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Gravely On Fire

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by acfttools, Jun 15, 2009.

  1. acfttools

    acfttools LawnSite Member
    Posts: 4

    I'm a new user - so thanks for your patience.

    2001 Gravely 250Z, bought it in Aug. 08 with 44.2 hrs., it had approx. 143.7 hrs. on it at the time of the fire. The mower has been meticulously maintained. I had just filled both tanks with fuel on a level concrete barn floor, checked the oil & hyd. fluid, given it a thorough once over, backed it out of the barn and blown off all the grass clippings.

    I'd been mowing approximately 35-40 minutes when the fuel fitting came out of the left tank bushing on essentially dry, level ground. When the fitting came out of the bushing, the bushing came out of the tank. I was mowing upwind and could not smell the fuel. Mowed down a small incline towards the pond on a path that I'd cut last winter, around the tree a couple of times, and was moving back up the slope when I smelled the gas. Checked the fuel caps to make sure they were on good. Immediately shut down the mower, got off & went around the left side. The left tank was gushing fuel - the fuel line was still clamped to the fitting which was laying on the frame of the mower. Reached down to grab it when it blew up.

    The pictues below show the initial leak site, the trail down the embankment, and a couple pictues of the mower itself.

    2nd & 3rd degree burns on my right arm and hand. 2nd & 3rd degree burns all around my right leg. 1st & 2nd degree burns on my left leg. 1st degree burns on my face. I have never experienced anything as painful as these burns, but am grateful that it wasn't worse.

    Over the last few days I've been searching for similar occurances on the web & trying to learn as much as possible about the fuel tank set up on these machines. Came across the thread about the Scag fire.

    The bushings on my fuel tanks were set down very low on the tank. They were also directly across from the engine. Once the leak started there was no way to stop it - the tank was going to drain. To their credit, Gravely has since significantly changed the design of the tank, the bushing, and the fittings. The bushings are now made out of a different material than mine were. The bushings are now located far up on the tank, and the fittings have big 90 degree elbows versus my small straight ones. (I managed to recover both fittings, the right hand fitting still had the bushing attached, but the fitting appeared to also be working its way out of the bushing.)

    Went to a Gravely/Toro dealer last weekend here in Tulsa. The Toro's still mount their bushings low on their tanks. Asked the dealer to show me the replacement fittings & bushings for the Gravely. He didn't have any of the fittings, but brought out a bag of black bushings. I told him the "replacement bushings" weren't made out of the same material as what was on the new Gravely's. He admitted that they were the generic (read aftermarket) bushings that would fit any mower they stocked.

    My initial conversations with Gravely have been pleasant. I spoke with the factory one morning and they pulled their territorial sales manager out of deep Texas and had him on my door step at 9:00 a.m. the next day. They have indicated that they feel this is "an act of God", but they have also said they like to take care of their customers. We'll see how this goes as time goes on.

    The purpose of this post is to find out if others have had similar experiences and, more importantly, to hopefully prevent this from happening to someone else. I've not been necessarily kind to my body over the years - football, rugby, USMC, etc., etc., but this is the worst pain I've ever experienced in my life and it's going to be a long, long recovery.

    Again, there was absolutely no visible evidence that anything was wrong with the fuel system. No leaks, no rotting/cracked lines, bushings in place, etc. However, I have come to very strongly believe that this is a terrible design. With the long-term effects of ethanol still unknown, there could be lots of little times bombs out there just waiting to explode. And yes, within a minute and a half I'd hit the fire with a big fire extinguisher. The flames were too intense & I couldn't get close enough to make a difference.

    Thank you for your patience - look forward to hearing from you much more experienced veterans out there.


    Side View.jpg

    Initial Spill Site 1.jpg

  2. dwost

    dwost LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,666

    Here we go again, second mower to go up in flames in less than a month!! Everyone check your fuel hoses! Man, I'm so sorry to hear about this and that you were hurt. All the best on a speedy recovery!
  3. mowerbrad

    mowerbrad LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,273

    This is the first story lately that someone actually got hurt. The past time the operator was lucky enough to not get hurt. Best wishes to you!
  4. ProStreetCamaro

    ProStreetCamaro LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,140

    We have been running gravelys for years and never had a problem. Could you have possibly backed up into a bush that happened to grab the fuel line and pull it out?

    Unless that bushing was rotten, not pushed in all the way or something snagged it and ripped it out I dont see how it could just work loose and come out on its own.

    Here is our 160Z from behind. They now use the red grommets and have them high on the tank.

  5. 1993lx172

    1993lx172 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,305

    I second that. Every one, tomorrow before you or your crews head out check the fuel lines, fuel system, and any wires or possible ignition points near the lines or tanks. this includes the hydro units as well. Fuel lines seem to be a problem this year and as our equipment ages things like this may happen more frequentily so we all need to be aware of the little thing that can and do lead to problems.

    Acfttools, I hope that you have a fast and complete recovery good luck man.
  6. acfttools

    acfttools LawnSite Member
    Posts: 4

    The first thing that the factory guy thought, and the salesman looked for, was some sort of evidence that a branch might have gotten tangled in the fuel line & pulled out the bushing. However, if you look at the last two pictures you'll see that's not what happened. I went over a small piece of about a 2 1/2" branch on the ground (left side of picture) at the point of origin of the leak and that appears to have been the catalyst for the failure. Even the territorial sales manager admitted that there was nothing next to the mowing path or on the ground that could have ripped out the fuel line.

    The picture of the placement of the bushings on your fuel tank and those BIG right angle connections is exactly what I was talking about in my original post. I will bring in my fittings tomorrow & try to post pictures of them so you can see the enormous difference in the design.

    On a last note, there have been posts in the past about the pickup lines inside the fuel tanks deteriorating. A local Gravely dealer admitted that to me. He said the pickup lines were made out of a different material than the fuel lines and the ethanol disolved them inside the tank. Sorry, but I have to seriously wonder if ethanol was the reason for the material change in those bushings. I doubt anyone knows the true long-term effects of ethanol on some of these lines and we may just be seeing the beginning of a trend. Not an alarmist - just trying to deal with the facts.

    Thanks to all for the support - hopefully we can help someone out there.
  7. Okielawman28

    Okielawman28 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 43

    First of all Semper Fi,

    A fellow devil dog here hopes that you get better and back to feeling like your old self. I recently baught a gravely 21" with a kaw engine and love it.

    I hope that gravley does you better than the other fella on here whos mower burned to the ground.

    Sorry to hear that you were hurt.

    I also am here in tulsa,, did you get it a BA lawn and garden.

    Get well.
  8. ProStreetCamaro

    ProStreetCamaro LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,140

    The lines inside our 34Z's tanks deteriorated and I had to replace them. Most fuel lines are not designed to be submerged in fuel so it takes a special fuel line to do that. Im not crazy about the fuel line setup on the gravelys either but we like the mowers so we keep buying them.
  9. Richard Martin

    Richard Martin LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 14,700

    I know how excruciatingly painful burns can be. I've had a few nasty ones over the years including grabbing ahold of a piece of steel that had just been welded and having acetalene blow up inside of a welding glove that was on my hand.

    I hope you get well real soon and the pain goes away quickly.
  10. Mowingman

    Mowingman LawnSite Platinum Member
    from Texas
    Posts: 4,664

    Gravely had to do a warranty repair on a lot of their ZTR's, as the rubber fuel pickup tube inside each tank would break off the fitting inside the tank. The repair involved installing a new tank bushing and new pickup tube. If the repair was done on your machine before you bought it, it is possible that the servicing dealer did not get the bushing installed into the tank properly. It was kind of tricky to get it just right. If the bushing was not inserted just right, it would pop out. It is "wedged" into place by the right angle fitting that is inserted into the bushing, which causes it to swell up and stay in place in the side of the tank. I was a dealer and did quite a few of these warranty repairs on various ZTR models. If yours had the update, it would have had "red" bushings. The originals were black as I recall.

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