Slow and Steady Mows the Lawn

“Hey Dad, do you still have that old mower in the garage?”

The slightly guarded reply over the phone that followed was looking for more information. “Which mower do you mean?”

Action Girl and I had recently moved into our first house together after several years of apartment dwelling and suddenly I was confronted with the need to own things that I had not considered before. It was a simple and elderly house in an old neighborhood and came with its own foolishly small bit of grassy lawn. No mater how foolish it was though, it still needed mowing. Our two house cats could only chew it down so much. Give them credit. They would have done their best, but I wasn’t okay with cleaning that mess up later.

Growing up, we had a pretty good sized lawn. It wasn’t overly hilly or terribly large, but mowing it properly took an evening to do. It was just big enough that pushing the old, hand mower was a noisy pain in the neck. Your feet turned green with the sticky clippings and there’s just nothing quite like shoving a two stroke, blue exhaust belching engine in front of you for an hour and a half. As a small child, I was instructed to stay well away from it when it ran and like most small children when warned about an astonishingly loud, appendage eating machine, I took the direction to the extreme and mostly viewed it from the safety of the house.

This wasn’t my Dad’s first mower, however, but rather his first gas mower. As a young man at his first, real, career-style job, an older and more experienced coworker had gotten to know my father and saw an opportunity to offload some of his excess garden shed treasures on the “new kid.” When you’re new to homeownership and you are just trying to get up and running, free stuff is hard to turn down. Those of us who have reached that point in our lives where we have to make paths through the basement and garage just to reach the back wall, can sniff these young-uns out a mile away and offload on them mercilessly. An offer of some free necessity and a warm smile is cheaper than a trip to the dump, with the added benefit that they can often be convinced to even come and take it away themselves. If however, the item could possibly be turned down when seen in the flesh, it’s best to go with “the drop off.” It’s harder to refuse something once the offerer has gone through the trouble of bringing it to you. At least, that’s what he’s hoping for.

Such was the method of transfer of ownership that my father found himself in when the “lawn mower” that he was offered turned out to be a thirty pound, cast iron, rotary mower. A forced smile and, “thank you” from Dad, and into our garage it went. He immediately went out and got the gas powered finger chopper that I hid from, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember.

As time went along, Dad managed to get his hands on a riding mower and when I was old enough, I would pilot it around in ever tightening circles, pummeling the grass into submission as Dad did the small areas with the push mower he had bought all those years before. The antique rotary mower was left to gather dust and other than the few times I remember taking it out to oil and push a few feet, then hanging it back up, it never saw the light of day.

Now it was my turn to need new things necessary to the maintenance a house. I had been borrowing an electric mower from a nearby friend since we had moved in, but if you have never experienced the thrill of running over your own power cord, then you my friend, just haven’t lived. They are horrible little machines and after the second extension cord wound up in the trash, I decided that I needed something else.

Getting a gas mower for the five hundred square feet of lawn I had seemed worse than foolish. That type of blunt headed consumption, frankly drives me more than a little batty. I needed something else. Then I remembered the rotary mower.

“That mower? The one hanging up in the garage?” My dear father, sensing a chance to reverse the roll he played all those years ago when he came into ownership of the cast iron wall hanger, pounced.

“SURE! You can have THAT one! Tell you what, I’ll even go and get it sharpened for you before I bring it up.” He was going for full effect on the drop off. Once he had it cleaned up and ready for pushing, there was no way I could turn it down. With a light heart, Dad took down the old rotary mower and, leaving a large, oil stained outline on the garage wall, took it to the local shop for sharpening.

“Woah! Where’d you get this one?”

The guys at the shop all came over to inspect the machine as Dad wheeled it into the showroom. After a brief retelling, one of the workers looked down at it with respect. “Your son’s a lucky guy. They didn’t’ make them like this when the made them like this. This thing is the Cadillac of the rotary mowers. They do a way better job of mowing. The grass will look great after a pass with this one.”

My Dad related all this to me when he dropped it off and much to our amazement, we found that when sharpened and freshly oiled, not only does it purr like a kitten, but it cuts the grass beautifully, evenly and quietly.


There are a few things that can get in the way when using it. First of all, it weights a ton and you never forget that for a moment when you propel it across the lawn. Secondly, if you put off cutting the grass too many weekends, you are in for a lot of sweating later. Unlike its motorized brethren, rather than smashing the grass down with a whirling piece of metal, this snips at it like scissors, and just like scissors, you can only snip so much in one bite. It can be like trying to cut a phonebook in half with pinking sheers. Long grass means multiple passes.

I have a larger lawn now and though I suppose I could justify a gas mower, I still happily use this one. I never have to fill it up, it starts ever time and most of all, I love the sound. My new neighbor keeps offering me the use of his electric mower whenever he sees me with it out, but I just thank him and say that it’s my version of going to the gym. The fact of the matter is, I love it. I can hear the birds over the whirring blades and I smell like fresh grass rather than exhaust and burned oil when I finish. The old mower was built in 1918, and I always get at least one passer by who stops to marvel at it as they walk by. I have to admit, I’m proud of the thing.

The best outcome of all this was my father’s own revelation. He’s always hated mowing the grass and the ride-on and the push mower always seem to need something. Top that off with his dust allergy and high opinion of rigorous physical activity and he started to view cutting the grass in a different light. Shortly after I started using mine, he went out and bought one of his own. It’s new and lighter and easier to push, but the effect is much the same. Now his neighbors stop and comment about pushing such an old fashioned mower around the yard. Entertainingly enough, one of them has decided that it was a good enough idea to warrant him going out and getting his own as well. We just might have a minor revolution on your hands here!

I doubt that my son and daughter will enjoy pushing my ancient, iron monstrosity across the lawn when the job becomes theirs, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. If they want a gas mower, they can get one. In the mean time, I’ll oil this one up and push it out across the grass. It’s been doing just that for about a hundred years now.

Why stop now, just when I’ve gotten it broken in?


10 Responses

  1. When I was old enough to mow in the mid 1960s I made $2.00 to $3.00 a lawn. That was before weedeaters. One old woman made me trim every inch of fence and curb with hand shears. I think I still have the callouses on my hands to prove it. Mowing everyone else’s yard as well as that of my parents cured me of ever wanting to mow lawns again. I’m proud to say that I haven’t mowed my own lawn in more than 30 years!

    • I never did the lawn mowing for money thing. I figured that I did enough of it right at home. My childhood fortune making schemes were always less practical, but that sums me up nicely. I remember those hand sheers. I also remember when my dad got our first weed whacker. THAT was a much needed step.

      I bet after your bout with the hand sheers, you could crush a copper pipe with your grip though. 😉


  2. Can you imagine if you had like 10 acres? lol. You could just get some goats or something! I am 44 and I used one of these in my lifetime, but I can’t remember the exact year, maybe my 20’s or something. Like the first commenter, my parents also made us trim with those oversized garden sheers. Gah! Talk about your work for litlte kid’s hands!

    • If I had the 10 acres, I’d finally have the justification I’ve been looking for to get my self a TRACTOR! Wooo! That would be an oily disaster, for sure. I’d do it in a heartbeat though!


  3. Just get the cats some strong coffee 😀

    My grandfather used to have one of these. We’ve got an electric one, which means the kids have to be fairly grown to use – don’t trust the 9 yr old with the power line. But I can’t stand the gas ones, the noise, the smell, ugh!

    • Heh! I always did like Garfield!

      I’m very happy to be free from both the powerline and the gas engine. I really do prefer this to the modern method. Interestingly enough, it actually is better for the grass too. It “snips” it rather than smacking it like a modern mower. Mostly, I like avoiding hearing damage or electrocution. And, as I said, it always starts!


  4. I think I used (was chained to like Conan the Barbarian) one of those as a kid. I could be imagining things though … and possible pushed it once … one way.
    They are classic and work like magic if oiled and sharpened: I wish I had that option for the small patch I have to mow.

    • Just think, if you had been chained to the “Lawnmower of Pain” like Ah-nuld, you too might have massive, bulging muscles and know the Secret of Steel. (I love that movie)

      You ought to look into finding one where you are. I can’t believe that they don’t have something like it where you are. It really is a much nicer way to trim the grass. That, and perhaps if you do, the earth god, Crom will protect you in battle! Hey, it worked for Ah-nuld!


  5. I think I badly damaged or destroyed all but one lawn mower I laid my hands on. No luck for me with the modern gas/electricity burning gadgets, but this big piece of iron looks indestructible even by my standards 🙂

    I just love a good old mechanical piece of machinery, this one really looks like a treat.

    • It is! It clanks and whirrs in the most wonderful way. I have a real weakness for old machines and this one makes me smile through the sweat whenever it’s time to mow. Personally, I’m not a “lawn person” but I do have to say that it makes the yard look like a carpet when it’s done.

      If you don’t have a terrible large yard, I can’t recommend one enough!


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