Bow to Project: Tricking out my Agri Fab Lawn Sweeper (and my lawn tractor at the same time)

I buy lots of cheap stuff, fix them up and use them. That’s how I acquire my toys.
I own a fairly ordinary Cub Cadet 1040 Lawn tractor. It can do all sorts of amazing things.
This story is about how I took a fairly old, somewhat banged up, but hardly used Agrifab tow-behind sweeper and made life uber-easy on myself. I’m no spring chicken and getting off and on the mower to make adjustments is a major PITA, and other places too.

Part I was to automate the dump mechanism. Pulling and pushing a rope or stick to open and close the hopper ain’t no fun especially if you are picking up stuff from the driveway and road that weighs a lot. I considered a linear actuator, but went with a Harbor Freight winch, due to the range of motion I needed to move the hopper from it’s position to a full dump. This was the easy part.

I mounted the winch to the back of the tractor, above the tow hitch, with room enough to still use the hitch properly. I threw away the “remote control” that came with it and wired up a switch on the dashboard and a Solenoid under the seat along with an appropriate slow-blow fuse. Topped it off by switch illumination from power from a headlight on/off switch. There was no good place to put the winch guide, so I’m just a little more careful when I wind the winch. This way I also have a winch for another automation project I’ll describe another time.

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I attached a carabiner onto the top of the hopper bar. The elongated shape of the carabiner was just the right size for the winch clevis snap hook to clip into with no effort. There’s a video herein that shows it in operation. I used it last fall and this spring and it worked like a champ over the course of 30-40 loads. Saved a lot of back work and reduced work time significantly.

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Part II of this project was to automate the sweeper height. This was by far the most rewarding and the most helpful of all the mods I’ve ever done. That’s because trying to find the right height to sweep has always been a series of adjustments. Each year I have seasons for: sticks, leaves, tiny seeds, fir tree needles and all sorts of grit that accumulates in the road. Each requires a different setting, and multiple passes. Each pass requires another, rather fine adjustment.

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So for height adjustment, I elected to use a 6″ linear actuator from Progressive Automations. I used the video posted on YouTube where guy welded a bolt on to the sweeper height lever and shaped a piece of metal to provide the length necessary mount the actuator properly. While I know how to weld, I don’t have the equipment. Being an engineer, I always am seeking a simpler, easier, cheaper and yet more effective way. ) on the height adjustment lever, same place the fellow welded a nut. I decided the to feed a bolt from the inside end of that hole outward. Without disassembling the sweeper, I bored out of the very top height adjustment hole just large enough to pass the head of my bolt through. I then raised the adjusted to that topmost hole and fed a bolt through the hole bore, through the hole until the head stopped inside the lever.

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I formed my mounting bracket out of two pieces of steel bar. I concluded that the force required for the adjustment arm lever to move was pretty small, so attaching the actuator via a single bold projecting outward was sufficient, I didn’t need to use a mounting buckle. The lower end of the actuator is attached to that bolt I secured to the adjustment arm. I decided to keep the motor end of the actuator up high to avoid any unpleasantries that mother earth may wish to cast upon it.
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One lesson I learned in ergonomics from the winch project, is that it’s better to put the switch on or near the rear of the fender wells, so you can see what’s going on when you are pressing the switch the switch. I selected a double pole, double throw, momentary on, illuminated switched, cross-wired. Based on the anticipated force the actuator would be required to push, I calculated I only needed to supply 1 amp of current at 12 volts, so I decided to wire the actuator directly to a switch, avoiding the need for a solenoid and heavy gauge wire .
To complete it professionally, I attached a 12 volt plug on the end of the wire (properly secured) from the sweeper to n weatherproof outlet I mounted near the hitch. The outlet then is routed to the nearby switch I previously wired. I just have to remember never to drive more than 15 amps through that switch, but I solved that by simply installing a 2 amp fuse!
When I tested it out on the road, picking up these seeds the size of puffed wheat cereal, it was like graduating from “good enough” work to perfection. After each pass, I’d see how good a job it did, and tap the switch to lower it ever so slightly. About four passes and I was done.

Another advantage is that when you’re done sweeping and ready to haul it to your dump side, push the button to raise the sweeper height to the near top. It picks up nearly nothing along the way and even is tall enough to let me go over some small curbs in front of the dump site.

One caution. The guy in the first video entirely avoided showing you what happens to the dump bin if you pull it all the way forward. In his design, the bin will land smack dab on top of his actuator and in short order I’m sure punch a hole in the bin. I avoided that by attaching a horizonal “stop” slightly above the actuator, so the bin side frame rests on this little stop. Right now, the stop is a long bolt. I plan to cut off a piece of an old broom, drill a hole in the center of its length and screw it on the bolt, giving the frame something a bit more forgiving to hit.

Since this is my first attempt upoloading media here, it seems I cannot upload my videos of this beast in action. Space limitations I presume. Too bad.

My next show and tell will be how I got my tow behind core aerator to raise and lower its wheels without me having to pull down on a side-mounted handle.

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