collecting bag at the rear it is as compacted as it can be. Emptying the bag is easy too – it simply unclips and with the aid of the handle underneath, it can be tipped onto the compost heap. Despite the damp conditions where the autumn leaves tend to stick to the ground, the Pro Vac left behind a clean wake on tarmac and grass. Definitely one of my favourites that day.

But the best was kept to last – the Little Wonder Hydro Brush Cutter is not so little, but it is wonderful. The machine is built from solid steel plate with massive tractor style 16-inch wheels on the back. With a Honda GXV390 engine it has a forward speed of up to 4.2 mph and a reverse of up to 1.7 mph. Despite the more complicated controls on the handles I was able to get the hang of it quite quickly and was soon creating clear spaces in patches of nettles and brush that was up to chest height in places. The brush cutter never faltered and I must admit the feeling of power was tremendous. It can cut individual brush stalks up to 50mm thick. The best fun I have had testing for ages. In my view it is one of those machines that once you have seen it working, you will be convinced – it is just very capable and strong and it looks like it will last forever. Apparently, a working life of over 15 years is not uncommon.

Despite the weather, I had a great day trying out machines that do exactly what they are supposed to do and are simple to operate to get the best out of them. Green keepers and estate managers everywhere should take a look. Highly recommended. 

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