On Being Held Captive By A German Farmer
Please help me. I am being held captive by a German farmer. OK, I am not actually chained in someone’s barn, but my dilemma is every bit as serious. Let me explain.
My lawnmower broke. Yes, a First World Problem, to be sure. The difficulty, however, runs much deeper.
I have written before that I rather dislike yard work. I decided, however, that it really was good for me, so perhaps I should reclaim that oh-so-suburban task of mowing the lawn.
I had once retired from cutting grass by hiring a nice man who ran a small lawn care business. Then my then-ten year old son begged and pleaded to take that project over. For a fee, of course. The deal sounded pretty attractive until it turned out that I had to invest in a lawnmower and weedwhacker. Oh well, a youth out behind a lawnmower is a youth not behind a videogame console, right?
Each of my three children dutifully took a turn. In truth, the second two resented the first for starting this program, but life’s just not fair, right? Well, my daughter (the youngest of the three) got a break when old Dad took pity and adopted the back yard for himself due to the existence of some fairly steep hills which require a little more muscle than the flatter front. Is is still being sexist when you benefit from the sexism? Her brothers would have certainly loved that accommodation. But I digress.
Once the youngsters had flown the nest, the job was once again all mine. Which I promptly solved with a checkbook. OK, Venmo – because I am not a total Luddite, but you know what I mean. My original nice man was no longer around, but another was recommended. Hands were shaken and grass was cut while yours truly found more pleasant things to do.
But something nagged at me. I should get more exercise and walking behind a lawnmower on my nearly half-acre slice of suburbia seemed like just the thing. So when Andy emailed me about getting started for the new season, I . . . well, I don’t want to use the word “fired”. I suggested that I might be taking the job over again this year but that he would be my first call should I change my mind.
I found my trusty red Toro Super Recycler buried underneath a pile of stuff at the front of the garage. I filled it with fresh oil and gas, set the throttle and choke, and was delighted when the engine started on the very first pull of the rope.
I checked the service book I keep in the garage and was surprised to see that I had purchased it in the spring of 2002. Used, in fact. A mechanically-minded man can be awfully satisfied when his machinery is in such fine fettle after years of prolonged use. The German farmer in me was pleased.
After two mowings of the front and one of the back, it happened. The pool of oil on the garage floor was identified as coming from my lawnmower.
My spouse, who is much more sensible about these things, said “I guess it’s time to get rid of it.” But then the German farmer inside me took over. I have written previously about being Raised By Germans, and it is a real thing when it comes to being taught certain rules of life.
“Other than an oil leak, there is not a thing wrong with it. It can easily be fixed!” Yes, I could probably spend $20 in parts and a day of wrench therapy in my garage, I can have a perfectly fine . . . twenty year old lawnmower.
Or, I could just pay the mower shop about $150 and have them do it. “But that’s more than the thing is worth” said the sensible spouse. A concept that I rejected out of hand. I had this perfectly good machine, not a thing wrong with it. This one little repair makes it worth as much as a new lawnmower. A statement that makes perfect sense to the part of my brain under the control of the German farmer.
I am not a farmer, but a lawyer. My mother was German though, and was raised on a farm. I grew up surrounded by people who bought the best they could afford, were satisfied with what they had and fixed things when they broke. When done, the object (whatever it was) was pronounced “good as new.”
My grandfather, the real German farmer who died before I was born, bought a brand new 1935 Ford V8 sedan and did not replace it until 1951. All that time, it was the family’s only vehicle. It was the family car and also pulled wagons for farm work. Who needs a pickup truck when the Ford sedan and the wagon you already have does everything you need? When he finally replaced it, he gave it to his oldest daughter who drove it for another year. This, says the German farmer in my brain, is how life is supposed to work.
This is my curse. In our throwaway consumerist world of consumption and waste, I think everything I own is good for . . . forever. I bought a used lawnmower in 2002 and should never have to worry about it again. Because I bought a good one. And it’s still perfectly fine. Well, except for the oil that drools from the engine all over the deck at a rate that requires it to be parked on a thick stack of newspaper.
Perhaps this is why I tend to hang onto my cars too long. “There’s nothing wrong with this. Take care of your things and they will take care of you.” “Forever” is the unstated extra word that my German farmer-formed mind wants to append to the end of the preceding sentence.
Well, the little part of my brain that managed to escape from the German farmer’s captivity whispers that nothing lasts forever. But I listen to such things with great skepticism. “The only day you regret paying top money for a piece of equipment is the day you pay for it.” But then comes the day it starts spilling its bodily fluids all over your garage. Must. Not. Pick. Up. Those. Wrenches.
The grass that began this discussion is not getting any shorter. In fact my neighbor to the rear (whom, I suspect, may also have been raised by a German farmer) is surely ready to call the city on me for the back yard that is beginning to resemble an African veldt. So I have made a hard decision and called the nice grass-cutting man to ask if he will please, please, please take me back as a customer. He said yes.
Now, the hard question. With the time pressure relieved, do I go ahead and fix my (almost) perfectly good twenty year old lawnmower? When I ask that question at home I get the side-eye. So this is where you come in. Please help me. I need advice, encouragement, or something along those lines to help me through this dilemma.
Maybe I should just put it out at the curb with a sign that says “free” and start looking for a nice riding mower. “A top-quality used one” adds the voice of the German farmer. “It will last you forever”.
There are a number of solutions to your dilemma.
First, so long as the oil supply doesn’t dry up when you are using it, there is nothing wrong with the mower. A little oil dribble isn’t much different than the 80 year old man who dribbles; nobody wants to put him out to pasture. So my recommendation would be to park the mower somewhere else in an inconspicuous location with a drip pan underneath. It’s out of the wife’s line of sight and you still have your mower. Plus you don’t have to pay anybody.
Or, you could get some spousal brownie points by offering the mower up for free as you say. Then, somebody can spend $20 and have a mower that’s as good as new. The downside is you are now on the hook for a new mower or paying someone to mow. Or both.
Another option would be to obtain a used rider and keep this mower (stored outside) for trimming. Less use on this mower has just extended it’s life substantially. Used riding mowers are easy to find.
The last option is the nuclear option. Tell the wife you are tired of mowing, have started thinking about your future, you have too much house for only two people, etc. and you should sell the house and buy a condo. Stick to your guns. Then, your negotiations will include keeping the mower (you need something to mow all that yard, don’t you?) as part of the deal.
Just a few thoughts.
The problem with Door No 1 is that a mower slobbering oil (and in not-small amounts) is not “right”. The German farmer in me sneers something about how only a drunken Irishman would use a mower like that.
This one is too bulky for trimming. I should have kept the tan Lawn Boy with the 16:1 gas/oil mixture for that, but I gave it away long ago.
Really Jason, I’m like a guy trying to lose 100 pounds and here you are offering me milkshakes. 😁
First off, I say no to a rider. If you’re doing something you don’t like and not even getting the exercise benefit you might as well support the local economy and pay Andy. (Unless driving a tractor, suddenly makes lawn care fun, then have at it.)
Taking this one to a shop is also out. Paying someone to fix the engine will cost 80% of what a new engine would cost, and a new engine would cost 80% of a whole new mower.
So the question is, so you have a day available with nothing better to do, and would tinkering with the mower be more fun than anything else you could do? If not, curb it and let it find a new home.
For the record, I spent a decade keeping a 20+ year old snowblower going. Replaced it two years ago, and the new one is soooo much better. 🙂
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I hear ya. The one I am perplexed over is also leaps better than the one I replaced. But I really wonder if lawn mower technology has really advaced that much since the late 90s.
The most likely problem is a failed crankcase gasket, possibly related to a clogged breather. I have watched the videos. I kinda like the idea of fixing it, but the next vision is of me cutting grass again, so yeah.
Doesn’t driving make everything fun?
I’d be willing to participate in that support group:
Hi, my name’s Doug and I am descended from farmers
I’d fix it, because not only am I descended from Dutch farmers (and fishermen and engineers and millwrights) but I am an engineer myself and somehow in my brain if it can be fixed and I can do it, then it must be fixed. By me.
My lawn mower career started by disassembling one with a hammer as my only tool (not recommended) but I have progressed, and a couple of years ago I was able to repair my next door neighbor’s ancient snowblower. Subsequently he clears my driveway on days when it snows a lot, so it was a good deal all around. My own lawnmower is an ancient Honda, being a Honda it has never needed a repair so perhaps you have erred in that regard by owning a Toro.
At any rate, the internet is mighty helpful in terms of finding exploded views, and ordering obscure seals and gaskets for old machinery. I suggest you proceed. Either you will succeed, and have your fully functional lawnmower waiting in the garage or you will fail spectacularly which will be interesting and instructive, and nothing is lost.
Either way you keep your nice grass-cutting man.
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Now you are making me wish I had kept my first mower, a 1960s Lawn Boy I bought from the same place I got the Toro. It used a 16:1 gas/oil mix so likely spewed no less oil into the environment than the present one does. Fixing that would at least give me the thrill of watching peoples’ faces as they peered through the blue haze and thought “wow, I never knew they painted Lawn Boy mowers beige!”. Ok, nobody would do that except for members of our this support group, but still.
For the record, it worked perfectly when I gave it away, which I did because of the teeny 19 inch cut and the total lack of safety equipment that I lived through. But I was too soft to make my kids deal with it.
Yeah, should have kept it, and made your kids cut the grass wearing period 1960’s clothes.
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Tear out the lawn and replace it with native shrubs and trees. Hire a guy once a year to pretty it up. Or, fence in the lawn and get some sheep. Mowing AND fertilizing. Our current house is lawn-free, after 30 years of mowing, it’s actually a lot more work with constant tree-trimming, weeding and leaf collection (year-round with the broadleaf evergreens here in California). So, in retrospect, fix the mower.
Last time my riding lawn mower needed service I called these guys and they came and fixed it at my house: http://mowercareindy.com/. They fixed it for less than the mower repair shop up on Michigan Road that I normally used.
Alternatively, just go buy another used mower from that same place you got the Toro, and move on.
I think I have narrowed down the choices to A Day At The Wrenches or letting go. The idea of paying someone *and* still having to walk a 1/2+ acre lacks appeal.
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I’m not German, but you and I must share at least some DNA. I use a 50 year old commercial-grade mower I inherited from my father. It’s on its 4th or 5th engine. It’s pre-OSHA so no safety features, no frills, all metal. We only have a quarter acre lot, but I still get my exercise.
BTW, Shafer has the answer. Keeping things out of the wife’s line of sight is an art that all husbands need to cultivate!
You are my hero!
My first lawn mower was a non-electric, non-gasoline, push mower. It never dripped oil, and I never ran over a cord while using it. It was better for exercise too. I’m not sure I would have wanted to cut a huge lawn like yours with it, but our city front and back yards looked nice and neat. The added benefit of a push mower is that you can use it as early in the morning, or as late in the evening as you want without the neighbours complaining about noise!
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I tried one at my first house. An old one that I got freshly sharpened (so completely in character). After one season I decided there was a reason people put motors on lawnmowers. FWIW, I had a lot of crabgrass at that place and that kind of mower with the reel blades cut the short stuff but left the tall stuff alone. Something no German farmer would tolerate. 😀
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I recommend you buy a brand new machine, and keep it nice and shiny in the garage while you continue to use the old one after you get it fixed. That may help to exorcise some of the demons brought about by the old machine’s leaky condition. You will feel better that you had the old baby repaired, and you will now have a beautiful new machine, preferably in the same colour as the old one, to admire. That way your wife may not recognize if you are using the old or the new. Multiple brownie points will be awarded from the Mrs. upon the arrival of the new machine, however they and many more from the point bank will be sacrificed with the continued use of the old Toro.
The JPC Home For Unwanted Power Equipment – I could easily go down this road. But for that sensible spouse. 🤔
Gosh. This IS a dilemma! I also have the “drive it til a wheel falls off” gene, which is why I didn’t give up my last Volkswagen until my mechanic refused to put it on the lift because it was so rusted out. But perhaps it will help your decision-making process to consider the environmental benefits of buying a new machine (because you’ll be keeping that toxic motor oil out of the environment)? Or maybe focus on how much time you’ll get back by not having to make as many repairs? If it were me, I would raise the white flag and buy a new mower. Or maybe a herd of goats. 🙂 Good luck!
I am disappointed in your mechanic. Surely it was possible to weld up some be handy lift points on your VW to allow it to drive a few more miles before totally disintegration. Oh well. I suppose there is my duty to boost the economy by paying Andy, thus adding to the GDP.
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Don’t be too disappointed in my mechanic, JP — he would have done anything I asked, as long as I was willing to pay for it. Alas, I was less generous than you in wanting to contribute to the GDP. 🙂
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Your writerly skills are, amazingly, strong enough to carry me through this lengthy Hamletian discourse on a broken down old lawn mower. And then, to inspire your readers to do some hard thinking to come to your rescue.
The advice that seems wise if you choose to keep this relic for whatever reason is to move it far from an enclosed area. I’m simply thinking that you do not want the resolution of story and mower to go up in flames.
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I hope you know my comment reflected admiration for your talent and a perhaps feeble attempt at humor. If it sounded snide, that was not at all my intent.
Thanks for the kind words. Yes, it would be bad to follow this up with an essay on a garage fire caused by a leaky old lawn mower.
Sorry, but my weekend was kind of overtaken by some events I hope to share here soon, which resulted in a slower than normal reply. I always enjoy your comments and this one was no exception.
I’m glad to hear that, I think of you as a virtual friend and wanted to make sure I hadn’t unintentionally offended.
I hope your weekend episode wasn’t troubling; look forward to seeing you artfully transform it.
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JP, I’m at a loss here. You see, I’ve lived in apartments since age 4, and that was 50 years ago. So lawn mowers are as frequently used in my world, as, say lunar rovers.
Nonetheless, I feel entitled to add a few words, just because.
I used to keep cars for a long time, usually much longer then the time they started leaking oil and smoking. And that’s not from the German farmers in my lineage, as I come from Lithuanian Jewish small town stock. From the 4 sides. That translates to hard working and expenditure-averse as your grandpa.
The longest I kept a car was a ’92 Fiat that I sold in 2008…to a neighbor. He didn’t do anything to it, as I had done a ring job before selling it (as nobody would want to buy it, smoking as it was). He kept it for probably 4 years before trading it in…on another brand new Fiat.
My wife could well be a German farmer, so she didn’t mind about having a leaking car. She doesn’t even drive, which she feels is a waste and rides the bus instead. She might have a point. When I ride a bus to work and walk home (thusly more or less doing a little lawn mowing work) I take more time but arrive fresher. It’s about 40 blocks away….
In my perfect world, a lawnmower should indeed be used as frequently as a lunar Rover. The idea of calling the grass guy is sounding better and better. Which is definitely *not* the German farmer talking. So we’re making progress.
In fact, I even call an electrician, plumber and carpenter at times. Calling any kind of worker to the house is for my wife a sacrilege. I’ll search a little better. Perhaps there were some German farmers around my forebears town…:)
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Set it out on the curb Jim! It will just continue to nickel and dime you to death at this point. The riding mower is a good suggestion tho. LOL!!
I am coming around to your view.
Don’t leave us in suspense, what happened?
The saga has taken a couple of turns but a resolution is in the works. Watch this space for future developments (“Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel.”). 😀
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