Recalling lawnmowers — old and new
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.”