Lady Justice descends on serial-killer lawn

So I love mowing lawn, right? Well, I did . . . back in the day, when still a minor living at home.

The smooth, evenly cut grass of my Gramma Olson’s big yard was a thing to behold. Sure my lines could get a little crooked, especially when ground squirrels whizzed by, diving for their burrow right in front of my mower. But her lawn was flat, the grass was smooth and all felt right with the world.

I thought every lawn was like this. How naïve.

Tnew mowerhe nearly three acres that make up the mow’able portion of our Joe Brown farmette are anything but flat. And smooth? Hardly. Though fitting, given Joe Brown’s used to be a horse ranch, I didn’t think it possible to get saddle sores from mowing. You can.

Our “lawn” is made up of several areas: the front yard, the back yard, the yard in front of the corn crib and the yard behind the corn crib. I’d estimate the only flat, smooth portion is a 10-foot by 40-foot plot northwest of the house. The rest is a mine field.

Hindsight being what it is, I shouldn’t be surprised the four ordinary lawn mowers we’ve operated over the last nine summers would simply falter when faced with the monumental task of taming the beast that is the Joe Brown yard.

I never knew Joe Brown, but am often regaled with wild tales of goats in the bath tub, horse kibble in the kitchen, engines in the dining room and assorted saddles and bits in the living room. I never tire of hearing how nutty and open-hearted he was, but shaping up the Joe Brown place is no small feat.

It was clear, as Marty endlessly toiled to sustain the life of our fourth mower, a used, beat-up Sears Craftsman, we could no longer get by with a common, ordinary machine.

And given Marty’s work schedule coupled with his involvement at the Rock Creek Eco Center, not to mention managing the Charlotte Little League and coaching both baseball and soccer, he was eager to rid himself of the chronic pain that is the maintenance of the Joe Brown yard.

Which leaves me . . . and my lack of education in the industrial arts.

For a year I’ve been nosing around at local dealers, perusing the Internet, eye-balling sale ads and basically looking for something to smack me alongside the head.

Not only did I have my brother, Matt Reed, on the hunt, but Mom and Dad Olson, as well. The hunt was fruitless or maybe I was just gutless, how could I not be?! Our Joe Brown yard had killed three mowers and the fourth was dying a slow, hard-to-watch death. This yard was a serial killer!

Depending on whether it was Marty or I doing the mowing, the job could take anywhere from four to six hours. After, of course, the battery sat on a charger for a couple of hours. And the result of all that labor? A crappy looking lawn.

By Labor Day weekend, after wasting Friday fighting to get the dang thing started and burdening Marty with the task after he got home from work, I snapped. We were either going to fork over the cash for an appropriate mower or buy a herd of goats.

With Dad Olson available to “window shop,” he and I went to G & H Mowers in Grand Mound, Iowa, where he showed me what he’d wanted to buy last spring before Mom went and bought a new house.

I can’t help but feel like Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Taylor when I speak of this beast: a 48” Simplicity Champion XT commercial zero-turn riding lawnmower. Arw arw arw!!!

G & H co-owner Dennis Galloway reviewed the specs, told me about the four-year warranty and what they offered for maintenance. I figured if it was good enough for Dad, it was good enough for us and by Tuesday afternoon they’d delivered it and schooled me on the wily ways of zero-turn mowing.

First, I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot than when making the first passes around the front lawn. It was an all hands, no feet operation. To move ahead, you pushed the hand levers forward. To slow down, you pulled them back. There was no cruise control and no foot break. When I went forward it was either like a snail or a rocket. Clearly this took more finesse than I expected. And straight line? How ‘bout squiggles?

The turning was pretty awesome, but the looking out for low-lying tree limbs was another thing. The Champion XT came with a roll bar that Dennis warned we would likely remove if we had a lot of trees. (Remember, we have 95. NINETY FIVE!)

After snapping a couple of limbs and almost getting thrown off by one particularly strong branch, I parked it and let Marty remove the bar.

I’ve since mowed one other time and I’m quite smitten with the machine. Our grass looks level, the mounds of hay-like clippings are decreasing and the time? The first mowing took 3.3 hours and the second, 2.9!

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Originally published 13 September 2014 in The Observer.