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My lawnmower, my source of pride

| Sunday, July 20, 2008

After watching me cut my grass with my old lawnmower, my friend and neighbor, Dave, recently asked my wife why she wouldn't let me get a new mower. My wife explained to Dave that he had it all wrong. You see, I would do almost anything to keep my old lawnmower.

Over the years, it has grown to be more than just a lawnmower to me. At one time it was a source of income. Now, it's simply a source of pride.

I purchased my lawnmower in 1978, when I was 16 years old. My brother had a friend named Walt, and Walt's dad would find old Lawn Boy mowers, fix them up and sell them. I went to Walt's house, and like picking through a litter of pedigree puppies, looked over his used lawnmower lot. I paid Walt's dad $50 for a basic 19-inch mower with no bells or whistles. The front wheels were white and the back wheels were green, but that didn't matter. It ran, and that's all I cared about. This mower was going to help me earn money for college by cutting as many of the neighbors' lawns as possible.

Well, college came and went. The mower was even used on a few of the more elderly neighbors' lawns into my professional career because I couldn't say no to them.

In 1989, I got married and moved out of my parents' house and into my own. Of course, the mower came with me. Because my wife and I were just starting out on our own, we didn't have a lot of money, so we planned to keep the mower until we could afford a new one. After all, it still ran.

Here it is, 2008, and the mower is still running. Sure, I replaced the reed valve and the piston in the early '90s (that cost me another $50), and last year one of the wheels fell off. But after 30 years together, it's hard to part with the machine that starts on the first pull every spring, even though the gas in the tank had been congealing all winter and the spark plug probably was new during the Reagan administration.

In the past six years, both my parents and my in-laws moved out of their suburban homes and into "no maintenance" patio homes. As a result, I inherited two lawnmowers. One is a newer-model Lawn Boy that I keep for parts, just in case. The other is a big, heavy, self-propelled Snapper that simply collects dust in my shed and jabs me in the ribs every time I get out my old Lawn Boy.

When the wheel fell off my old Lawn Boy last year, I was afraid that it might spell the end of our relationship. Another friend, Rick, and his neighbor, Mark -- all part of the Lawn Boy Network -- came through with parts. Rick had three old Lawn Boys sitting in his backyard. Rick and I walked into Mark's garage, and he pulled out a box of Lawn Boy parts that would have made Fred Sanford proud.

Mark, whom I had never met before, spent an hour-and-a-half with me and Rick trying to fix my broken wheel. He then treated us to a tour of his shed, complete with separate parking stalls for his two Lawn Boys. It seems like Lawn Boy owners enjoy a sort of secret unwritten fellowship, one that my neighbor, Dave, and most wives do not understand.

Sometimes when I'm mowing the lawn, I find myself singing a little ode to my lawnmower (after it is confirmed that there are no humans within earshot). It is sung to the tune of "Me and My Arrow" by Harry Nilsson. It goes like this:

Me and my mower

Do-do-loo-do, do-do do-do do do

Faster, or slower

Wherever we go, everyone knows

It's me and my mower

Do-do-loo-do, do-do do-do do do

My oldest son is now 13 and is starting to take over the chore of cutting the grass. To him, my mower is just another machine that is used to accomplish a task. He wonders why we don't use the self-propelled Snapper sitting in the shed. Maybe some day he will understand, but he doesn't now.

I don't imagine there is such a thing as a lawnmower hall of fame, but if there were, I'm sure my old mower would be a unanimous choice for induction. The story of 30-plus years of mowing lawns would rival Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive major league baseball games.

Over the years, I have gotten some looks from passers-by, and I know my neighbors wonder why I still use this old "piece of junk." The answer is simple: I'm an engineer.

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