I love to mow, and mow a lot. This could be a conflict with my alter-ego, Pazlo the Philosopher, who would think that cutting the grass is egregious to the Earth. That may be true, but the lawn was there before I came along, and there’s a certain social pressure to keep your dwelling space from looking abandoned or condemned. So, I cave to fashion, and slash away at the defenseless grass, often with zeal. I must admit I apologize to the grass sometimes, and when Pazlo sneaks into my brain I still consider the grass’s point of view, though I don’t take my foot off the Go pedal while doing so. Technically, I guess I could quit the world and go live under a bridge, which is where my wife would send me if I didn’t mow the lawn. So mow I must.
As a new homeowner, in 1986, my first summer at the Ark, I had the vigor of a 26-year-old, and thought I could mow three acres with a push mower. I quickly came to the conclusion that my sons would need to learn to push the mower. They were home all day anyway in the summer, right? Okay, so that didn’t go so well either, maybe because the oldest was 10. I began a search for a riding mower.
By search, I mean I had to first start saving some money. (Only rich people had credit cards back then. Diner’s Club mostly. You had to put the card on a thingy that would scrape over the top and grab the card numbers on carbon paper ((google it if you need to)). That’s why some credit cards still have embossed numbers, although I bet there isn’t a cashier alive that knows where the machine is or how to use it if the internet card reader goes down. But I digress.)
After pooling some dough over the course of half a dozen paychecks, I was on a keen lookout for a used riding mower that could be had for $280. I’d go $300, but didn’t have it yet. I was lucky at the time to be a cable television technician, and therefore drove around the service area for installations and trouble calls and outages. One fine June day, I saw it. Parked on the lawn of a farm on Barnerville Road down in Howe’s Cave. A very used Cub Cadet 105.
I stopped right away, fisted the $280 dollars at the guy before asking if it ran or listening to him introduce himself. He said I didn’t need to come back next week with the $20, he’d accept $280 (which was close to two weeks’ pay at the time). We (the sons and I) ran the daylights out of that thing. It couldn’t be stopped, even when the grass was a foot tall. It was big for a riding mower. Tall, big tires, a wide mowing deck. Ah, but good things never last.
Finally, after a few years of growing up and earning money, I appropriated a tax return to go buy our first brand new riding mower. It came from the Farm And Family store, which is now a Tractor Supply Company store. If I recall, it took a whopping $599 plus tax to procure the shiny, single-cylinder, 32″- decked machine of our dreams. Life was good for a while with the little green tractor. It wasn’t the most ergonomic I’ve driven, and was an entry level mower with a manual transmission. Still it cut right along for a few years until the shifter started acting funny and sticky. One good yank and it broke right off.
By now, I’d had enough years to come to know something about such machinery. Tractors, mowers. The real difference between an entry-level Monkey Wards kinda riding mower and a mid-sized, two-cylinder garden tractor like the old 105. So this time I set out to look for a good tractor with a big deck and a hydrostatic transmission, enabling one to simply press the pedal, forward or reverse, no clutches or breaking shift levers required.
I went right to the dealer. No retail store mower for me. A place that could service and repair my machine. And deliver it, since it wouldn’t fit in the cable van. Being from farm country, there are a few names that mean real. Allis-Chalmers, Deutz-Allis, International Harvester, Case, Ford, White, McCormick, Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson. And between the reds, whites and blues of the competition, populating nearly every farm one passed, was the singularly green of the green John Deere. That’s what I would have. A real John Deere.
I selected the LA120. A 22 horsepower twin-cylinder engine, a 42″ wide mowing deck, a hydrostatic transmission, a manual PTO, and available attachments. I would save a little and buy the snowblower attachment, and ditch the walk-behind snowthrower. This green and yellow beauty was delivered to my driveway, dealer-prepped, and we were off on a ten year love affair. We mowed more lawn than the Ark had known previously. Stretched the south lawn another 50 yards to the east. We made and maintained a trail system that encompassed a mile of pathways, a rifle range, and two R/C Airplane runways.
It toted around, in its little garden wagon, my own kinder garten consisting of all six grandchildren born during its tenure. It was driven (and perhaps borrowed) by one of the sons originally slated to grow into a pushmower job, as he toted his own children around the heaping pile at our annual Leaf Pile Party. It was a go cart for tween girls and teen boys, and raced about at top speed, even in the snow.
Tires were flattened frequently, cavorting over old farmland, trails to the woods, fields previously tilled for corn, and places where there once stood chicken coops and sheds. I bought “Slime” inner tubes for her. These are tubes filled with a self-sealing gunk (or Slime, if you prefer). Never had a flat after that. After six or seven years of hard service, the anchor points for the spindles began to rust through on the deck. I bought a new replacement deck (something you won’t find for your Farm & Family mower). Ran that for a couple years. This machine is serviceable. Picked up blades right in the Home Depot. Deck belts, too. Ordered a replacement steering gear from GreenPartsDirect online. (Yes, we drove it so much we wore the teeth off the steering gear) One day, I went to start it and heard a snap, a decidedly metallic one, and the engine wouldn’t run. Luckily, I have my own certified small engine mechanic in son-in-law Matt. I bought two new heads and some pushrods, and Matt brought my Deere back to life!
There gets to be a tipping point between a man and his machine. Like a cowboy and his faithful steed, knowing the day will come when we can no longer gallop and rope and ride, and we each of us must go out to pasture. On a fine June Saturday, no doubt a day not dissimilar to when I first laid eyes on the old 105, I pressed the Reverse Implement Operation button to back up, and when I stepped on the Go pedal, she shut right down. I surmised it was a safety switch somewhere in the wiring harness. Maybe the one related to the RIO button, designed to help prevent you from backing over rocks and dogs and children and the like. Well, after a good cry, I realized Old Green had reached the end of her trail. She’d worked tirelessly, long and hard hours, for about every member of our family. I think her clock was approaching 800 hours.
I purchased a new lawn tractor the next week. I called Mr. Jackson, the Mower Man, who also drove the school bus for my children, and subsequently grandchildren that would board the bus at Mam & Pop’s house. I had, “on the lawn”, also Ryan’s old White rider whose wiring was fried, and a little red Craftsman riding mower I had purchased used to cover for the Deere while Matt rebuilt the engine. Would Mr. Jackson be interested in my mower collection, Ryan asked him a few weeks ago. Why yes, of course, he said, and made his way to the ranch with his own son to load up. I wasn’t there when he did so, and when next I arrived home I saw the White and Craftsman gone, but Old Green still sat, looking forlornly toward her former home, the cabana, and wondering about the shiny new machine under the cover.
The next Saturday, Mr. Jackson pulled into the driveway. He had to come back and ask. Ryan had said “Dad wants all those old mowers gone.”, but Mr. Jackson needed to hear it from me for himself; did I really mean the John Deere, too? Yes, I replied, wiping a tear on my sleeve, pretending a gnat had flown into my eye. He insisted on giving me something for it. No, no, I declined, I appreciate your clearing them away for me. Well, I like to feel I gave something, he repeated, looking at Old Green, and I could hear the undertone, “for Heaven’s sake man, are you in your right mind? It’s a John Deere!” Okay, I said, for his peace of mind, and grudgingly pocketed what strangely felt like thirty pieces of silver. I watched as they loaded her on the truck. I watched from the seat of my new mower as I returned to my lawn work, I watched long and fixedly, and spoke to her under my breath, a bon voyage.
In a couple of days, as I drove down Chestnut street, a familiar bright green machine called out to me from Mr. Jackson’s lawn. Probably an easy fix, I thought, just a switch. For a moment I was tempted, now that she was up and running again, to stop in and buy her back. I resisted the temptation, repeating my mantra about getting older and not leaving a whole pile of junk for your children to clean up when you die. I would not be tormented long. As you might guess, that green machine was gone in two days. I can feel good about part of the saga. I can hope some poor young guy who took on too much lawn but didn’t have too much money went driving down the road one fine June day, and saw her. A real John Deere. And I can hope, and will choose to believe, that Mr. Jackson put a price on it of $280.
Take care and keep in touch,