The Immortal Lawn Mower


Down here in the Deep South the mosquitoes, wisteria, Johnson grass and ragweed all seem to explode at about the same time. We therefore have an annual springtime ritual at my house. The perennial question is whether this might be the year the old lawn mower finally gives up the ghost.

I inherited this high-mileage thing from my grandfather, who died back in the 1990s. There’s no telling how long he had used it before he passed. My grandfather was a legendary specimen. He played tackle on his college football team and worked full time into his seventies. In addition to his lawn mower, I also inherited his rarefied work ethic. It has successfully carried me through five careers thus far.

That would make this lawn mower at least 30 years old. When my grandfather bought it, this was the cheapest, smallest model the local hardware store had in stock. It sports a 3.5-horsepower American-made Briggs and Stratton motor and a pressed steel chassis. I like it because it isn’t festooned with all that frustrating safety stuff with which trial lawyers have cursed us. That and because it belonged to my grandfather.

That little mower is legitimately indestructible. In the decades I have owned it I have replaced all four wheels and infrequently changed the oil. I have had to rebuild the pull cord a couple of times, but that’s really about it.
Appreciate the history of this thing. It sat outside in Alaska under a blue tarp for three years. One year we got 144 inches of snow. The coldest it got was 62 degrees below zero. Throughout it all that little mower just waited, anxiously anticipating the first good cut of springtime. Every spring it started on the first pull.

It’s tough to kill those simple little lawn mowers. This is an actual photo of my grandfather’s mower.

A Dark Portent

Today was different. I tugged until I was spent and moped around thinking I was finally going to have to bin my trusty pal. It’s not the expense. I just didn’t want to navigate seventeen different safety protocols to cut my grass. That and I really like using my grandfather’s lawn mower. Just for giggles, I took the thing apart.

The air filter was gone. It wasn’t clogged, defective or out of date. The foam rubber had simply disintegrated. That meant the engine incrementally ate the air filter over the years and spit it out the back. It has apparently been sucking up raw grass and dirt and such for several years now without slowing down. The insides were caked with literally decades of grunge. Imagine an M16A1 rifle after running a couple thousand rounds on full auto if you want a decent mental picture. It was just filthy.

I cleaned out its entrails, primed it manually and it started on the third tug. I then proceeded to cut the grass with it. Throughout it all, this indestructible little machine just kept sucking detritus up into its carburetor. I don’t wish to anthropomorphize unduly, but the compact contrivance seemed almost happy.

We had another mower that we bought, used, and wore out during the time we have consistently employed this one. We live in a literal rugged jungle. There’s nothing even remotely flat about my yard. It’s not really a yard. It’s more just a piece of forest from which we sort-of beat back the trees. It is full of roots, rocks, and, believe it or not, ample petrified wood. Throughout it all, that little lawn mower just keeps right on chugging along.

My yard actually looks a bit like this. Kunal Shinde.

Just Getting Started

I plan to find it a new air filter, and I did change the oil again today. What came out of it looked like roofing tar. When I install the new filter, I’ll likely tidy its insides up a bit and maybe sharpen the blade.

The competent small engine repairmen in the audience will no doubt take umbrage at the wanton neglect I have visited upon my trusty hand-me-down grass cutter. I honestly have little to say for myself by way of defense. It was rank laziness more than anything. However, you really can’t argue with results.

With a little tweaking maybe it’ll be good for another 30 years. Nothing really seems unduly worn, just filthy. I’ll drag it out for as long as I’m able if nothing else so I don’t have to put up with a generous plastic guard over the muffler and a childproof safety lock on the gas cap. Like my grandfather, they just don’t make them like they used to.

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