Thank you (DAC?) I do have one of the guards, but with a different engine i also will have to adapt it.
Also noticed that the brake pedal is stiff. It isn't the rear mechanism. Once I got the sheet metal off I could see the whole thing and by hand I could adjust it very easily. The pedal seems to be the problem.
And, lastly, the mower deck belt (serpentine) is missing and two fo the pulleys for the blades are seized. I sprayed them. Also broke off almost every bolt that holds the belt cover on the mower deck. ARGH! I'm hoping that can be fixed with something from the hardware store.
Yes DAC is what I go by, my initials. Just in case you didn't see it, that pedal is also the clutch so you are trying to move the vari-speed pulley and the tensioner pulley on the right side before the brake engages. If anything over there is frozen or sticky it will increase the pedal effort greatly. There is a grease zirk in there and some fresh grease may help. The center shiv in the vari-drive pulley should slide back and forth easily but with a belt in there and engine not running it doesn't move well at all.
I think I've heard some John Deeres have vari-drive systems so maybe a pulley off of one of them will work.
On the cutting deck, yours is much different than mine, but there should be bearing numbers in a sticky thread above here on the MF page. I did have to take my belt covers off as they would pack up with small twigs and burn on the belt.
Good luck and keep us posted---DAC