The Lawnmower Chronicles – Episode 6

Jonas has mowed my home lawn for the past two sessions. Nothing spectacular. One time I wasn’t even at home The second time I was working on the back porch on some meaningless task that time will swallow up and digest into the maw of inconsequential eternity. But the lawn that was preying on my mind was the one on my 20-acre property out in the hills. It’s a nice remote spot – off the grid, with only one other person living within sight. The view from my elevated porch is beautiful. I wish I spent more time up there. Actually, I wish I lived there, but that’s another story altogether.

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It has been two years since the last time I mowed the section that I mow. Most of the open field is hayed by a local farming corporation, but I keep a section behind the tree line mowed. For this I have had a riding mower for the past 10 years perhaps, and it has done yeoman service.

I finally got a day dedicated to going up to the land and mowing. I knew it was going to be a challenge, having neglected the property for two years. Sure enough, things were bad. The ramp leading up to the storage shed was pretty rotted out, and I had trouble getting the warped shed doors open. I found a spare piece of 1/4″ plywood to act as a replacement ramp, got the doors open, and managed to gently ease the mower out. I had already decided that the battery was going to be useless, so I came armed with a replacement battery, which I proceeded to try to install.

Let’s keep in mind that I am not the world’s handiest man. Machinery and I respect each other, and I can handle most tools OK, but only for small jobs. So, while installing a battery is a job I am capable of handling, it’s the details that become an issue. The first detail was how to connect the battery posts to the wires. Immediately I saw that I had purchased the wrong size connectors. They were too small for the thicker ends of the batter wires. They wouldn’t work. So a trip to the local grocery/hardware/deli IGA store got me some connectors which were clearly larger. A little too big, it turned out. So I used my heavy duty pliers to cramp the ends, hoping the wire inside would make a strong connection to the battery. Thinking I had accomplished this task, I placed the battery back in its compartment, sat on the seat, and turned the key. Nothing.

A few more turns of the key netted the same result – nothing. Not a cough, a whisper, a hint of any engine life. Mind you, I had not expected the thing to start, but I had expected the thing to turn over and make some sputtering sounds. So “nothing” was not a good sign. I then made some feeble attempts at trying to pull start the beast, but that was futile as well. Day 1 came to a close with me scratching my head and wondering what Plan B was going to be – everything from buying a brand-new lawn tractor to hiring the job out.

Day 2 was spent driving around town trying other options. A stop at the local small engine repair shop and a chat with John held out some hope. He was three weeks behind in his repair schedule, so if I brought it in I could expect not to get the beast back for three weeks. A check of Craigslist revealed no decent used options for sale. A drive around to various locations revealed a few used machines for sale, but at one place the merchandise was decidedly overpriced, and at the second the merchandise was decidedly suspect. I knew I was going to have to get fresh gas anyway, so I accomplished that task in the meantime, buying the ethanol-free 91 octane version, which is much better for small engine carburetors.

Back on the land with the beast, I dumped out the old gas, and put in the fresh gas. John suggested trying to trickle in some fresh gas either through the air filter or the spark plug hole. I opened up the air filter and sort of dusted it off, but could not find any place to trickle gas. I removed the spark plug, gave it what little cleaning I could, doused it in the fresh gas, trickled a bit into the spark plug hole, and replaced the spark plug. The I went to check the battery.

Come to find out that the battery wires were not being held into the connectors very well, and so no contact was being made between cable and battery. This immediately explained the nothingness of yesterday. I had fooled myself into thinking I had solved that problem. Not so. After looking at the problem for about 3 minutes, I decided that rather than put the wires back into the connectors and try to re-crimp them, I would use the flat end of the connector to press the bare wires against the post. To do this I had to spread the wires apart a bit to go around the screw. Once I completed this method, I once again replaced the battery into its compartment and once again turned the ignition key.

Immediately the engine began to sputter and turn over. Now I knew it was a life-and-death struggle between clearing out the remainder of the old gas in the carburetor and hoping the new battery would have enough juice to keep firing away. Setting the choke to full, some sputtering, a couple of backfires, unchoking, re-choking, and eventually the roar of the engine!

A sense of relief combined with an immense sense of satisfaction at having solved a mechanical issue swept across me. So many of the things I do in life now I can do well and with little trouble, so conquering the challenge of fixing a problem in an area where I don’t generally do well brought a measure of pleasure and satisfaction that is hard to describe. These days, real pure joy is hard to come by for me, but this moment was one of pure joy. I let the engine run for about five minutes, just sitting on the beast, both elated and somewhat stupefied that it was running and purring like a kitten.

I finally engaged the blades (no problem), put the beast in gear, and let it rip. With the blades up at their highest level, the tall grass surrendered to the vicious sharpness (?) of the blades. I cut down a good portion of the “lawn,” re-opened the driveway, leveled the gravel parking pad, and just cut through a few walking paths for the time being in the second section of the lawn. After 90 minutes of cutting, the place looked much better.

I get a lot of joy out of riding on the mower and cutting this remote lawn. There is nothing out there but me, the machine, the surrounding countryside and its views, and the solitude. I had come to miss that over the past two years, but I hadn’t realized how much until I was riding and mowing once more. When I mow this lawn, I always feel as if it’s the only job I have in life, the only thing I need to be doing at all.

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