When we bought the new/old house two years ago, my parents helpfully found an old Sears Craftsman lawnmower for us for $50. Not a bad price for a lawn mower. I had to find a grass catcher for it, but it pretty much started on request and had self-propel. Unfortunately what I did not do for it was change its air filter, and apparently when you live in a place where dust blows through the air almost 365 days a year, you have to actually CHANGE THE AIR FILTER. Like really. And since I didn't know that, I didn't do it.
Aside from the unbelievably sandy air, what the Columbia basin offers is an average of 310 days of sun a year and almost unlimited irrigation from the Columbia River, which flows majestically south just a few hundred yards from my house. I pay, I kid you not, $180 dollars a YEAR for unlimited irrigation in the growing months for my acre and a half. I could bathe this place in water 10 hours a day straight and it would not cost me a dime more than my twice-yearly $90 irrigation tax. So we have a butt load of sun and a butt load of water, and just what do you think those of us with grass in our yards net as a result? You got it. We mow our lawns TWICE A WEEK or they turn into something you need to cut with a tractor very quickly.
Preparing to go on vacation, lawn mowing was large on my mind. Even scaling back the irrigation time on the front and back from a half hour to 15 minutes would mean I was only going to dull the growth to, oh, five inches or so. I couldn't NOT water it. Its July in the desert. No water would mean a brown lawn. This ain't suburbia, not yet (it can't be if you have horses in your back yard) but civilized people do care about their green patch of grass. So with that in mind, I had a good plan. Mow the back yard, which grows the fastest, on Friday, mow the right half of the front on Saturday, mow the left half of the front on Sunday and mow the back again on Monday, leave for vacation on Tuesday. With any luck I would be able to still mow with the bag off when I got back the following Thursday.
I stuck to my plan, all the way until Sunday - and then it happened. Halfway through the left half of the front yard, happily mowing along, my mower suddenly choked out a cloud of white smoke, gurgled and started to die...and just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the dipstick lurch straight up, and out of the hole it left below, a big BLURP of dirty oil came vomiting out. Oh. My. God. How am I going to stick to my perfect suburban lawn mowing plan NOW? CURSE YOU, LAWN MOWER GODS!!!
I called my friend Jennifer's husband Justin, who is wise about such things as lawn mowers, and asked him if he could help me. I had a tight schedule to maintain, dammit! They came as quickly as possible, he looked it over and told me that at first glance, he could tell I needed new O rings, probably more. He could come pick it up with his truck on Monday. He got it working passably enough for me to finish the front yard and do the back - but I couldn't use the self-propel function, every time I tried to turn on the gear, the dipstick began wobbling in what I can only describe as a very threatening manner. "Take the easy way out, girlie, and I'm going airborne again. Just try me." I sweated and cursed my way through a manual cycle of the backyard.
Justin showed up the afternoon we were leaving. As we lifted my lawnmower into the back of his truck, I patted it wistfully and told it to hurry up and get better soon. We left for New Jersey shortly thereafter. The lawnmower crossed my mind more than once during the week that followed, but I eased my fears by telling myself that if anyone could make it better, Justin could.
This morning, one day after our return, I called Jennifer. "How's my lawnmower doing?" I asked. "I have good news and bad news," she said, "which do you want first?" "Give it to me straight up, I'm a big girl. I can take it."
"Well, the good news is, you get a new lawnmower. The bad news is, you have to pay for it."
Turns out, if you don't ever change the air filter on your lawnmower, all that sand in the air gets into your engine and does a nasty number on your pistons. When this happens, you don't just need new O rings, baby, you need a whole new engine. And when you start talking pricing out a new engine, you might as well just buy a whooooollllle new lawnmower.
We bought a Toro with a 22 inch deck, self-propel and electric starter. And its bright red, which means Little Man is more in love with it than he is with his new toy tractor. And you can bet your britches I'll be changing the air filter on a yearly basis. Darned tootin' I will.