The Gilson Snowblower Family Tree
22 Years of Evolution
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#1Vintage Single Stage * #2 Early Gear Drive * #3 UniTrol * #4 Gear Drive * # 5 Single Speed Friction Drive * #6 Vertical Shaft Engine - Single Stage * #7 2 stroke - Single Stage - Snow Cannon * #8 Late Model Friction Drive * #9 Late Model Gear Drive * #10 Epilogue - LawnBoy

Gilson Brothers Company - Snowblower Production circa 1968
The Gilson family had been manufacturing for most of the 19th century and Gilson Brothers had entered the power equipment market by the late 1950s. All of my research points to 1966 as the first year for snowblower production. The 2 stage machines heavily leveraged Gilsons famous roto-tiller worm drive design. You can read more about the History of the Gilson Brand as well as the Gilson Mystique elsewhere on this site.

This page sets out to illustrate the run of models that span the life of the snowblower product line from 1966 through 1987. In all there were 9 distinctly different machines. Many designs ran for a decade or more with only minor improvements along the way. This design stability is a saving grace for today's owners of these vintage machines. It's entirely possible to repair a 1978 machine with a used part salvaged from a 1970 for instance!

I often hear from owners of machines that have lost the identification tag. To help people identify what they have I have also given each design a number that can be referenced, much like ordering a special at a Chinese restaurant. I have also assigned a name that depicts each machine family.

#1 Vintage Single Stage

These single stage machines apparently were part of the original line-up. Over the years horsepower's ranged from 4 to 7. The augers are 22 inches wide and the collector flares to 26 inches. The complete collector/blower design was widened and transferred to create the tractor attachment that was sold into the late 1970s.

I have never seen one of these. Gilson distribution was late in getting to Maine and in general the bigger gear drives were the best buy anyhow.

#2 Early Gear Drive (1 or 2 Speed)

Part of the original 1966 line-up these machines are still hurling snow across the Snow Belt. For 1966 this was a big machine and proportion wise stands up to today's full size units. Horsepower ranges from 5-8. The vast majority was built as 26-inch units with a few of the 5 HP models scaled down to 22 inches. 1971 was the last year for this design as the mantle was passed to the 28-inch 3-speed version.

You can read more about these machines here.

Wishbone Handle Variation

These are mainly seen as Senator branded machines. Senator along with Plymouth were Gilson house brands used to differentiate dealers from small store chains that did not justify their own pirvate brand. The center handle shifts the transmission. The left hand side grip lever engages the traction belt and has a locking button for long runs.

#3 UniTrol

Launched in 1969 this machine was built through 1979. The collector half carried on until the end of operations as part of the late model friction drive series. The term UniTrol was coined by a marketing manager and it stuck. The term denoted the traction system that was operated with a single control lever. It was a breakthrough in operator simplicity, as most competitive systems required clutching and shifting actions. Gilson did go on to reuse the term on other single handle friction drive designs.The vast majority was built as 26-inch units with a few of the 5 HP models scaled down to 22 inches in the early years. Originally offered in 5, 7 and 8 HP versions a 10 HP engine was eventually part of the line-up. These machines were generally 3 speed units.

Variations include a 4 speed control handle and a walk-behind tractor version that are both explained below. These variatons exist individually or combined into various models. The signature features mentioned below apply.

The signature feature of these machines is the big dimple in the back bottom panel. The pattern of the bucket side wall stamping is also indicative of this machine family but was also used in the late model friction drive machines. There were high and low rise versions of the bucket. These pictures illustrate the migration from the crimson & beige color scheme to the crimson and black in 1977.

You can read more about these machines here.


Gilson sold many machines under many different brand names in the United States, Canada and Europe. Companies that bought privately branded models often wanted a certain level of uniqueness to their product. One means of accomplishing this was with the 4 speed control system. The Basic machine is a standard UniTrol however the handle is made to provide 4 forward speeds. The high and low are no different but the buyer got an extra intermediate speed.

The trade-off was that the machine had a separate "clutch" grip on the left handle that needed to be squeezed when shifting. In effect it was no longer a UniTrol in the strict sense of the term.

These 4 speed units were made and sold under a number of brand names including Plymouth, Ford, New Holland, Beaver and Snow Charger.


The story behind this unit is one of politics more than engineering. During the 1970s Gilson needed to overcome tariffs in order to be competitive in Canada. One way was to export incomplete units. To accomplish this the UniTrol, which commonly has a one piece chassis was split into two components, a "Walk-behind" tractor and a blower attachment. It was a product configuration used notably by Gravely and Ariens to make year round use of the drive portion of the machine.

These machines can be recognized by the extra bolts, one is shown with the green arrow and the seam in the impeller housing shown with blue arrows.

The nature of this construction requires that the machine halves be separated for replacing the blower belt. The design did not lend itself to seasonal conversion and it existed (to my knowledge) only as a snow-blowing product. The engine is a standard winter engine with no provision for a summertime air cleaner. I have only observed these as Canadian models. They were produced under several model numbers over the years and with 5,8, and 10 HP engines at times. There were 3 and 4 speed versions.

#4 Gear Drive (3 speed)

Launched in 1972 this machine was built through 1987. The collector half was based on the early gear drive machines but was widened to 28 inches and a vertical extension was added to the front of the bucket. For traction control these machines used sealed Peerless transmissions which simplified the drive train.

In the mid 70's a 32 inch version was added. Unfortunately it remained 8 horsepower and used the same 12-inch impeller. The next year it was outfitted with a 10 HP engine (latter to be 11) and a 14 inch impeller and was solid workhorse.

Over the years the cast iron components were replaced with sintered steel and stampings so they are not perfect signature features. Notables through the product life are the flat bucket side plates as well as the non-rounded design and construction of the belt cover.

#5 Single Speed Friction Drive

Introduced as a 4 HP 18-inch machine in 1971 this design latter became very popular when 22 and 24 inch models were introduced with 5 or 6 horsepower engines. Early machines had the auger and chute controls up front over the engine. They were latter extended to the operators position. Variations of this machine were produced until the end.

The signature feature of these machines is the single traction control lever centered on the vertical handle face. The side wall of the bucket was also consistent though the 18-inch version does not have the vertical extension.

The opposing spring loaded drive platters and force limited friction drive are notable features. You can read more about these machines here.

Machines prior to the 1980's had the impeller isolated from the transmission cavity by a unique patented labyrinth seal and the chassis was 1 piece. Latter models used a traditional wall behind the impeller and were made to split in the middle for service.

#6 Vertical Shaft Engine - Single Stage

This playful little oddity was introduced in 1976 as the "Machine that's fun to run"! This single stage machine had forward traction drive but was pulled backward. It was made to fold up to store in a small space such as under a work table. All in all it was a very innovative unit.

One other notable first is that it was the 1st Gilson designed from the ground up to be safety interlocked. Early models did not have safety interlocks to disengage power when you left the operator position. Some actually had you put your hands within inches of the chute to engage or disengage the blower. To get around this issue ignition kill circuits with miniature limit switches were being added to other models. The "rabbit ear" handles you see in the picture clutch the blower and traction and disengage them anytime you let go and do not kill the engine in doing so.

Signature features are the B&S vertical shaft engine and the 2 "rabbit ear" clutching levers. You can read more about these machines here.See the second machine.

#7 2 stroke - Single Stage - Snow Cannon

This machine was in the forefront of one of the biggest snow removal innovations in decades. These small 2 stroke machines were the rage for small spaces and occasional use in moderate snow depths.

These are 20 inch machines originally with 2 HP engines from B&S, Tecumseh and finally OMC. Latter a 3 HP B&S unit was used. They were heavily private branded to outlets such as Montgomery Ward, Ford and LawnBoy. The initial production used the chute deflector pictured on the left. Future machines and those corrected under a service order have the channel chute in the right hand photo.

You can read more about these machines here.See the first machine. Common wear parts are readily available.

#8 Late Model Friction Drive

After a decade of UniTrol production this was the next generation. For the blower half if borrowed heavily from the venerable UniTrol using the entire assembly just as it evolved to by 1977. Where the UniTrol machines were saddled with miniature limit switches to make them operator safe these machines were designed with integral mechanical interlocks for ease of use.

This transmission was very innovative providing 5 forward speeds and 2 reverse speeds. The friction drive was somewhat simplified by the use of a tipping friction plate as opposed to manipulating the friction wheel carrier to disengage the wheel for speed changes. A standard but uncommon engine configuration was used for these models. The engines were dual shaft. The main crankshaft drove the blower. The camshaft also exited the engine and the reverse rotation 1/2 speed output drove the traction system resulting in simplified final drive reduction. Also interesting is the scalability of the design. It was built in 2 versions, full sized and intermediate. 5HP-24-inch and 8HP-26-inch were common proportions. There were also 10HP-32 inch models.

The entire UniTrol bucket combined with tubular handle distinguish these machines.

#9 Late Model Gear Drive

This appears to be the last new design Gilson introduced. They used a Peerless 5 speed transmission with final chain drive to the axle. A new clutching scheme was designed from the ground up for operator safety.. The entire back chassis design has been overhauled with some nice features, it's a clean and simple design. The blower halves are based on tried and true design carryovers.

I do have a 55069 8 Hp 24 inch version, circa 1987. This was the smallest of the family. 8 HP 26 inch and 10HP 32 inch models were also offered.

#10 Epilogue - LawnBoy

For the 1988 season LawnBoy was now the owner of the Gilson legacy. LawnBoy had been a seller of rebranded Gilson units for many years. By acquiring Gilson and it's full line of lawn and garden equipment they were poised to break out of their 2 cycle lawnmower niche.

Meanwhile the boom in compact 2-stroke snowblowers had Tecumseh throwing it's weight around as they virtually owned the market after Briggs and Stratton's less than magnificent attempt at 2-stroke engines. The Toro Company acquired LawnBoy a year latter in 1989 largely for it's 2-stroke expertise. This was the kiss of death for the Gilson legacy and all machine designs were retired.

Toro's LawnBoy division has continued to provide repair parts support since then however availability is diminishing and many critical items are no longer available.

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Page created 12/28/2008 ***** September 11, 2022