There is nothing even remotely romantic about a lawnmower. Memories of first dates, first burnouts, and first breakdowns are topics of exaggerated automobile-based bench racing in any garage in Christendom and beyond, but the smell of a freshly mowed lawn merely reminds one of sweaty work out in the back 40. A few recent posts on lawn mowers, however, reminded me how much I appreciate this most underappreciated of mechanical devices. I’ve had my lawnmower since about the time I got my driver’s license, and it’s beyond time I gave it a little recognition.
One of the most memorable days of my life was April 19, 1993 – two days after my 16th birthday. A Monday. I had the retrospectively not-that-disappointing bad luck of turning 16 on the weekend, so on Monday I skipped track practice to go to the Secretary of State’s office in the drenching spring rain. My parents very hesitantly allowed me to take my mom’s ’88 Mustang GT convertible out for a ride, and I just visited a couple of friends, who seemed less excited than I was that I arrived at their respective houses as the captain of my own proverbial ship.
It was a cool car for a 16 year old to be driving. My parents still have it.
My memory is less clear regarding my lawnmower, but I know it cost $170 and my dad paid for either $70 or $100 of it. Judging by the serial number on both the mower and engine, I probably bought it right around my 16th birthday. It was a nondescript, no-frills, no-name Meijer mower, assembled by an outfit named American Yard Products, although that name appears only on the data sticker. (For those who have never heard of Meijer, it is a Michigan-based department/grocery store.) My only high school job was mowing lawns, and I only mowed a couple, my grandpa’s and his friend’s. In retrospect, showing a little more initiative during my teenage years might have paid off in the long run, but I digress.
The prior year, however, my dad’s old Roper with a chain-driven self propeller that I had been borrowing burned so much oil that he decided to sell it, leading to my heretofore only mower purchase. I was the only one home when an older guy named Al came over to take a look. It started on the first pull without one indication that the same action typically resulted in a garage-enveloping cloud of blue smoke. I decided that either I had just witnessed my first miracle or it was out of oil. Either way, Al seemed convinced, although I don’t believe that he actually shook my hand that day; I vaguely recall a protracted negotiation with my dad involving payment in silver dollars. Dad politely declined the generous cold, hard cash offer, but Al eventually did go home with the Roper AND a Toro rider dating back to the 1970s. Dad was in a lawnmower-dealing mood that year, I guess.
As I’ve already gotten far off track, it may behoove me to discuss what I like about my old mower. As I mentioned, it’s basic – it has no self-propeller, electric start, or GPS – it’s an engine with four wheels and a deck. When I bought my house in 2005, my mower came with me and has been here ever since. Granted, my lawn takes 13 minutes to mow, which encourages my mower’s longevity, but I’ve only had to do basic maintenance aside from a few small repairs. I change the oil every seven years or so. Right now, it’s running Valvoline VR1 10W30 because I had an extra quart lying around from when I was running a new flat tappet cam in my Mustang over five years ago. I replace the spark plug when the engine sounds a little funny.
One thing I have had to do is replace the fuel diaphragm. My lawn mower has an obvious tell, like a poker player, when something starts to go wrong with the fuel system – the primer bulb contracts like it’s sucking on a Sweet Tart. When that happens, either the fuel pickup in the tank is plugged or the diaphragm has gone bad. I’ve only replaced it once or twice, and it’s such an easy and inexpensive job that I don’t even mind doing it. Good old Briggs and Stratton simplicity.
The carburetor is literally mounted to the gas tank, with the diaphragm sandwiched between them. The whole thing is held together by a handful of screws and bolts – all jobs should be this easy.
After 28 years, I recently managed to smack the throttle lever on a fence or the deck or something, snapping off the handle. The replacement cost nine dollars at the local Ace Hardware. Aside from a new blade or two, with an occasional sharpening, that’s been the extent of this mower’s to-do list. I add Stabil to the gas tank in the winter, and it starts up on the first or second pull in the spring.
My longest mechanical relationship has been with my family heirloom ’65 Mustang. The smartest purchases I’ve made have been my ’65 Skylark and a ’76 Schwinn Sting-Ray. The smartest thing I’ve ever done was marrying my lovely bride. But my AYP (Link to short blurb on corporate history here.) from 1993 deserves a lot of credit for its reliability and for being something I don’t mind walking behind for 28 years.
Sometimes, my two longest lasting mechanical relationships have worked together; while I had my Mustang partially torn apart again in the summer of 1995, I threw my mower in the trunk to get to my “jobs,” such as they were.
Sure, I’ll stick to my assertion that there’s nothing romantic about a lawnmower. It’s an appliance. But as much as mowing the lawn is a chore, I can still think back on my awkward teenage years, a little of that time spent mowing, listening to the Doors’ The Soft Parade album on headphones and a cassette before I knew it was generally considered the worst Doors album, or the Eagles’ Greatest Hits Volume One before I realized that I didn’t really like the Eagles all that much. I can dream about those days in the yard doing mediocre bodywork and going to my first “real” job as a Target cart attendant in the evenings. I can think about graduation, not knowing what to do with my life, buying a house, getting married, owning too many old cars at one time, and being mad about my neighbor’s dead tree hanging over my roof. My rose-colored lawnmower’s been there for all of that. Not bad for not really having a name.