Setting the Bead With Fire: A Tractor Story

The boy on the right may have a dangerous idiot for a father.

Had you seen me, ’round about six o’clock in the evening on Sunday, heading in the general direction of the People’s Lawn Tractor with a gas can, some matches and a distinct air of purpose about me – well, no one would have blamed you for feeling a little uneasy.  That vague sense of foreboding may just have gained some urgency, if you were told that just minutes earlier, I had been studying intently a page on the Internet that used words like “fire”, “explosion” and “gasoline.”  Let’s face it, there’s a certain gleam that a man gets in his eye when he’s fixing to blow something up, a gleam that you would recognize instantly though you’ve never seen it before.

Here’s the thing:  Spouse, Furious G and I have been residing beyond the borders of little Juniorvania for about a month, or rather we had been away, living at my parents’ place, up until Saturday afternoon.  The reasons for the exodus are complicated, but boil down to the serious strain placed upon the People’s Treasury as a result of paying for electricity to heat the house when it gets cold outside, which is “always” on account of Juniorvania’s extreme proximity to Canada.  Accordingly, the People’s Department of Public Works, Heatery and Assorted Mechanicals contracted with an external provider to bash a bunch of holes in the walls of the house, install duct work and hide the workshop by placing a giant furnace on it.   This arrangement, of course, has caused the People’s Treasury to ratchet up the level of complaining to “jet engine” volume levels, as the People’s Minister of Finance is incapable of understanding how such an enormous expenditure could ever “save” money, and is instead convinced that this is all some sort of preposterous and grotesque joke perpetrated at the expense of his fragile nerves and anxious bowels.  In the silver lining department, however, this hugely destructive and horrendously unaffordable and unsightly project brings a bonus: air conditioning!

Where was I?  Oh yes, explaining how Spouse, The Boy and I made like Jed Clampett and Clan, packed up the truck and moved to Beverley in order to avoid being demolished along with the walls and ceilings.  Did you know that walls and ceilings are highly offensive to HVAC contractors?  Well, based on the nature and extent of the destruction I have seen, I can only assume that walls and ceilings have an unfortunate habit of making intemperate comparisons between HVAC contractors and uncouth and unattractive individuals with small penises, because the walls and ceilings really do seem to take a walloping from these fellows.

Our month long banishment from the premises thus allowed the stainless steel behemoth to take root and grow within the house;  outside the four (or fewer) walls of the house, however, also growing and taking root was an enormous rainforest where the front lawn used to be.

Now, I don’t want to say that the lawn was a little overgrown, but just this past weekend, scientists discovered three heretofore unknown species of snake, two tribes of nomadic peoples and a dinosaur roaming among the densely packed vegetation on the front forty.

If you look closely, you can see the dinosaur peeking over the top at left.
The long and the short, but mostly just the long, of the problem.

The lawn needed to be cut, but this was not going to be just any mowing; in musical terms, whereas the usual lawn mowing is a three-chord doo wop tune,  this particular excursion was going to be a Wagnerian opera with a side discharge chute.  There were many technical problems to be confronted – how to keep the engine from stalling when asked to chop down the giant trunks of the grass trees, how to illuminate the path of the mower (with the dense canopy of the lawn blocking out the sun from above), how to keep the Operator’s beer cold for the prolonged Mission time – but chief among these worries was the Problem of the Clippings.

When you cut large amounts of long grass, you create a commensurately large pile of clippings on the lawn, which pile must be moved, because if you don’t move them then you have essentially just piled a bunch of dead stuff on your (now shorter) lawn, thus depriving the living part of it entirely of sunlight and making the whole damn thing dead.

Complicating the problem, it’s been raining continuously here since August 6, 1942, so the clippings were a little wet.  Huge piles of wet grass clippings that need to be moved by means of manual raking means that the People’s Lawn Tractor Trailer must be utilized.  Patience, I’m getting really close to explaining the bit about fires and explosions and such now.

The trailer was banished outdoors from the relative safety of the garage this past winter, and there was one casualty: the left tire on the People’s Trailer lost the bead on its rim and came up flat.  The bead needed to be reset, and the tire re-inflated.

Like any reasonable person, I turned to everybody’s most trusted technical advisor: random and completely anonymous people with no verifiable credentials whatsoever.  They taught me this trick:

I didn’t have ether, so I used (a VERY little bit of) gasoline instead.  It took three attempts, but each one featured a very satisfying “thwumpf” sound, and enough of a fiery flourish to excite all but the most finicky of pyromaniacs. Still have all my limbs, didn’t set the house on fire, and did not launch any exploding fiery wheels through the upper story windows of the house either. Time elapsed: maybe five minutes (including time required to fill a really big bucket with water as a precaution measure, lest there be any unfortunate incidents).

Trailer’s working like a charm.

May Day: Let the Chores Begin

Saturday was spent recuperating from the demands of another work week in my usual fashion:  in the manner of a cultured and intelligent philosopher king.  Specifically, I was camped out on the couch in front of the television soaking in about seven hours of NHL hockey.

Dedicating myself to torpor and sloth meant for the most part eschewing the pleasures of the great outdoors;  it also meant eschewing (temporarily) the coincident burdens of the surrounding environment, such as the requirement to cut the grass.  Careful readers will recall that cutting the lawn – an inconvenient recurring nuisance for some – has, in the past been more of a life-threatening spirit quest for me.

The Juniorvania Blue Jays 7698
Sunday's Taskmaster

But (news flash) Sunday dawned, and after a morning cup of tea, there was a jay in the tree outside the window sounding a call to action.  Against the aforementioned backdrop of timorous langour then, I ventured out into the Wide World and saddled up for 2009’s Maiden voyage aboard the JMV Eradicator.  I am pleased to report that Mission 1-09 successfully and safely achieved its primary objective, the ensmallinating of the grasses.  All systems were operative aboard the Mowing Vehicle, with one exception:  the People’s Engineers will be receiving a request to review the Eradicator’s musical delivery systems.  In order to avoid angry legal entanglement with the kind folks at the John Deere Company of Moline Illinois, I hasten to point out that these systems were added on an “after-market” basis.  In particular, the system consists of the operator wearing an iPod and earbuds.  Actually, the system consists of the operator wearing and iPod and ATTEMPTING to wear earbuds because – as every iPod user knows, iPod earbuds do not under any circumstances remain inserted in one’s ears.

A Snake in the Grass 7702
Is that Dick Cheney?

Spotted and photographed on the scouting perambulations prior to climbing aboard the Eradicator:  the charming little fellow pictured at left. This specimen was located using Top Secret and patent pending Juniorvanian Reptilian location technology:  an unsuspecting and somewhat foolhardy individual with a pair of Crocs carelessly slipped onto his bare feet is dispatched into the surrounding flora armed with a camera and tasked with obtaining a photograph of a bird – perhaps a nearby blue jay.  In this way, the collector is encouraged (by way of diversion) to keep his head up and his line of accordingly elevated and most decidedly NOT fixed upon the ground.  The large holes in the aforementioned footwear will automatically, if somewhat alarmingly, assist in locating the desired reptile.  Potential side effects may include the emission of a somewhat embarrassing and decidedly little girl-like yelp as contact is literally made between our startled naturalist and the disgruntled fauna.

Sunday also featured a lovely visit from my folks;  my Dad brought a can of paint he had hanging around the house for my grandfather’s old porch rocker, now adorning our front deck.  The name of the particular tint:  “Cleveland Brown.”  The marketing department at CIL must be one crazy hilarious place to work;  what a bunch of slapstick knuckleheads they must be.

At the end of a long Sunday of yardwork, I found myself stiff and aching.  Nevertheless, the grass was green, the sky was blue, and I was tickled pink to be spending time outdoors again.  Hey, CIL guys – how ’bout giving us a few knee-slapping monikers to represent those colours?

We’re Ready Now, Santa!

Did you know that Santa has some helper elves in Florida?  And did you know that Santa’s sun-worshipping assistants are in charge of ensuring that all power yard equipment is properly prepared to celebrate the Yuletide festivities?

It’s true.

On Saturday the 13th, Spouse and I hosted the office Christmas party.  What preceded the party, of course, was a massive clean-up/decorating binge to get the entire nation of Juniorvania ship-shape and ready for its most extensive influx of visitors in recorded history.  Some consternation briefly ensued while Spouse and I debated the most appropriate means of providing a suitable repository for the cold refreshing BEvERageS accompanying our guests to the party.  I am no engineer, but if I do say so myself, I think I resolved that little dilemma with some flair (not to mention ten bags of ice and a couple of strands of lights) in the following manner:

XMAS Tractor IMG_5327

Trailer of bounty IMG_5335

Somehow, word of this festive little piece of power equipment seems to have made it to Santa’s southern associates. Apparently, St. Nick himself was impressed by the tractor’s display of holiday verve, but saddened to learn that the little implement lacked one crucial piece of Christmas gear; he put his Floridian designates on the case and voilà, the tractor is ready to receive Santa’s bounty on the Big Night.

Please Santa Put Oil in My Sock IMG_5530

Leading by Trailing

Oh, I really have been a bad blogger, and a bad Internet friend.  Looking at the two previous posts, it occurs to me that I’ve posted exactly once in something like 45 days.  That’s not good.  No, that just won’t do.

You know the excuse is coming.  I will try to make it brief.  If you’re not interested in it, please skip to the next paragraph.  Still here?  I’m touched!  I’m feeling the love, sensing your concern for my well-being, dedication and industry.  See, here’s the thing:  Spouse and I had this two-part charity event to run on the 18th and 20th of September.  That took up a lot of our time in late August and early September.  The following week, we took three days off so that we could mount a five-day home improvement blitz and attack some of the jungle vegetation that seemed to have taken rather serious root in the southern portion of Juniorvania (i.e. behind the house).  When we got back to work late that next week, there were of course a bazillion things that needed catching up on – stuff we hadn’t been able to get done in the weeks before our event and stuff that had come up while we were away for three blessed days of vacation.  It behooved us to make sure that the paymaster remained inclined to fill our purses on a biweekly basis, so vocational concerns had to predominate for a time.  There followed (in rapid, almost dizzying succession) a weekend trip to this event at Wit’s End,  a week-long jury trial a trip to Sudbury for Thanksgiving, a trip to the vet (not theVet, but “the vet”) for Popeye (he has a tumor, but he’s fine), and (interspersed among all of the foregoing) a number of evenings spent watching the various political debates related to election campaigns both here in Canada and south of the border.   On top of all of that, David Foster Wallace had to go and fucking kill himself¹ and so I felt I had to spend every moment of free time that I had reading – or re-reading, in some cases – his essays.  As for this writing this blog, I felt like I had lots to say, but not enough time to sit down and organize my thoughts properly – so I avoided posting anything because I felt I didn’t have time to be comprehensive.   Now I have so much to tell that I’d have to write for a week straight just to get it all in.  Sigh.  Hoist by my own petard once again.

I’ll get to all that stuff – the eventing at Wit’s End, the backyard blitz, our trip to Sudbury, even the charity event – but tonight, the spirit moves me to tell you of something even more awesome.   Why is it so awesomely awesome?  It’s tractor-related, which is the best kind of awesome, because it involves gasoline, a motor, and sharp whirling blades.  Feast your eyes on this:

John Deere X300 and 10P utility cart

As you can see, the People’s Lawn Tractor has formed an attachment to the 10p utility cart ($229, unassembled)! Spouse and I went out and picked one up the other day.  Spouse and I have this week off, and we have been once again, IMG_4783instead of “vacating” as one might properly understand those on vacation to do,  been throwing ourselves into physical labour by way of attempting to improve our surrounding environment.  This week’s target was the eastern side of the house, an area that could only be described as “not badly overgrown” by way of comparison to the front of the house;  with respect to all other areas, it is – or was – in fact positively primeval.  I mention this because we quickly found that “improving” meant “cutting shit down”, the major down side of which is that the shit which has been cut must then be disposed of in some fashion².  Now, disposal of surplus vegetation has, in the past, been accomplished principally through use of a fortuitous combination of the instrumentality of the People’s wheelbarrow and the generous capacity of a steep (and deep) ravine near our western borders.  The said disposal has also principally been accomplished by my father-in-law Harold, who spent pretty much three solid days humping the said wheelbarrow back and forth between the backyard and the aforementioned ravine, disposing of various pieces of trees, all of which had been declared redundant, expendable and anti-social.   When confronted with the need to replicate Harold’s detritus transportation exploits, Spouse and I immediately had an insight and determined that motorized assistance was required at once.

Thus did we find ourselves yesterday at the local John Deere dealer flashing plastic and loading a cardboard box loaded with one potential trailer into the Probe.  I spent the early portion of the afternoon assembling the plucky little vehicle;  today, we put it to work.  Over and over again, we loaded the cart with branches (pruned), vines (removed from the entire eastern portion of the house), leaves (they’re frickin’ EVERYWHERE) and (in certain cases) entire shrubs deemed too diseased, too voluminous, or just too damn annoying to remain.  Over the past few days, we have excavated a lot of vegetation;  to give you a hint just how active we’ve been, the current tally concerning capital equipment depreciation reads as follows:


Over and over again, we drove our little tractor west towards the ravine (now known as “The Gulch”), IMG_4835executed a quick turn and backed the whole apparatus up to the edge.   The 10p cart has a great little mechanism that quickly releases the bed of the cart from its locked position and (if you’ve stacked the contents just right), the dumping action is automatic and strangely exhilarating. If ever anyone needed proof that flying a desk 9-to-5 causes one’s physical dexterity and co-ordination to do a cannonball into the nearest toilet, I would commend to that person the image of the comically inept manner in which both Spouse and I have found ourselves reversing a vehicle that’s pushing a trailer. It goes a little something like this: large circle; slowly forward to straighten everything out just so; driver turns to survey the objective; driver begins a confident, but slow reverse; trailer begins to yaw undesirably; driver confidently makes incorrect and overly drastic steering adjustment; trailer now yaws alarmingly; driver stops and curses, pulls forward again to straighten everything out just so – rinse, lather and repeat.




My back, shoulders and arms are all aching as it is from the sheer magnitude of the project (and, no doubt, the extreme indolence that has previously been a prominent feature of the exercise program for each related muscle group).  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if we’d been moving all the shite we’ve cut down by hand.   I love my tractor and his new friend, the 10p cart.

Spouse loves the tractor too!


¹More precisely, I found out about DFW killing himself in this time period.  He actually did the deed on September 12th, 2008, but I was so freaking busy with all the above-mentioned shite, I didn’t even hear about it until nigh on the end of September.

²I am assured that “piling the shit on the lawn and leaving it there” is not an option.  I know, I was surprised too.

The Cats and the Hats

I’m going to interrupt my own fishing story here to mention two unrelated things.

First, the Ticats lost to the Roughriders on Saturday afternoon, but miracle of miracles, the Tabbies were in the game right up until the end against the Grey Cup Champs. Games in which the hometown side meaningfully participates have been kind of rare around here for the last few years, and especially so in the early months of the season. As this highlight package shows, the ‘Cats battled back after being down by more than a touchdown on a couple of occasions, and they actually had the lead with a minute and a half to go. The visiting champs, though, had luck on their side – a first quarter field goal that followed a glide path designed by M.C. Escher, a critical second quarter fumble in the so-called “red zone” by the hometown monster-back Jesse Lumsden, a series of ill-timed penalties that got the visitors a major late in the first half, and finally, an incredibly obvious blown call by the officials that sealed the Ticats’ fate. Jykine Bradley‘s hustle and effort to chase down the ‘Rider player from behind (the guy who was seemingly on his way in to the end zone unchallenged for the winning score), punching the ball out to cause a fumble – that was an amazing feat of determination. It’s a shame that the official who was standing right there blew the call so badly. That guy’s buddies should get a refrigerator-sized enlargement of a picture showing him with his arms upraised and signalling “touchdown”, with the ball clearly being fumbled by the Saskatchewan ball carrier – and post it on a wall across from the guy’s house for the next six years, just to remind him what a colossal fuck-up he committed. Although there were reasons for concern – one might legitimately point out that the Ticats could have won the game if they were simply able to make another first down, and that it might have been possible to choose a more inventive play than “Lumsden up the middle” on second and four with the game on the line and everybody in the building expecting Jesse to get the ball. One might also point out that the ‘Riders might have had the winning touchdown if their slotback hadn’t tripped and fallen when he was wide open on the second-last set of downs run by the Green Riders’ offence, or that a six-yard completion on second down with a minute and a half left should NOT be permitted by the Ticats’ defence to turn in to a sixty yard pass and run touchdown play in that situation.

It says here though that – all things considered – these criticisms would be nothing more than nitpicking right now. Instead, there are a great many positives to be taken from Saturday’s game: the play of Lyle C. “Tre” Smith (his kick returns alone were a major factor in the game, consistently giving the Steeltowners excellent starting field position), the determination of a defence that rose to the occasion on several key series to derail the ‘Riders’ offence, create two-and-outs and give the offence a short field to work on, and little things like (in addition to Bradley’s play) the play of DB Chris Thompson, who in addition to hustling back to force a Saskatchewan receiver to drop a sure touchdown in the endzone, made a timely interception on the play immediately following a Ticats turnover. The bottom line is that the game was thoroughly entertaining, and Spouse and I haven’t felt so engaged by a Hamilton team in the three years we’ve been going to games together; these guys are hustling and playing like they believe they can win. Let’s hope they do win a few, but I will gladly go back to watch another game like the one Spouse and I saw on Saturday, win or lose.

A couple of quick photos – here’s one of Jesse taking the ball off tackle right.


Here’s my favourite picture of the day; a nice-enough looking lady, likely somebody’s grandma, decked out in her proper finery – including yellow hat with a giant “Argos Suck” button affixed to the brim:


Second, it was my birthday today and I have an update for you on this post. You may recall that I whined somewhat about the fact that I was destined to be operating the new tractor without a suitable chapeau. Well, Spouse is apparently many things, including an attentive reader: she came through in flying colours and when I awoke to her dulcet tones imploring me to have a Happy Birthday this morning, the accompanying bag o’ gifts included (amongst other tractor-related swag) one green ball cap emblazoned with the J.D. logo. I was almost sorry I had cut the lawn yesterday, denying me the chance to saddle up immediately with my new haberdashery.

Spouse headed off to the barn to ride Ralph, and Popeye and I headed down to the road to pick up the mail from the box. When I reached in and retrieved the day’s delivery, there was a letter from the tractor manufacturer.  It was a letter of thanks for purchasing a JD, and enclosing a little coupon redeemable for a fitting token expression of the gratitude of the John Deere company of Moline, Illinois.

The coupon may be exchanged for a free green and yellow “John Deere” ball cap.

Mission: Accomplished. No, Not THAT One.

I am sorry to keep you in suspense about the maiden voyage of the JMV* Eradicator and the fate of its brave pilot. You will understand that this has been an important epoch in Juniorvanian history, a matter of utmost importance to National Security, and that radio silence has, accordingly, been the order of the day.

Now that the critical moments have passed, I don’t think it’s telling tales out of school if I confirm that:

  • our brave pilot has returned from the historic mission;
  • he still has the standard issue compement of phalanges, both upper and lower;
  • the combat vehicle appears largely intact, though its surfaces are now somewhat obscured by a significant mass of dismembered vegetation; and
  • flight specialists and technicians are believed to be reviewing the video footage retrieved from the onboard “pilot cam” system and examining it to gather intelligence for future missions.

It is possible that the public relations officer for the Juniorvanian Ministry of Science, Industry and Exploration may well authorize release to the public of some (no doubt heavily edited) such footage. Interested persons are asked to continue consulting this website for updated information as it becomes available.

In other news, despite the heightened security hereabouts, there was an interstellar tourist in Juniorvania this weekend. Calling himself “Richard”, a fellow from the planet Lummox (previously sighted only in the vicinity of fishing vacation hideaways) alighted on Juniorvanian ground Saturday afternoon. Diplomatic relations were quickly established, with the alien visitor very kindly presenting the traditional offering of greetings (for Lummoxes) of bamboo (five shoots; health!), bratwurst and sauerkraut. High-ranking Juniorvanian officials held an audience with the visiting Richard, and learned much about the employment customs of his people. Evidently, it is customary for Lummoxian companies to hire individuals for the purpose of completing a project to which no resources are devoted and for which all necessary approvals are, accordingly, withheld. In order to expedite the accomplishment of absolutely nothing, it is thought to be beneficial for many people to be fired, downsized, or lose their job as part of an advertising promotion, leaving the project managers with no staff, no direct supervision, no budget, and no authorization to proceed with the task at hand.


* “JMV” = “Juniorvanian Mowing Vehicle”

Stout Hearted and Enthusiastic

“With stout hearts, and with enthusiasm for the contest, let us go forward to victory.”

Viscount Montgomery, to his troops on the eve of the D-Day invasion, which was not delayed by rain.

First there was this:

peter fonda

Then there was this:


Now, there is this:


A lesser man might assume that the fact that his former mower tried to kill him, leading to the costly (but extremely exciting) purchase of a brand spankin’ new authentic JD tractor – combined with the delivery of the said new mower in the middle of what would appear to be the heretofore unknown Juniorvanian monsoon season, making the actual riding or use of said mower hazardous and/or silly – is evidence that there is a spiteful God in the heavens bent on destroying all joy on earth.

Of course we – I – couldn’t entirely pass up the opportunity to climb aboard and live the John Deere experience. Some related observations:

  1. When you drop a few g’s on a garden tractor, and everybody in the room knows you’re paying more than a bit extra for this equipment because of the green and yellow paint job and the nameplate affixed to it, it seems to me that the dealer ought to be required – by law, mind you, not just moral obligation – to provide the purchaser with a logo-emblazoned cap. I’m just sayin’ that I’m going to look like a dork sitting up there on that yellow seat with no cap on. I’m supposed to buy my own damn hat, too?
  2. The folk who were charged with the responsibility of authoring the “Operator’s Manual” for this piece of machinery truly missed their calling, and it’s obvious. Rather than being stuck churning out dry technical user’s manuals, they ought to be in Hollywood crafting the latest teenage horror-thriller, mass-murderer on the loose with some sort of sharp implementIMG_2957 scarefest. Seriously, the first five pages of this manual are essentially a laundry list of the myriad of ways in which you can evidently maim, crush, kill, disfigure, or explode yourself, and the many calamities that might be visited upon either you or your property by way of fire, blunt force trauma, asphyxiation or chemical accident. One of the many warning decals on the side of the thing depicts some poor unfortunate stick man being pelted – simultaneously, mind you – in the face, legs and balls with various missiles propelled at high speed from the mower discharge unit; an ominous warning indeed. Having spent about a half an hour getting through the litany of burns, fractures, amputations and puncture wounds that threaten to afflict an inattentive or careless user of this device, I found myself thinking that a human being would have to be something approaching batshit insane to saddle up on this rolling meat grinder and go for a ride. Incidentally, this is much the same I way that I feel about horses, and I haven’t even seen an operator’s manual for one of those. About the only indignity that you cannot visit upon your body through the use of this tractor is “accidental irradiation”. So listen up, John Deere designers: you need to find a way to work in the potential for improperly shielded plutonium to be exposed, and then you’ll really have something badass. A cynic might even suggest that the conflict in Afghanistan could be quickly won by delivering fertilizer and pallets of garden tractors to the Taliban but holding back on the manuals; within a couple of weeks during the rainy season, the inevitably mounting casualties would force an end to hostilities. Bring the boys back home: mowers for the military!
  3. It has a cruise control. Seriously. For a moment, I found myself regretting that we did not go with the X360 – five position tilt steering is standard on that one. How long are people spending on these things, and how far are they travelling?
  4. Top Juniorvanian mathematicians, engineers and technical advisors are now hard at work devising a plan of attack for the initial attempt at mowing. The plan being contemplated needs to take into account a number of factors, including the complex three-dimensional geometry of the local topography, not to mention the many landscaping features (trees, shubs, gardens) that – for the moment, anyway – are growing happily throughout the target area. Assuming some degree of primacy in this complicated calculus, however, is the urgent need to avoid a continuation of the embarrassingly erratic manner in which the task was previously attempted by a hapless operator employing vastly inferior equipment. The eyes of the world are upon us; what is needed is disciplined, effective and efficient husbandry – cultivated cultivation, if you will. The top-flight, highly talented (not to mention brave) pilot for this most important mission is, accordingly, being trained in a secret facility using the latest high-tech tools and simulators to prepare for combat with the lawn.

Your faithful correspondent will, of course, post an update on the first mowing. Weather permitting.

One Tractor, With All The Fixins

Going from a one-and-a-half storey house with a shared driveway and a lawn that could be re-sodded with sprigs of parsley to the sprawling pastoral beauty of Juniorvania was bound to mean that a much more substantial portion of our lives was going to be consumed by mowing. We were, accordingly, excited to obtain (in addition to the lands and structures of Juniorvania) the riding mower allegedly used by the premises’ former owners to care for the grounds.

This is what it looked like when we took possession:

People's Lawn Tractor

It had no battery and the mower deck (not attached to the tractor in the picture above) was rusted clean through. Other than that, it was ready to go. Obviously, the machine was going to need some repairs. Thus did I take it upon myself to begin a refurbishing project; I should have known to turn back once I experienced the ignominious beginning previously detailed in this space. Instead of quitting, I turned to that most informative of documents, the owner’s manual, for direction and inspiration.


Once I waded my way through the tractor’s book of words, though, I was able to identify the parts necessary to magically transmute the thing from an inert piece of rusting junk into a dynamic and impressive piece of lawn grooming equipment. It made me happy to think I could do it myself and not call the best lawn care company in Louisville, KY for once.  I drew my credit card and headed for a telephone. Replacement parts were ordered. These arrived last weekend and, as I have described, the ensuing repair job became one of my most terrifying adventures. What follows is a photo essay about the repair attempt; these photos have been rendered all the more poignant as they document life in those simple, carefree days before The Wheelie; before an inanimate piece of gardening equipment began to make serious attempts on my life.

Upon arriving home from the Sears outlet, I removed the packages from my car and excitedly inspected the new booty. What red-blooded Canadian man wouldn’t like to receive a package like the one pictured below? There really couldn’t be a much happier label to affix to a cardboard box. Filled with acid! Corrosive! But wait, there’s more: poison! If you added the prospect of fire or explosion, you’d have yourself a little Disneyland in a box as far as most guys are concerned.

Poison, Corrosive Acid. Cool.

One battery, installed in its (plastic) anti-acid, poison-proof and corrosion resistant battery basket. I had to find a couple of random nuts and bolts in the Toolbox of Infinite Variety to secure the leads to the battery terminals. I was excited to quickly locate a couple of fasteners that would nicely handle the job. I have memorialized this moment with a photograph, as it would be the last success of my day.

Tractor Battery.

I never thought that I would ever have a box that had, among its contents, two mandrells; even more shocking, therefore, that I would choose to actually open it.

A big box.

Open Box.

Hmmmmmm. I’m starting to think that this is not where the mower blade assembly gets installed. Nevertheless, you can’t work on a vehicle without opening the hood. It’s against the law.

Work begins.

The Great Fixini advises that one should commence every repair job – no matter what the nature of the problem, the equipment, tools or dangers involed – in the same fashion: kneeling in prayer.

The Great Fixini

I have never operated a socket wrench in circumstances that did not involve some amount of resultant blood and I was definitely working up a sweat. You can be certain that there were tears.

Tears of...

My extensive exhortations to the Great God of Lawn and Garden Care must have fallen on deaf supernatural ears, as they evidently failed to drive out the demons interfering with the installation process and possessing the deck assembly. The demons manifested themselves – initially – in some repeated difficulty with installing the deck completely and correctly. They then turned their attention to making the whole damn thing hang off the bottom of the tractor on an angle that could only be accurately described as “rakish” and effectively thereby ensuring that any attempt at actually cutting the grass with this equipment would produce the kind of results usually confined to films featuring the Three Stooges. Nevertheless, I decided to take the People’s Lawn Tractor for it’s maiden voyage.


The great artist begins applying paint to his virgin canvass. A swath is born.


This may very well have been the last picture taken of Your Hero, had the Fates had their way and assassinated me in the course of The Wheelie.

The First Swath.

Sadly, there were no photojournalists present to document the balance of the weekend’s events. We must, therefore, rely upon an artist’s conception of The Wheelie:

The Wheelie

But Can It Do a Wheelie?

Spouse and I implemented the Juniorvanian National Plan for Tractor Reconstruction today, which is to say that we headed off to the local John Deere dealer and plunked down a fat wad of cash for one of these bad boys:


It is a John Deere X300 lawn tractor. I have to admit that I am irrationally excited about owning any sort of vehicle with an “X” in the model number; I haven’t read the brochure or marketing materials through thoroughly, but I am relatively certain that with a name like that, it flies and comes equipped with lasers and submachine guns.

And a beverage holder.

There are No Small Engines; Just Small Minds

I know you are dying for an update on the People’s Lawn Tractor. I would have posted it yesterday, but I was busy being a miserable prick.

That is mostly because things were not going well with the People’s Lawn Tractor. That business about it not starting on Saturday evening, mid-way through the cut? The non-starting thing appears to be an extremely addictive habit where tractors are concerned, because the People’s Tractor had only just begun not starting on Saturday evening, but by Sunday morning it was firmly committed to continuing to not start; some would say it was entirely unable to shake the disease on its own.

The well-being of the People’s Lawn Tractor was thus turned over to The Great Fixini, reknowned magician/handyman locally responsible for such amazing feats as: “The Hanging of a Picture”, “The Installation of Shelves” and (always a crowd pleaser) “The Gluing of the Table Legs”. The Great Fixini instantly knew what to do: he arranged an intervention.

To understand what happened in the course of this intervention, one must first look at lawn tractors from a Platonic standpoint – one must consider the transcendent ideal to which all worldly versions of the lawn tractor aspire. I had no idea small engine repair is such a philosophy-driven exercise, but The Great Fixini assured me that this is very much the case. plato is the original lawnmower manNear as my tiny little brain could figure it (following the rare explanation provided by The Great Fixini), the Ideal Lawn Tractor of Mount Olympus would have a system in which turning the iginition key would cause (warning: technical jargon ahead) zap juice (also known as “electricity”) to travel through wires attached to a “starter motor”. The zap juice causes the starter motor to rotate quickly, because it is an electric motor and that is what they like to do when they drink zap juice, rather like the effect a few too many Black Horses has been known to have on pub patrons in the Water St. district of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The rapid rotation of the starter motor (not the whole thing, actually, just the little shaft and its attachments – if your entire starter motor is rotating rapidly, take it from me, you have a significant problem) is designed to corkscrew this little plastic “thingy’ in an upward direction, where its tiny plastic teeth are yin to the engine gear’s yang, and the crankshaft begrudgingly turns, moving a piston which has the effect of drawing some gas vapour into the combustion chamber, which is then ignited by a spark, and voilà, we have internal combustion in our Engine of the Gods (see Book II of the Republic for a more thorough explanation, but you’ll need to be choosy about the edition you refer to – according to The Great Fixini, many people mistakenly believe Book II contains something called the “allegory of the cave” when it is actually, when properly translated, the section about the internal combustion engine. )

The flaw in the specific and particular instantiation of “lawn tractor” that is the People’s Lawn Tractor was easily identified upon the removal of the housing enclosing the starter motor, a procedure that seemed to flow naturally from the fact that these were the two least greasy screws immediately obvious to The Great Fixini upon raising the tractor’s hood. starterpartRecall that the “thingy” at the top of the Universal Abstraction of the Starter Motor has little plastic teeth that mesh nicely and importantly with certain metal teeth inside the engine. Well, on the starter motor of the here and now, the little thingy’s plastic teeth could only be accurately described by resorting to cooking terminology: they looked somewhat puréed, at least with a respect to one arc segment of the little thingy’s circumference. That is to say that certain of the thingy’s teeth needed to be al dente, but they were instead very much overcooked, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why the engine ate them.

Having identified the problem with our Lawn Tractor through resort to Platonic philosophy and a dangerously limited knowledge about cooking, it remained to design a strategy for the “correctional” phase of the endeavour – the part where the broken thing actually gets fixed. The Great Fixini’s university education had convinced him that philosophy would be of no use whatsoever for such a normative and prescriptive exercise, so he spent the next few minutes casting about for some inspiration as to the appropriate body of knowledge to which reference ought to be made. With much lawn remaining unhewed, no ready supply of replacement parts immediately available, and not the faintest clue as to how one might install a replacement part of this nature in any event, it occurred to him that we were in a Tough Spot. If there’s one thing to be learned from television and movies, it is that being in a Tough Spot can always be overcome by the power of positive thinking. Thus did The Great Fixini turn his attention to an exploration of the psychology necessary to facilitate repair of the tractor.

I had anticipated that The Great Fixini would begin with a spot of intense meditation and a moment of self-affirmation, but it soon became clear to me that I had it all wrong. How could a person’s state of mind and positive mindset possibly affect the performance of a lawn tractor? The Great Fixini assured me that such a plan was just patently ridiculous and obviously doomed to failure.
Obviously, Fixini said, we needed to concentrate on how the tractor felt about itself.

At the direction of The Great Fixini, therefore, I spent the next few minutes whispering to the recalcitrant and sullen piece of power equipment about the power of visualization, about the value of positive imaging and trying to instill a sense of purpose and inevitability about its rise from ignominious defeat, like in Rocky III when Rocky initially loses to Clubber Lang but you totally know that Rocky is going to reclaim his title before the end of the movie. The Lawn Tractor hadn’t seen that movie, but I recounted a brief synopsis of the plot, recommended that the tractor should see it some time, and the tractor pointed out that there isn’t a DVD player in the garage. I agreed to try and remedy that, but felt we were digressing slightly from the purpose of our conversation. Re-dedicating myself to our goal, I gave the tractor a stirring pep talk, like Gene Hackman in that movie Hoosierswhat, didn’t see that one either, eh? – well, it was good too. Refusing to get sidetracked again, the tractor and I soon believed that it could start. I showed the tractor that the starter thingy could still rotate, by moving it manually with my hand. Immediately thereafter, deploying the power of positive thought and steadfastly ignoring the existence of any problem, I clambered aboard and – on The Great Fixini’s signal – turned the ignition key.

Despite the resort to psychology, rather than philosophy, what ensued must be seen as a great epistemological triumph, as the tractor’s belief in its own soundness was converted into an objective and knowable fact in the instant of ignition: the tractor cast off the chains of its addiction to not starting, the engine sputtered to life, and the People’s Lawn Tractor bravely decided to soldier on. As the heroic mower advanced upon the untamed savannah, The Great Fixini was last seen waving a joyous and celebratory goodbye to the adoring throng marvelling at the enormity of his achievement.

What followed next was alternately frightening and frustrating. You could probably conclude – correctly – from that sentence alone that the lawn did not get completely cut before additional difficulties were encountered.

First, there was the matter of the inexperience of the tractor’s operator. Aside from Saturday’s all-too-brief maiden sally down the driveway and across a limited swath of lawn, I am humbled to admit that I had no prior history whatsoever of tractor operation. Keeping this significant disability in mind, it seems to me that – had the entire lawn actually gotten cut on Sunday afternoon with the help of NSTS – we might very well now be marvelling at the courage and skill of a plucky young chap with his can-do Tractor of Philosophy. Unfortunately, this was not my chosen path. Instead, the general public were witness to one of the most shameful displays of mower operation in recorded history. It is difficult, I concede, to imagine that the word “careening” could ever usefully be employed to describe the motions of a 12.5 hp tractor with a heavy mower assembly attached and a portly operator aboard, but I am here to tell you that no other word will suffice. Not a Painting by Pollock;  also not my mowing planShortly after commencing to mow, all semblance of a conventional system or plan regarding the orderly application of mower to lawn was abandoned in favour of a more (at least apparently more) random, almost Pollock-esque method of coverage. To the cynical eye, it might have appeared that what my plan lacked in “higgledy”, it made up for with “piggledy”. More than this haphazard directionality, though, there was the matter of The Wheelie; it is impossible, however, to fully understand this last event completely without turning our attention to the next category of mowing difficulties experienced

By way of segue, then, in addition to the operator’s inexperience, there was the questionable mechanical fitness of the equipment itself. Now, I know that it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools; nevertheless, and keeping in mind the fact that I claim no especial technical knowledge of such power equipment, it seems to me unlikely that upon attempting to execute a left turn, for example, that the front left tire of the tractor ought to become entrapped by the leading edge of the mower housing. The sudden-ness of the stops that seem to be consequent upon such events, and the ferocity of the quite distinctly unusual grinding, popping and clacking noises that emerge immediately thereafter from beneath an already astonishingly loud device bear, in my mind, bellicose and throaty witness to a possible mechanical deficiency that at the very least needs the attention of The Great Fixini, if not an exorcist with a set of socket wrenches. In addition to these sinister (see what I did there, you Latin scholars?) mechanical challenges, however, there is the issue of the tractor’s clutch. From the very outset of my career atop the device, the locomotion I was able to achieve was notably characterized by some degree of lurching and spasmodic inconsistency even while attempting to travel in a straight line on flat and level ground. At least I believe that the observed locomotion would be erratic on flat and level ground, but it is difficult to say for sure as there is no flat and level ground whatsoever in all of Juniorvania, a fact I discovered to my chagrin the moment I began my maiden voyage aboard the People’s Lawn Tractor. The combination of this last fact, the presence on the tractor of what must be a worn-out and disinterested, possibly homicidal, drive clutch mechanism, and one small (but critical) gear selection error on the part of the operator produced the frightening majesty of The Wheelie. The Wheelie was brief and transient, but its terrible beauty lives on in the memory of all who were privileged to witness it – from afar. With attachment clutch engaged and dual mower blades whirling menacingly beneath the mower housing that was, only moments before, confined to the lowly elevation of its usual station, the tractor poised on a slight uphill grade facing the house, the tractor had reared up on its great haunches for a moment in the sunshine and snarled it’s vigorous disagreement with the operator’s selection of gear number six as the drive clutch propelled the great vehicle onward (and upward) in an instant. It is unlikely, of course, that the great beast would have reared so high as to overturn itself completely, but it would be difficult to convince the tractor’s clearly shaken operator of the physics demonstrably supporting that proposition in the moments immediately following The Wheelie.

Third among the list of additional mowing difficulties was this: limited fuel supply. Operating the tractor in such a fashion as to elevate the front wheels evidently has its costs in the area of fuel economy, in addition to the toll it exacts upon the mental health of its skittish occupants. Approximately eighty percent of the way through to the completion of his canvas, the work of the artist aboard the tractor was rudely interrupted by a thirsty, mechanical cough that announced the extinction of the on-board fuel supply. Efforts to re-supply the tank through use of the many assorted gas cans littering the vicinity of the garage were unsuccessful, as these particular gas cans did not evidently consider it of the utmost importance to actually contain any gasoline in order to be correctly perceived as gasoline containers. Further examination of these cans revealed that each of them has a somewhat dubious capacity to actually “contain” the said gasoline except in the most prosaic circumstances, as not a one of them had an actual cap by which one might prevent the accidental and unintentional ejection of their contents. A brief trip to the local Canadian Tire followed, with a subsequent excursion to a nearby filling station to fill the newly acquired container with the necessary fuel. Returning to Juniorvania (damn that dependence on foreign oil) with a grim determination to finish the job, the tank was refilled and the operator once again convinced to take his place in the captain’s chair. This time, however, a turn of the key in the ignition switch produced only the tractor’s proclamation, in the clearest terms possible, that the “thingy” in the starter motor had developed a very significant existential and essential problem and it had ceased, in any sense of the word important to the actual mowing of lawns, to be.

Even the many talents of The Great Fixini would not, on this day, reverse the effects of these philosophical developments upon the essence of the lawn tractor. It had become in an instant stationary, decorative and inert, rather than dynamic, functional and instrumental.

I am not pleased to report that by now, my own mood had darkened rather considerably. I strode to the garage with my jaw set and my teeth clenched, bent upon finishing the lawn-mowing I had begun a mere two days ago if it killed me.

It nearly did. I had gone to the garage looking for the gas operated push mower kept for touch ups and tight spots such as those in the back yard. This particular device and I had a bit of a history already: it had electrocuted me on Friday night when I was attempting to re-attach the spark plug lead while the mower engine was running. Poor choice on my part, that much I’ll grant you, but the mower didn’t have to so eagerly make the most of the opportunity I presented it to wound me. I had spent the rest of Friday evening rubbing the part of my hand that got zapped, feeling slightly colder than usual, and fielding Spouse’s worried (I think) questions about the likelihood of my imminent demise from that most ignominious of causes: “bizarre gardening accident” (though these are not unknown to befall the drummers of successful bands such as Spinal Tap). You can understand, therefore, that I viewed the gas-powered Tecumseh engine with some suspicion as I set the choke lever, primed the engine with some fuel and pulled the starter cord. Again. And again. And again. The little engine would cough to disinterested life, sputter a bit, then wheeze into torpor no matter what I did – adjust the choke, don’t adjust the choke, curse, swear, yell, wave arms, jump up and down, pull at places where I used to have hair – you name it, I could not provoke this indolent little monster into action through any means.

My eyes barely contained the fire of my rage. Sweat was dripping from my brow, and as the sun glared down at me and my collection of useless small engines, I stomped into the garage again and selected the manual push mower from it’s resting place. I strode purposefully on to the lawn and approached one of the larger interstitial patches (bits of lawn that I had missed on one pass or another aboard the People’s Lawn Tractor) and begin thrashing away at the wild savannah with the whirling blades of the push mower. The grass was tall and thick, and the poor little hand tool and I were wildly overmatched, but we managed to perservere enough to rid the lawn of most of the larger interstitial patches that were distributed somewhat randomly over the growing surface – “most”, but not “all”. There remains a large patch of unmowed grass somewhat evenly distributed around the trunk of a tree growing out near the road. I was breathing like a heavyweight tottering towards the end of a championship bout, the sweat from my brow was developing various estuaries and tributaries and my muscles – trained to within an inch of physical perfection by the onerous demands of my desk job – were screaming in agonized surrender.

I am stubborn. My mind had been made up to finish this job come hell or high water. Most of the hell had been endured aboard the tractor, and the high water was gathering in my shorts as I stood sweating in the hot sun. I looked at the roughly circular patch of un-mown grass surrounding the little tree and said, “I will call you The Island of Tree,” then turned and dragged my push mower back to the garage, having preserved a measure of dignified victory with the power of denial and some quick resort to semiotics.


Note that I promised to publish some photos of the repair process/maiden voyage. That plan was derailed somewhat by yesterday’s antics (both mine and the mower’s). I am still working on a photo essay on this and I still intend to post it.