Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine. A police officer, working in the small town that he lives in, focusing on family and shooting and coffee, and occasionally putting some people in jail.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The most useless crop we harvest.

Here in N. Texas, the wheat is just now turned gold, with the heavy heads on the stalks pointing like armies of weather vanes the direction of the wind. In a week or so, farmers in air-conditioned combines with iPods jacked into the stereo systems will come along and cut, thresh, and truck away the sweet yellow kernels, to be ground and processed into HoHos, microwave pizza crusts, and Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O noodles.

God bless America.

But for every farmer harvesting a few sections* of wheat, there are a thousand or more clerks, cops, and pole dancers harvesting their own crops in their front yards. While occasionally that crop may contain edibles such as dandelions, onion, nettle, rye, and clover, it is typically wasted by either being left on the ground or bagged and discarded. Sure, some hippies and Martha Stewart wanna-bes may actually compost it, but for the most part, it's a wasteful proposition.

I speak, of course, to the issue of grass.

The American Dream seems to include owning a home. We pity those who must reside in multi-family dwellings, unless they're penthouse apartments with names like "Phillip Drummond" on the mail box, or with a manservant named Mr. French. But there's a catch. If you want the house and a yard, you must tend the grounds. There is thus a running joke among home owners that they all gave up their weekends when they purchased a house.

Pity most the house renter, who does not even enjoy the privileges of ownership, but must keep up the house and yard that he occupies. As a renter, he is not likely to feel that it is worth investing in higher-quality lawn maintenance equipment, and thus he toils in the yard with substandard, often badly used and abused, mowers and trimmers.

I am now a house renter. And I found in the back yard, after some searching amongst waist-high weeds, an old mower. I bent my back toward the task of making it run, but after an afternoon, many calories, and all of my vocabulary of curse words had been expended, I admitted defeat; I could not get it to stay running.

So we bought a used mower, for $20. I mowed the yard a few times with it, but really-- we got what we paid for it. It too failed.

And finally, with weeds and grass getting to an embarrassing level (we do have Code Enforcement in this town, and I was about to become the object of its attention), I said to my wife: "Enough. I'm a grown-ass man. I don't need anyone else's second-hand mowers. Not anymore." And I went to Sears, and bought a Craftsman Easy Walk push mower with a new Briggs & Stratton 6.75hp 4 stroke engine ("NOTE: Not to be sold in California!") with a mere 21" cutting blade, but with rear-wheel-drive variable speed self-propulsion, optional bagging/mulching/side-discharge, self-cleaning feature with hookup for the hose to the deck, and (wow!) electric key start with pull-cord backup. Complete with recharger cord for the on-board battery, dust-free grass-catching bag, and a quart of oil to put into it. With a moment's hesitation, I bought the 3 year warranty. I'm hard on lawn mowers.

It didn't last the day.

I got that bad boy running with the first little turn of the key. I slew weeds and grass alike in all directions, until I went through a particularly arduous chunk of heavy green, and... "CHUNK."

I backed out, cleared the blades, dumped the grass from the full bag (why the hell was I bagging this? My wife had visions of a compost pile...), and turned the key. It merrily spun away, without catching. I checked the spark plug wire. I spun it again. I checked the blade. Was it bent that way before? Heck, I don't know. I took it off, and pounded it flatter. I put it back on. It still didn't start. "It's not supposed to be this hard," I thought as the ninety-something degree sun beat down on my dusty, sweaty back. And then it struck me: it's not that hard. I bought this bad boy today. At a reputable retail joint.

I loaded the mower and it's accouterments into the back of the car. I drove back into town. I went to the register at Sears, and told them what happened. Their eyes widened. "Do you have your receipt?" they asked. Of course I did. "We'll send some guys out to your car to get the mower," they said. "Do you want cash or credit?"

"I want a mower," I responded. "And frankly, I have to believe that this was a fluke. Just give me another one of the same kind."

I was out of there in 10 minutes, with a new mower. I'll say this for Sears-- they back their Craftsman line, with no questions. That kind of service is probably what's keeping Sears' head above water.

I'm charging the battery fully now. We'll see how this goes.

*A "section" is a unit of land that is 1 mile square, and is composed of 640 acres. ** Thus, if we know that a mile is 5280 feet long, we can easily derive the square footage of an acre ((5280^2)/640). It would be a better world if everyone knew these things.

**Edited to remove incorrect statement.

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At Sunday, May 25, 2008 5:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not filling me with warm fuzzy feelings regarding my current efforts of trying to get the damn green stuff to grow in our dust bowl out back. (Two days of this weekend devoted to it so far - next weekend is back to carpentry. I'm so happy I could snap I tell ya.)

Oh well, if we can get it going well enough to survive the dogs, at least we won't be watching dust devils playing six feet from the back door when the wind kicks up.

Word verification: hmvqdnvq - Isn't that the company that makes the really good chainsaws and mowers and such?

At Sunday, May 25, 2008 5:31:00 PM, Blogger TattoedIntellectual said...

I read often, but don't tend to post. My sister and I have a manual/push mower, and I love it. Eventually we'll get the catcher on it and compost (yep, we're a bunch of hippies but the compost works great in the garden), for right now it just chops everything up and lays it back down. The only thing that sucks is the fact that it won't actually cut down a dandelion.

At Sunday, May 25, 2008 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Snigglefrits said...

I wouldn't buy another Kenmore appliance from Sears, but I've always been happy with Craftsman. I've got one of their riding mowers that's 24 years old and still cutting. Hope your 2nd go around with the push mower is the charm.

At Sunday, May 25, 2008 10:15:00 PM, Blogger FarmGirl said...

Matt... some of us come from where acreage is more understandable than square footage.

I, for instance, have an easier time figuring how many critters I can put on a particular acreage than how big a house with so many square feet actually is, once you get inside.

At Monday, May 26, 2008 7:53:00 AM, Blogger Rogue Medic said...

I have always disliked mowing lawns. I would rather pay someone to do that for me.

Even if money is scarce. There are other, less unpleasant ways for me to make up what it costs. The other passe thing that I used to do all of the time, is work on my car.

Too little room in the engine compartment and too much of that is computerized.

At Monday, May 26, 2008 8:40:00 AM, Blogger breda said...

We're trying to find some reasonably attractive ground cover. I hate grass. I think it's stupid - it doesn't do anything.

At Monday, May 26, 2008 2:22:00 PM, Blogger Rogue Medic said...


It does one thing. It demands attention. In some places, by law. :-)

At Monday, May 26, 2008 5:04:00 PM, Blogger Rabbit said...

Geez, I'd have lent you my Yazoo if I'd have known. Jeebus knows the Incubus won't mow with it here and I didn't put that new Honda motor on it for my health.

You're right about Craftsman mowers and the warranty. I had one that was 2 years and 8 months into a 3 month warranty and it dropped a valve- actually, the valve head came off the stem. They replaced the engine with a new one, on a mower I paid $99 for.



At Monday, May 26, 2008 9:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm...80 squared is 6400, vice 640. A square section of 640 would be 25(and a skosh) acres a side. Somewhere the math fails to work properly)
At 640 to the mile squared, an acre works out at 43560 sq ft (about 210 ft square)

At Monday, May 26, 2008 9:44:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

You're absolutely right, Anonymous, and the post has been changed to reflect that. TEN sections would be 80 acres to a side. Foolish of me, as I know that the square of 25 is 625.

As for your math of the square footage of an acre, you are correct. (as was I.)

At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 3:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I hate wasting time cutting grass that is just going to grow back again (until we return to drought conditions). But I have found a way to make it tolerable and even fun on occasion. The secret is the regular application of cold beer.

You might also try checking with your local mower repair to see if he has any deals on used riding mowers.

At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 5:03:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just FYI.
When you hit something hard enough to bend the blade, you most likely sheared the timing key between the flywheel and crankshaft. This is designed as a "weak link" in order to protect the major components of the engine. When it shears, your spark is not happening at the correct time in the engine rotation, hence no start. A simple repair if you are familiar with the workings of small four-stroke engines.
But since it was brand new, I would have done the same as you.
PS I worked on a Briggs & Statton assembly line as a repair technician for 3.5 years before moving into maintenance at the same plant, so I have done a few of these repairs.

At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:43:00 PM, Blogger Matt G said...

"You might also try checking with your local mower repair to see if he has any deals on used riding mowers."

Negative, ShortBus.
I am HARD on mowers. I am also to a point where I can afford to purchase a new mower. Unless it's running like a top and cheap as hell, I'm not messing with a used mower, for a long, long time. And this little lot is a cinch with a (self-propelled, even!) push mower. 30 minutes, tops.

At Thursday, May 29, 2008 8:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was picturing something larger in my head. Not sure why. Yeah a rider would be more trouble than it is worth on a normal size yard.

I would advocate grass that stops growing at a certain height, but if I could afford that, I could afford to have someone cut the grass for me.

I tried fertalizing to offset the damage done by the dogs last year and that seems to have stunted the growth pretty well. You might try that. I even used the recommended fertilizer for my rock covered dirt.


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