Saturday, May 09, 2009

Watching the grass grow

Holy crap, did the grass grow quickly. I think the last time I mowed the lawn here was last Thursday. In nine days the grass grew high and thick. (The last time I mowed the lawn at my house across town must have been last Wednesday. I don't even want to think about what I'm going to have to deal with there tomorrow.)

I meant to get up early, check the weather, and then plan my mowing schedule around the storms. I figured four hours here, two hours across town, and I would be all done.


I didn't wake up until after 10:00. The forecast called for a 30% chance of showers. I liked those odds. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly spring into action. I had a light breakfast, went online, and had a light lunch. It was after 1:00 that I finally got started.

I have discovered that this mower has some critical parts made of soft plastic which have been breaking and wearing down since pretty much the first use. Two mowings ago the blades simply stopped turning, because the plastic clutch-like thingamajig that apparently lets the blade slip and catch under certain conditions had worn smooth on both sides, which meant the blades were constantly slipping and never catching. The first time around I tried fixing this with progressively more preposterous materials until I finally settled on using duct tape to build up the "catch" area. This worked...for a while. But by the next mowing the problem was back, and I saw that the duct tape had simply been scraped clean. I tried another series of ridiculous fixes (including duct tape over snipped pieces of plastic wire for a string trimmer) until I finally had the bright idea of introducing foreign objects into the mechanism - in this case, split-ring washers. That worked, and worked well.

Things started off OK today, and last week's fixes seemed to be holding. My lawn has several distinct regions of grass. The northwest front section is sparsely populated with thin blades, and the entire section usually only gives one or two bags of trimmings. The southwest front section is densely packed with thin blades that have been the death of both of our old electric lawnmowers. I can usually count on six to eight bags of clippings from here. The south side lawn has a broader blade of grass, and even though it has about twice the area of either of the previous two regions only provides about three bags of grass. The rear southeast and northeast lawns also have broader blades, and together they provide four to six bags.

The dreaded southwest front section proved to be the death of this fix - as it has so many others. With less than a quarter of the lawn mowed, I took the mower apart for the first time.

One side of the mower looked fine. But on the other side, my fix had eroded down the plastic catch area the rest of the way, leaving only a smooth bump to grab the parallelogram-shaped bar that runs through the axle of the reel and converts the wheel motion into reel motion. I pondered this for a while, and then decided to try two washers duct-taped together to create a bigger obstruction.

That also worked, for a little while.

So the rest of the day was an ordeal of struggling to push the lawn through the too-tall grass, emptying the bag at about twice the rate mentioned above, and stopping for repairs and breaks. Time ticked away: It was 3:00 when I took my first lemonade-and-Internet break, and 3:30 when I got back to work; 5:00 when I was doing my umpteenth fix; and about 9:00 when the reel started freewheeling for the last time and I said screw this, I can't even see anymore and went inside, leaving about a 10'x10' section only partially mowed. (At least the rain held off for the whole day!)

Tomorrow I'll try another fix, sometime after church, something that will get me through the last patch of lawn. I may call the number I was given when I called the "warranty service" number on the manual to see if I can order replacement parts, preferably by the dozen.

The mower I'm using here is a Task Force 20" reel mower from Lowes. The Lawn Mowers report at had this to say about this mower:
Task Force mowers (sold at Lowes) are made in Taiwan and get unusually low ratings from owners reviewing them at Lowes. The Task Force 20-inch Reel Mower 26153 (*Est. $140) includes a grass catcher and can cut as high as 2.75 inches, but users rate it especially low for quality. The 16-inch Task Force 26143 (*Est. $100) gets even lower ratings.
That sounds about right.

I think next week I'll do my bit to stimulate the economy by buying a Scott's 20-inch Reel Mower, which gets much higher ratings. I'll see if I can rig my current grass catcher to work with this mower.


piglet said...

I strongly recommend going to and doing some comparing. I bought a Sunlawn brand basic reel mower from here last year and have been happy with it, as long as I don't let it grow too long between "haircuts."

wv: nommon

hedera said...

Consider getting a scythe. It can't be any harder to use than trying to fix that mower.