Re­call­ing lawn­mow­ers — old and new

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - COMMUNITY - JERRY NI­CHOLS Colum­nist Edi­tor’s note: Jerry Ni­chols, a na­tive of Pea Ridge, is an award-win­ning colum­nist, a re­tired Methodist min­is­ter with a pas­sion for his­tory, mem­ber of the Pea Ridge Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion and vice pres­i­dent of the Pea Ridge His­tor­i­cal

Lawn mow­ing is big busi­ness. I’m of­ten im­pressed with the num­ber of pick up trucks I see pulling trail­ers loaded down with mow­ers, trim­mers, edgers and other lawn care tools. Even in our one neigh­bor­hood, there must be at least a dozen lawn ser­vices reg­u­larly mow­ing lawns for the folks who live here. These machines are not the kind of $100 to $200 lawn mow­ers that I have used most of my time over the past 50 years. These are multi-thou­sand dol­lar machines, with as much power as the Ford trac­tor we once farmed our land with in the 1950s, out­fit­ted with many cut­ting blades, and able to cut as wide a swath as our old horse-drawn field mower used to cut in the hay field. I know from vis­it­ing with friends who of­fer lawn mow­ing and other lawn care ser­vices that sus­tain­ing a lawn care busi­ness is a ma­jor fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment and a sig­nif­i­cant man­age­ment chal­lenge.

So far, I have pretty much been one to mow my own lawn. I started mow­ing our lawn at home on the farm when I was about 8 years old. I am now 77 years old, so I have nearly 70 years ex­pe­ri­ence at mow­ing grass. Some of these days I may have to re­sort to pay­ing some­one to mow my grass, but so far I like to do it my­self. Ac­tu­ally, I like to do it my­self in al­most any area of work or main­te­nance, but ex­pe­ri­ence has also taught me that there isn’t time enough to do ev­ery­thing, there are some things I don’t know how to do, and there are other things I’m not equipped to do. So, I have to rely on hir­ing some of my things done. Some­day I’ll have to leave the mow­ing to oth­ers, but not yet.

As I mowed our lawn early this week, I was con­tem­plat­ing “lay­ing by” the lawn for this year. Af­ter I fin­ished mow­ing, I even gave my mower a good win­ter­iz­ing clean­ing un­der the deck, as though I was hop­ing not to have to run it again for awhile. That will prob­a­bly be wish­ful think­ing, since usu­ally we have to keep the mower in run­ning con­di­tion even through win­ter­time.

I’ve been think­ing about the mower we used for mow­ing our lawn when I was a boy. Our old push mower was of course the stan­dard reel-type mower that was com­mon in those days. The reel blades were whirled by gears pow­ered by the two large drive wheels on each side of the mower. Like many machines in those days, it was not mo­tor pow­ered, but pow­ered by trac­tion wheels which. To push and op­er­ate the lawn­mower was a sign that I was get­ting to be a big boy, and I liked to do stuff that I was get­ting big enough to do, even if it was work. Our mower had a wooden han­dle with wooden grips which you held onto as you pushed and guided the mower. Some peo­ple had rub­ber-tired push mow­ers. I thought of those as Deluxe mow­ers. Ours had metal drive wheels. I learned early on how to ad­just the reel blade clear­ance in re­la­tion to the fixed straight sheer blade at the bot­tom of the mower. If the ad­just­ment was too loose, with too much clear­ance, the blades didn’t sheer the grass well. If the ad­just­ment was too tight, the blades scraped against each other and made the mower hard to push. When I had the ad­just­ments right, I could start a swath at the up­per end of our lawn, near the road, and come down­hill at a run, throw­ing grass as high as my head. So far as I know, old mow­ers of that type are rarely used these days, although you might see one in a mu­seum. We ac­tu­ally have one of the old push mow­ers in our Pea Ridge Mu­seum, in very nice shape, af­ter be­ing re­con­di­tioned and do­nated by Jerry Putman. The other day some of our vol­un­teers were talk­ing about us­ing it to cut the grass, but I doubt they would go very far with that idea.

In the 1950s, we be­gan see­ing in the Mont­gomeryWard Cat­a­log a new gas­mo­tor lawn­mower. It was still a reel-type mower, but in­stead of be­ing trac­tion­driven, it had a small Briggs & Stratton mo­tor sit­ting up top to power the reel. My Dad would never or­der one. He said it turned the reel too fast, and if some­thing got caught in the blades they would be bent and ru­ined. I guess that was prob­a­bly true. We were al­ways get­ting sticks or rocks caught in the blades and stalling the mower, but they never did any real harm. We just cleared them and went on. Also in the 1950s, we be­gan see­ing ro­tary mow­ers on the mar­ket. Some were elec­tric, re­quir­ing long ex­ten­sion cords to op­er­ate. Most had gas mo­tors, some with blades mounted on ver­ti­cal mo­tor shafts, and many with belts con­nect­ing a large up­right mo­tor to a blade shaft on the deck out front. Things were get­ting mod­ern, and “la­bor-sav­ing” was “in.”


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