21" Commercial deck

The ubiquitous 21 inch commercial mower deck, Its history and legacy (and the confusion behind it).

I'm going to attempt to dissect the history and timeline behind the company mergers and sell-offs, the relationships between them, and the subsequent confusion behind the brands; namely speaking the confusion and rumors behind Sensation and B*b-C*t mower brands. Get ready for a rollercoaster ride of confusing timelines and mergers.

There are many keyboard jockeys posting on forums saying that Sensation is a rip-off of B*b-C*t, or that B*b-C*t was started by a feuding brother from the Sensation company etc. You even see Sensation mowers on ebay and craigslist listed as B*b-C*ts and vice versa.

During the 1920's up through the war, there were many companies in America (and overseas) marketing outdoor and grounds care products. There were many innovative entrepreneurs that created lawnmowers and other equipment. One of those entrepreneurs was Howard Phelps in 1944. He created the Sensation Lawnmower brand. Other brands were around at the time each shouldering themselves into the grounds care market.

One thing you may notice about some of the commercial lawnmowers around the late 60's/ early 70's, is that common 21" cast aluminum deck that was so similar across the different manufacturers.

Some of the cast aluminum decks had the brand name embossed into them, and many did not. Some of the brands you may see with the same 21" commercial cast aluminum deck as the Sensation is: Exmark, B*b-C*t, Textron, Ransomes, Jacobsen and just plain old blank decks. Some decks are embossed and others just wear the brand decal. It is important here to distinguish that B*b-c*t mowers is not related to the Bobcat company that makes the skid-steers.

B*b-C*t 21" commercial lawnmowers were made by a company originally called Wisconsin Marine Company. Other brands Wisconsin Marine made included Ryan, Bunton, Steiner. That company was then bought out by Jacobsen Commercial Grounds Care Inc. around the time they started to make that familiar cast deck we all come to know. Jacobsen was a grounds care company in its own right that also owned Worthington and Johnson companies. In turn, Jacobsen was owned by an even bigger corporation called Textron. In 2006 Big daddy Textron told Jacobsen to cut ties with Commercial Grounds Care Inc. and let them fly solo until they partnered up with Schiller+Pfeiffer (Little Wonder, Mantis) to for the current Schiller Grounds Care which is the current B*b-C*t product line manufacturer.

Textron was/is a major industrial conglomerate whose sole purpose is to swallow other companies souls. Jacobsen was a prolific grounds care company on its own until Textron acquired them. Then strangely enough Textron seems to force Jacobsen into partnering up with some of the other brands it had acquired and then splinter off unique production lines such as Jacobsen/Ransomes ( Cushman, E-Z-go, Ryan, B*b-C*t), Jacobsen/Textron (Dixie-Chopper), Jacobsen/Homelite (Homelite, which was sold to John Deere, then sold to Techtronic).

None of this seems to explain the common platform of commercial 21" mower decks found across the product lines and also on Sensations. If you have followed closely you will notice that Sensation is not part of any of the Textron mergers.

Sensation Mowers was its own company until Gilson bought them out in the early 1980's The ubiquitous 21" deck was already in service in the Sensation lines since the early 1970's. The only major change after Gilson acquired Sensation was a logo change and longer rear flanges on the deck. By the late 1980's, Lawn-boy bought out Gilson, and one year later Toro bought out Lawn-boy. The Sensation badge ceased to exist.

If you look far back enough you can find cast aluminum Jacobsen lawn mower decks from the early 1960's that look very similar to the Sensation decks. By the late 1970's Textron seemed to be the one casting the familiar decks embossed with the names: "Jacobsen", "B*b-C*t", "Textron", and blank decks with Ransomes/B*b-C*t decals, and later with Exmark decals. Basically Textron was the puppet master for all the sub-division and all its products, Sensation Mowers NOT being one of them.

So this leaves the mystery of where Sensation Mowers got their decks from? Were they cast in-house? were patents shared? Even though the decks (aside from the embossing) were identical, the Sensation/Gilson brands were not involved in the Textron/Jacobsen mess.

I will continue to research. Please comment.


Sensation cast it's own decks. My grandfather Lewis Rodman who worked for a time for my great uncle Howard Phelps cast many an aluminum deck at the Sensation plant in Ralston NE. When my uncle Richard Rodman was 17 he got a job at the sensation plant and helped with the tearing down of the foundry smoke stack by that time in the mid 60's they had started producing decks at a plant in north Omaha.

By volkswade

Thanks for your input!, Did I do the timeline justice? Does it seem accurate?

By Rocco

Yes it looks like the timeline is correct. I have an article from an Omaha Business magazine here that looks like you have got the times right.

By volkswade