May 21, 2022
I have never particularly enjoyed yardwork. I mow the yard weekly in season, hand-rake and mulch the leaves once or twice per year, almost never edge or string trim, and viciously assault the greenery on occasion as what I call pruning but others denounce as butchery. However, my recent purchase of my first electric lawnmower has me pondering my sordid past in lawncare.
When I was in elementary school we lived in Bethany, a suburb of Oklahoma City, in the Cross Timbers. That is a strip of land from southeastern Kansas across central Oklahoma to the middle of Texas. It has coarse and sandy soil so that the woodlands are mostly post and blackjack oak. If you have been to Osage Hills State Park west of Bartlesville, or you’ve been bored and looked at much of the scenery along the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, then you’ve observed that biome.
My parents’ home in Bethany sat on the middle of three lots they owned which had over seventy blackjack oaks at the time…my father counted them.
They produced an immense amount of leaves, and my late friend Gene Freeman and I loved raking them into piles and pathways to race around in my pedal car and his Big Wheel. Here’s a photo of Gene and me in first grade in the Cross Timbers. We were best friends through sixth grade, even though his family moved southwest after first grade, and he went to a different school. Almost every Saturday Gene’s mother would drive him over to my house, or my mother would drive me over to theirs to play.
Here’s Mom in the front yard during our first autumn at the house in Bethany. All of those leaves and many, many more would soon be falling, prompting Dad to buy a leaf shredder to try to keep up with them.
I was amused that the first photo of our former home in Google Maps shows several dozen bags of leaves in front. The house is now a dark green instead of red, it now has a carport, and the people that bought the house from my folks built a new home on one of the side lots. But several of the blackjack oaks are still there, and their leaves must be dealt with.
When we lived there, grass still poked up amidst the leaves and sand, and Dad used an old riding lawnmower to handle the three lots. He would disengage the blades and let Gene and me drive the mower around. Gene absolutely loved it, while I was only mildly entertained. I wasn’t surprised that Gene eventually traded in his Big Wheel for a motorcycle, while my pedal car led me to sedans.
The dust and allergies from all of those oak leaves were a major reason we moved a little over a mile east as I entered junior high. Gene and the oak leaves receded into the past, and in high school I mowed my parents’ hilly yard in Windsor Hills with a red self-propelled reel mower. It looked something like the one shown here and was the last reel mower, and the last self-propelled one, that I ever used.
Dad had me collect the clippings in the hopper, dumping it repeatedly into bags to set at the curb. A decade after graduating from high school, I was renting a house in Bartlesville and needed a mower of my own for the first time. Naturally my Greatest Generation father found something cheap at a garage sale: a Lawn-Boy with a D-400 two-stroke engine.
My eyes narrow to slits whenever I see that distinctive green rectangular cowling with its two-finger vertical recoil starter and primer button. While Dad loved Lawn-Boys, I wasn’t a fan. The D-400 engine was manufactured by the Outboard Marine Corporation, which also produced distinctive Evinrude and Johnson boat motors. Two-stroke engines have no lubrication system, so you have to mix oil with the gasoline, and they produce a lot of noise and pollution. But they are cheap!
I’ve never been one to adjust a carburetor or replace a spark plug, so when the Lawn-Boy quit one day, I happily gave it back to my father for him to mess with and bought a four-stroke push lawnmower. It was quieter and less smoky, using regular gas without added oil. I had to drain the lubricating oil from it each winter and replace it each spring, but overall it was a big improvement.
At the rent house, I’d given up on bagging, simply side-discharging the crabgrass clippings. But in 1994 when I bought a home in Arrowhead Acres that had a pretty shaded fescue lawn out front, and lots of leaves blowing in that clogged the flowerbeds each autumn, I decided to mulch everything.
In 2010 the metal housing for the rotary blade rusted out and a wheel came off. So I checked Consumer Reports and ordered a Husqvarna with a Kohler engine. Or maybe it was a Kohler with a Husqvarna engine…I certainly don’t care which. When that mower quit suddenly in 2016, I didn’t try to fix it, as I hadn’t been all that happy with it. Instead I ordered a Cub Cabet SC100 push mower from Home Depot, which I used through the spring of 2022.
But I truly don’t take care of my lawnmowers. A neighbor once borrowed one of my mowers and was sufficiently taken aback that he took off the blade to have it sharpened! I used to be sure to run them dry of gasoline for winter, but then I just started purchasing ethanol-free gas and leaving it in the tank year-round, and I have only changed the oil in the Cub Cadet every other year.
The Cub Cadet lived up to its moniker when it came to mulching raked piles of leaves, with me having to nurse that wimp through the process. And in recent months it got noticeably louder, even through the earplugs I’ve used for years when mowing, plus it developed a vibration. I could turn it over and check on the condition of the blade, but I really don’t like the @#$% thing.
So I thought about getting yet another gas push mower even though the two on hand probably only need a bit of engine and blade work. But then I’d still be using a loud mower that needed more care than I wish to provide. Noise irritates me and my hearing is going, and avoiding noise is why I’ve always raked rather than use a leafblower.
Hmmm…for years I’ve planned to eventually replace my 2014 Toyota Camry gas sedan with a fully electric car…if an electric car is now practical for use in town, would a cordless electric mower be out of the question?
Consumer Reports and other parts of the internet assured me that improved batteries and designs have indeed allowed cordless electric lawnmowers to take on more than small urban patches of grass. But in the past I have had mixed results with electric lawncare equipment.
When I bought my house in Bartlesville, Dad gave me his vintage Craftsman electric edger. I used it once, creating sparks and noise, occasionally veering off from the curb to make narrow cuts in the lawn. I hated the experience, so rather than improve with practice I went out and bought a corded electric string trimmer.
That worked okay for me, with its swivel head that I could rotate from curb edging to fence clearing mode when the grass growing against the chain link fence in part of the backyard got too bad. But I quickly tired of running out 100′ of cord to stretch from an exterior outlet to the back corner of the chain link fence in my wedge-shaped yard; cul-de-sacs are nice, but they create weirdly shaped plots. So I bought a gas-powered string trimmer. But that meant I was back to mixing oil and gas, with a lot of noise, and while it was powerful, I was so clumsy that I burned my skin once on its hot exhaust.
So I went back to electric, purchasing a cordless 18-volt Black & Decker Grasshog. I loved how light and easy it was to use, but it had two big drawbacks. One was planning ahead to charge its batteries; I trim so rarely that the trickle charging from leaving the batteries plugged in all the time would be a mistake. The other was that it was too wimpy for some jobs. In 2013 I bought a 36-volt Black & Decker LST136 trimmer, which is plenty powerful. I like to use the 36-volt unit for edging and the 18-volt unit for fence trimming, but whenever I finally get the urge to use them, I have to remember to plug in their chargers and batteries hours or days in advance.
So I knew that an electric lawnmower would need even higher voltage (power = current times voltage). I am a paid electronic subscriber to Consumer Reports, and it rated the 56-volt Ego LM2135 as top of the heap for battery push mowers. I watched several video reviews about it, seeking out regular folks who had used one for months. It all looked okay, although I don’t need a self-propelled mower for my lawn, which only slopes off a bit at the back, and I mulch everything, so I wanted a Select Cut model with a second mulching blade. Thus I ordered the Ego LM2130.
It came ready to go right out of the box, except that I had to plug the 5.0 amp-hour battery into the accompanying rapid charger to top it off before cutting the grass. Since the Cub Cadet was still occupying the mower slot in the outdoor shed, I just tipped the electric mower on one set of wheels with its handle folded up and set it near a wall in the garage beside my sedan. If we didn’t have the nice outdoor shed that John & Betty Henderson purchased and assembled for Wendy and me as a wedding gift, I’d make regular use of that feature.
Yesterday I had my first mow with it. I had let the grass grow high while waiting for my new mower, so I knew that the battery probably wouldn’t have enough capacity to mow my entire lawn. It did a nice job, being significantly quieter and a bit easier to maneuver than my gas mowers. It never balked or overloaded, and I was able to mow about 2/3 of the entire lawn before the battery drained completely. Better still, I will never have to put gas or oil in it, although you are supposed to apply some light oil to a few springs and bearings once per season. The odds of that happening are not good.
I’m sufficiently pleased that I plan to get rid of both of my gas mowers, but I will need another battery since I don’t want to break up my weekly mowing into two sessions with a battery recharge in-between. EGO has 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10 amp-hour batteries that will work with my mower, but you can’t find the 10 amp-hour one on Amazon. So this weekend I plan to purchase one in meatspace at an Ace Hardware in Broken Arrow, which was the only place that showed one in stock. That should give me plenty of capacity even for extended leaf mulching sessions.
I’m not much of a lawn boy, but I actually enjoyed mowing the lawn yesterday. Here’s hoping I’m not blinded with science!