When I was a kid 50-plus years ago, lawn mowers were pretty basic: push or riding.
If you had a small yard you used a push mower; if you had a big yard you used a riding mower.
Life was simple.
Now, trying to sort through all the varieties of grass-cutting machinery will leave you as confused as a cricket trying to outrun a zero-turn.
I know, because I recently spent several weeks shopping for a mower. I reached a good conclusion, but not without a lot of mental twists and turns.
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When I started cutting grass as a child, my dad had graduated from the old-time rotary mower that had no engine to a basic gasoline-powered Sears push model. Our yard was small and it did the job.
But when I entered third grade in 1963, Dad took the position of in-house administrator of an assisted living center (they called it “home for the aged” back then), and it had a huge yard. My big brother Robert and I tried it with the push mower but it was just too much, so Dad — who wasn’t one to spend money — bought us a Sears riding model.
Robert, being older, claimed it first, of course, but when it was my turn, I felt like a teenager with his first car.
Later, though, we moved to a place with a small yard, and it was back to pushing.
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Even after I grew up and bought my own place in Amite County, I remained partial to push mowers. They’re cheap, easy to handle, and they do the job.
My place is pretty big, but most of it’s woods, and the rest is broken up into bits and pieces. For a long time the only open expanse was the orchard, and I just muscled around it.
By my mid-40s, pushing all that area got to be a bit much, so I splurged on a 21-inch self-propelled walk-behind mower.
Recently the self-propelled feature on my mower conked out, and a visit to the shop didn’t fix it, so I figure it’s worn out. I’ll keep it for narrow spaces, but it’s time for something else otherwise.
That’s where the confusion came in as I started considering all the varieties available.
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I visited local stores. Talked to friends. Tried some out.
Then I went online, and that’s where things really got complicated. What I remember as just a few models in my youth have multiplied into infinity and beyond — with prices to match.
You can spend $15,000 on a lawn mower! Dad is turning over in his grave.
I looked at three basic options. First, a larger self-propelled mower.
They’re out there, all right. They tend to cost $1,000 and up. And they’re heavy, used more by lawn contractors than regular folks, especially my age.
I found myself longing for the old Yazoo high-wheel mower I used to own. It was a piece of grass-cutting history. It could be hard to start, but when it got going it was a beast,
I looked up Yazoo mowers online and, though Yazoo Manufacturing Co. of Jackson has been closed for years, I discovered a comparable model made in Florida. But the company ships factory-direct, and I prefer to buy locally.
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Next I looked into so-called lawn tractors or garden tractors, those rugged-looking machines that resemble miniature farm tractors. They range from $1,000 to over $3,000.
A local salesman explained to me that the life of a tractor is its deck. A thin deck may be quickly bent out of shape if you mow rough terrain, which I definitely have. A heavy deck translates into more money, weight and size.
One advantage to lawn tractors, the salesman explained, is that they can pull attachments, like a wagon, rake or tiller.
My sister had one on rural property in Washington State and loved it, said it would cut anything. Others have given similar endorsements.
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Next up the ladder are zero-turns, which are all the rage, and with good reason.
The first time I tried one was years ago when my brother-in-law got one. I instantly saw the appeal. They turn on a dime and cover ground fast. The design is revolutionary.
But prices start well over $2,000 and go into the stratosphere.
So many factors. And everyone has an opinion.
I felt like the guy on the old “Dating Game” TV show who has to choose among three attractive contestants. The perky walk-behind? The girl-next-door lawn tractor? The fashionable zero-turn?
In my case, I wanted less exertion, but the nature of my property rules out wide-deck riding mowers.
The solution for me turned out to be a 34-inch zero-turn.
To my amazement, an area that used to take half an hour with a push mower took me five minutes with the new machine.
I came to realize that buying a lawn mower is a very personal decision. It depends on your particular piece of property and, of course, your pocketbook.
After all, you’re the one who’s going to be doing the work, not the guy giving you advice.