I was mowing the lawn today with my recently super tuned Scott’s Classic 20″ reel mower.  It was running mad well.  Until it wasn’t.  A funny sound and a tougher push all of a sudden.  This time I took it to the workbench for comfortable disassembly.  Two of the three cross members that form the structure of the mower had cracked at welds.  This was the one I found first.

Not a problem.  The thing was a gift from my neighbor, it had been great for five years and I was sure I could fix it.  A welder could probably repair the parts, but I wanted a faster fix.  I’d just order new parts.  I called Scott’s.  They told me to call American Lawn Mower Company for parts (they make the mowers for Scott’s and also produce Great American reel mowers).

American Lawn Mower Company  said the part I described was the frame and that I needed to buy a new mower.  I said I had the thing apart in front of me and the part they were calling the frame was simply one part of a many parts frame and pretty please couldn’t they sell just the one part.  They took my name and number and said they’d call back.  I wasn’t hopeful.  Oh.  I also asked if their mowers were made in America.  Some are was the answer.  Not many, as it turns out, but the few that are seem fine.  I’d respect them more if they changed their name to the “Chinese Lawn Mower Company.”

Then I finished taking the mower apart and found a second broken part.  This one was a stiffening bar on the cutter blade.  The weld was broken and part of the bar was cracked.  Maybe this thing wasn’t worth saving.  What was going to go next?

Tactic change.  I had just walked by a garage sale this morning with a Great American reel mower for sale.  What are the odds?  I had tooted my horn to the seller about my awesome newly maintained reel mower that I loved using, so smooth and all, and then went home to have it blow up.  Karma.  Not a problem.  I would drive over and get the garage sale mower, give it a go over, and be happy for another five years.  Not to be.  I got to the sale and it was gone!  Shoot.  What now?

Home Depot was just a block away, so I went and bought a brand new Scott’s Classic 20″ reel mower.  Made sure it was made in China before I bought it (it was).  Got home and put it together.  It seems nearly as nice as the old one.  I noticed the absence of the stiffening member on the cutter bar.  The one that broke on my old mower.  Not there now, so it can’t break (but the fact that it broke with careful use suggests there were some pretty good stresses being applied and maybe its bad they eliminated it).  Also, the new cutter bar was flat.  The old one was a wave shaped piece of metal.  The waves made it stiffer still.

Then  the American Lawn Mower Company called back.  The part I knew I needed when I called the first time (the “frame” as they called it) could be purchased for only $13!  But now I knew I also needed the cutting bar.  Not a problem, as that is available for $36!  Bummer.  I just bought a new one for $150 (with tax) and could have saved the old one for $50.

Great that they stock parts, though.  800-633-1501 if you need the number.  Helps if you have the original manual as that includes the model number and a diagram with all the parts pictured and part numbers.  Of course the neighbor had given me the manual.  He was that kind of guy (i.e. careful old guy that I have always tried to be and hope to become a bit more like every day).  He gave me the mower then came over an hour later and gave me the manual.  I wish he was still my neighbor (but my new neighbors are awesome, too).

I just compared the part numbers in the respective manuals for the 2000 model and the 2010 model.  Most of the parts share the same parts numbers (but the 2010 parts numbers have an A before and after the number, so maybe they are not the same at all), but two parts have totally different numbers.  The reel and the cutter bar.   The two most important parts and the two parts that have pretty clearly been cheapened.  Sad.  Whatever.  The new one cuts well now.  The lawn looks great.  We’ll see how it holds up.

I consider the whole ordeal a big fail on my part.  If I had waited for the call, I could have saved the old mower.  If I had taken out the manual before I called the first time, they wouldn’t have had to call back because I would have said I needed Torsion Bar number 10492 and Cutter Bar 10468 for mower model 2000-20 (presumably made in 2000).  Then I wouldn’t have gotten in the car to go to the garage sale, found out the used mower had sold and  headed to the all too convenient Home Depot (where the super friendly check out clerk asked me how I found my shopping experience and I replied excellent because it was because the exact mower I was replacing was there right at the front of the store just before they got taken away to make room for winter stuff–why didn’t I suggest they sell a mower made in the USA?).

Or I could have googled made in usa reel mowers and found this:  “American Lawn Mower Co. (Shelbyville, IN):  Models still made in USA: 1415-16, 1815-18, and Great States 815-18. At Ace Hardware.”  My biggest mistake was impatience.  Forming the idea that I can fix this immediately and jumping in the car and plowing forward like the ugly American I can so easily be when I let myself go.  Sigh.

One funny side track.  After I bought the new mower and mowed the lawn, I lunched and googled reel lawn mowers to see what a colossal mistake I had made (the post purchase investigation–so useless).  I found a fancy Fiskars mower that seems pretty well designed.  The video showcasing the mower has a guy telling us that the EPA says the fumes from an average mower used for one year equal the fumes put out by a new car driven 500,000 miles (at 42 seconds).

Que?!  That’s ridiculous.  So I looked here.  Closest claim I could found was that “operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average care (sic) almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.”  Still a good reason to use a reel mower (every week I mow with the reel mower I can drive 100 miles to go hiking without enlarging my carbon boot print).

So just how inflated is the video guy’s claim?  To the mathmobile, mathman!   Let’s say you live in LA and mow year round.  Is an hour a week fair?  That’s 52 hours a year for a total car mileage equivalent of 10,400 miles using the EPA statistic I found.  Maybe the video guy assumed you mow the lawn every Saturday and Sunday for 16 waking hours a day all year long.  Big lawn.  That’s 1664 hours of mowing and equal to 332,000 miles of driving using the EPA stat I found.  Still kinda short of the 500,000 miles claimed by the video guy.  Look at it from the other direction–if using a mower for a year equaled driving a car for 500,000 miles, then each hour of mower use would equal nearly 10,000 miles of new car driving (assuming 52 hours of mower use per year).  What kinda grass is that video guy cutting?  Reel lawnmowers are cool tools.  Sad the video guy feels the need to BS to sell them.

I’ll do better tomorrow.  Maybe!

Have a good weekend.


4 responses to “Failure

  1. Not so fast there, Putnam. All the EPA is saying is that automobiles are more efficient at converting hydrocarbons (the things that engines burn) into waste products such as carbon dioxide and water, not that your carbon bootprint is greater through burning a gallon of gasoline in a lawnmower than a car. I think the difference is largely because of the catalytic converter, but automobile engines are also more efficient, no doubt. There really isn’t much difference between the two in terms of carbon output – it’s basically taking all the carbon in the gasoline and spewing it into the air – although methane, a hydrocarbon, is a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Hydrocarbons do produce smog, though, which is why catalytic converters were mandated in the first place.

    • Thanks! Understood and agree. I have no reason to believe (and didn’t mean to suggest) the EPA isn’t shooting somewhere close to straight. I was calling foul to the wildly exaggerated claims in the Fiskars’ piece. Be well!

  2. FYI: hardware stores that sharpen lawnmower blades often have old reel mowers sitting around that they’ll sell for the cost of the sharpening (because their owners never picked them up).

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