I’m a sentimental sort when it comes to saying goodbye to things that have served me well. I still have my first baseball glove, a boyhood rock collection, and the faded briefcase I carried to work every day for nearly 40 years.
But I really, really struggled to let go of an old lawn mower that I used until it fell apart, remembering its distinct rumble long after it finally went to the scrap heap. In fact, I wrote a story about the thing about 400 columns ago. This is a sequel, of sorts…
The mower was a 14-horsepower, hydrostatically-driven Snapper garden tractor, and I can clearly recall the day it was delivered shiny new to my house, its red paint and black logos sparkling in the sun nearly as much as my grin. It carried the aroma of pristine Carlisle turf tires, a crisp, unused drive belt, and a fuel tank that had been filled for the first time. Compared to the mower I had been using — an ancient Allis-Chalmers that had just been re-assembled from 5-gallon buckets of parts by my mechanically-inclined father-in-law — it was as nice to me as a new Pontiac.
Although I took conscientious care of it, the Snapper eventually wore out, particularly after my son began using it for an ad hoc mowing service he started in high school. The hours he added soon drove the mower to a sad, decrepit state, and by the time I finally hauled it to the salvage yard, its mowing deck was rusted through, its transmission questionable, its once-comfortable seat akin to sitting on a barbed wire fence.
I never forgot that mower, though, even after I replaced it with a new zero-turn model, and yet another garden tractor type for hauling chores around the yard. My son, a bit guilt-driven because he knew he had helped shorten my old mower’s life — although it was already a terminal case — apparently never forgot it, either.
I suspected something was up one evening late last summer as my wife Joanie rode with me into town. As we passed my boy’s place, I spied a familiar red rider sitting on a trailer in his driveway. “It looks like he’s bought himself an old Snapper to use,” I told my wife. She just nodded.
The next morning, my son came by the house with the mower; he said he had seen it advertised online, and he knew I would want it. For being over 30 years old, it still looked pretty good, too. Sure, it was lacking a few plastic trim pieces, had touch-up paint on its mower deck, and smelled a bit of leaking gasoline, but it fired right up, mowed reasonably well, and was exactly like the one I once owned.
Climbing onto it and hearing its familiar Kohler engine roar to life was like putting on one’s high school letter jacket, like sitting behind the wheel of a first car, like remembering the first girl’s hand you held, slightly sweaty, but nice… In a rush of gratitude, I gave my relatively new replacement rider to my son. Thomas Wolfe was absolutely wrong: I could “…go home again,” and that old mower would be clipping the grass there.
Because I used the red rider only a few minutes a week, it took a while for me to realize that a piece of machinery that old surely had old lawnmower issues hidden and ready to surface. One of its tires went flat overnight, it needed new fuel lines, and despite considerable work, I still couldn’t get its deck completely level. Those problems didn’t really matter that much, although a persistent fuel leak led me to eventually begin tinkering with it.
This spring brought a few new symptoms, and I soon became frustrated that, despite the incredibly handy small engines class I took in junior high that had served me so well, I couldn’t solve (and eventually even complicated) the tractor’s problems. I was soon searching online for schematics and manuals and parts lists and suppliers. Some of the things I wanted, and needed, were no longer available, of course, but I really was amazed that I could find a float bowl gasket for a 32-year-old lawnmower in about 10 minutes.
I’ll spare you the labor of reading about the mechanical specifics, about the number of times I had the carburetor off, the trips into town for tire repairs, the things I uttered when there was no one around to hear me… To make a long story a bit shorter, I eventually delivered the tractor to a friend who says that tinkering with small engines gives him “something to do.” He was pretty certain that he could get the Snapper up to snuff, even though it was built when Ronald Reagan was president. He came close.
After messing with it myself a few hours more, I’m happy to say that, at least for now, the old mower is purring right along. With its oil changed, its blades sharp, its deck scraped clean, its grime wiped away, the Snapper — at least from a good distance — looks good and clips a clean path back into time. A vintage red rider is once again in my rolling stock, just in time to mulch fall leaves and pull a wagon of firewood up the back hill.
Now, if anyone can tell me where I can get a rotary phone fixed, let me know.