2010.05.12 Coal fuels my lawn mower

Written by David Green.


I bought a new coal-fired lawn mower a few weeks ago. It’s mostly powered by coal. According to an EPA website, my electricity is about 67 percent derived from coal, 15.6 percent nuclear, 13.7 percent gas, with a few smaller sources thrown in.

I don’t like the smell of gasoline-powered mowers and I’ve read about the extraordinary amount of pollution they create, but I have to use it every now and then in my yard. I have a lot of “bad grass”  along with a heathy dose of dandelion and plantain that my human-powered reel mower can’t handle.

The reel does a great job part of the mowing season, but it needs a backup with my grass. This year my backup is powered with electricity, or dirty coal.

I read a lot of reviews before making my purchase. I started off with the goal of buying a mower with a rechargeable battery. I’m sure there are many people who will dispute this statement, but I think it’s too early to buy a cordless mower.

They’re very heavy, the batteries are very expensive to replace, there are apparently some longevity issues.

So I read about corded models and the positive reviews far outweigh the negative.

When I was a kid, I remember someone in my neighborhood had a cord coming out of his mower. I thought it was pretty odd. I’m living in that same neighborhood today and now I’m the odd one.

I’ve had a lot of stares over the last couple of years from kids who never knew there was such a thing as a lawn mower without a motor. Now it’s starting again with that strange purple cord (look, I wanted something with high visibility that I wouldn’t run over).

I knew where I would buy this machine so my choices were limited. I’m not going to push just any mower around the lawn when my back yard neighbor, Adam, owns the local hardware store. I would buy what Adam had to sell and he had just what I wanted: a Black and Decker model that got so many good reviews on the Amazon website. I’ll use Amazon to evaluate, then purchase locally.

In fact, I really appreciate the user reviews at Amazon. There’s a lot of good information and usage hints. There’s also entertainment as the gripers gripe and the lovers tell them they’re nuts.

You can’t top the guy who wrote a long treatise about Sayyid Qutb, the leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

“As Sayyid Qutb found when he lived in Greeley, Col., in the 1950s, Americans are obsessed with their lawns. He was offended by our desire for a lush lawn. He saw it as a character flaw of Americans, showing that we were decadent and corrupt spiritually.”

It’s all about lawns, this guy says, and it’s all about talking instead of fighting. “If we had just sat down and talked about our lawns and gardens, talked about what we hope for our daughters and wives, talked about how our past shows us the mistakes we’ve made....”

You can find it all in the Black & Decker mower reviews.

Many reviewers talked about the cord, of course, about the challenges of odd-shaped lawns and obstacles such as trees and fire hydrants and cable boxes.

That concerned me. I have four trees in the front yard alone and overall my lawn is no easy rectangular layout.

I read that you must start closest to the outlet and work your way out from there. I placed my order with Adam, but before it arrived, I mowed in my head. I worked through where I would start in the front and how I would proceed in the back, etc. I didn’t want to look like a fool when the real thing arrived.

I’ve used it for four mowings now—twice in back and twice for the remainder—and I think I’ve looked foolish no more than half a dozen times. Tripping over the cord, getting it twisted around my leg, getting trapped with nowhere to go but across the cord—it doesn’t happen often at all, and as the reviewers say, it takes some practice. My most recent outing was the smoothest yet.

Sometime when no one is looking, I’ve got to give this guy’s method a try: “My trick to managing the cord is to let a little slack hang off the right side handle-attachment, then run it up over my right shoulder, around the back of my neck, down my left shoulder, and under my left arm. I can manage the cord on turns with my left hip and left arm while my right hand holds the power switch, and the cord drags behind me and off to the side (out of the way for the return pass) as I do the straight-aways.”

Is this guy nuts or does he know the secret? It sounds better than my thoughts of constructing overhead wires like the old electric railroad routes.

My goal is for Adam to mention my name often to prospective customers. They’ll stop by the house and want to try it out. I’ll get them started and then I’ll head to the porch with a good book.

Or maybe I’ll think about Sayyid Qutb. He died in an Egyptian jail decades ago, but his writings still have a lot of influence with radical Muslims. If only we could have talked about our lawns.

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