2012-05-17 / News

From the Braver Institute

“You’ll never guess what I saw,” I said as I barged into the office of my research assistant, Felicity Zolar, who looked up from her desk with the look of anyone who is asked a stupid question like that. I was a little surprised that she was even in her office since she always seems to be out doing “research” on something (I suspect 50’s and 60’s home decor items).

“You’re right,” she said, “I’ll never guess.”

“I saw a guy pushing a reel mower!”

“So what’s the big deal about that? I have a reel mower.”

“No, no, no. Not a real mower—RE A-L, a reel mower—R-E-E-L.”

“I know. I have a reel mower—R-EE L.”

“Oh really? Well anyway I saw a guy pushing one and I haven’t seen one in a long time.”

“Don’t you have to write about Bruce Springsteen or something? I have work to do,” said Felicity as she went back to her research on teal bathroom tile and ignored my presence.

Now I have made no bones about how much I hate mowing my lawn and how I would gladly pave my yard and paint it green if I could afford it, but the whole idea of a reel mower kind of intrigued me.

I didn’t always hate lawn mowing, you know. I can remember begging my grandpa to let me mow the grass in the yard of my grandparent’s farm.

I remember wishing that we had a lawn to mow back at home. You see, where I grew up near Lake Superior there was nothing but beach sand. If you wanted a lawn, you had to bring it in yourself—clay, topsoil, and sod. Although my dad thought that horse manure might be a good start for a lawn and we hauled trailer load after trailer load of the stuff from my uncle’s farm in Skandia. For one entire summer our neighborhood smelled like a barnyard, and all of the kids living there hated me because of it.

Anyway, that was the basis for what would become our lawn.

In a few years there actually was a small quantity of grass that grew. It was green, it was all over the yard where the manure had been spread, and it grew. Even though it was very thin, it was unsightly when it wasn’t mowed.

My dad had been given an old mower by my uncle, and it ran well enough to mow the lawn now and then, but it had problems and would seldom start. I don’t think my parents could justify the cost of fixing it, let alone buying a new mower, but I wanted to mow.

One day I was mowing the grass at my great-grandmother’s house, when I noticed that she had an old reel mower in her tool shed. Since she had a nice gas mower I figured that she might no longer want the reel mower, so I asked her if I could have it, and she said yes.

I was on top of the world. Not only was I able to mow the lawn, but I would be the only kid in the neighborhood with a reel mower.

The mower did need a little work to get it functioning properly. The blades of the mower were turned via a ring and pinion gear system in the wheels. When the mower was pushed forward, the blades turned, and when it was pulled backward, they didn’t. This system used a centrifugal dog mechanism that would disengage the gears when it rolled backward. It would seem that it had been pulled backward the last time it moved, and then sat that way for years. The blades no longer engaged when the mower was pushed forward.

I took the wheel assembly apart, and cleaned and lubed everything inside. I think it was the first mechanical thing outside of a bicycle that I had ever fixed.

The reel mower had a sort of Tom Sawyer whitewash effect on the other kids in the neighborhood—they all wanted to try it out. I think it was three weeks before I was able to mow the lawn myself.

And that is the way I mowed for years, or at least until I started working in a hardware store.

At the hardware store I was introduced to lawn care products. I learned all about fertilizer and grass seed. I bought as much of these products as I could afford, and actually coaxed what could pass for a lawn out that sand and manure.

That is when I learned the downside of my reel mower. The thin grass of the past was easy to mow, but now that the grass was thicker, it became rather difficult to push the mower through. In some areas you had to get a good running start and hit it with full force. If you didn’t, the grass would bog down the blades and you would stop abruptly. As a bonus, the handle bar of the mower would smash into your stomach.

Just like that, novelty of the reel mower was gone, and with it forever went my desire to have a lawn to mow.

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Waye Braver can be contacted on Facebook or by e-mail at waye@braverinstitute.com

Visit the Braver Institute at www.braverinsitute.com

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