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Sizing up Lawn Equipment, from Lawn Mowers to Blowers

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Explore Words of Experience from Korey Constable, guest stories for Fruit-Powered Magazine.

It is fitting how my first monthly article for Fruit-Powered Magazine happened to be the beginning of a series on the Four Causes of Disease, and this final monthly article (before this e-magazine shifts to quarterly contributions from regular guest writers) is the last installment in a series. Let’s talk about some of the things I spend most of my time with: lawn equipment! Before we go any further, I’m going to start with another famous warning: Lawn equipment can be hazardous to your health, so be careful!

Lawn Equipment: The Push Lawn Mower

When I was 8, I used my very first piece of lawn equipment, a lawn mower. My dad liked to do the tight spots with this piece of lawn equipment for our family’s 1½-acre property, so he trusted me enough to use this fairly simple lawn-cutting device. I think I broke it only once unless my dad did it and blamed it on me. Which is very possible because he recently blamed me for sitting on a toilet too hard.

As long as the engine is running, the blade is spinning, which means it doesn’t stop until the engine stops. Push lawn mowers usually come with a spring-loaded lever that sits above or below the push bar, which acts as an on/off switch or an on/kill switch, if you will. This lever is mounted as far away from the blade as possible for safety reasons, so don’t even think about taping it down to the bar! It is much cheaper and healthier to work on your grip than it is to lose body parts.

Korey Constable's Toro push lawnmower
“Sissy’s push mower,” Korey Constable writes. “Note the tape on the handle, which I did not put on there.” Most story photos by Korey Constable.

Push lawn mowers are available in 20-inch widths, give or take a couple of inches, and are available in self-propelled versions, which I used to called a “sissy’s mower” until I did the trimmings on a friend’s large, hilly yard with it. Although some people like to push-mow fairly large yards up to an acre like my grandfather did, they are ideal for up to quarter-acre yards or tight areas of larger yards. Cheap ones can be had for $150 new with more decent ones containing Japanese engines starting at $300.

Lawn Equipment: The Garden Tractor

On my ninth birthday, I asked my dad if I could mow the yard with the garden tractor, and he let me do about half the back yard with it. This was—and is—a step up from the push lawn mower for me, and I was excited enough when it came to using the push lawn mower, so imagine my excitement when it came to controlling the wheel of a more powerful piece of machinery. It even had gears and a clutch, so it was like driving a car!

I really enjoyed mowing half the back yard with this so much that I was eventually allowed to mow the whole back yard with it and, later on, the sloped front yard. I even hooked up a wagon to it and towed friends and family members with it around the yard. I was very proficient by 10 years old, but that did not come without incidents. After a couple of seasons, the front axle broke. Once, I attempted to drive the lawn mower up the ramps into the storage shed, even though I was told to leave that part to the adults and drove it off the ramp, almost tipping it over and fleeing the scene, wheels still under power. Another time, I almost burned down the woods by setting the lawn mower on fire.

Two lawnmowers are stationed on a trailer
Photographed are two of Korey Constable’s lawn mowers, parked on his trailer. Korey Constable owns several pieces of lawn equipment.

By the time I was nearing manhood, I wanted something less cumbersome because most garden tractors then did not have that good of a turning radius and required a lot of direction changes, which was time consuming. I was also doing other people’s lawns and needed something larger, quicker to mow and easier to use.

Most garden tractors these days are hydraulically propelled and do not require a conventional gearbox, more commonly found on older tractors. These can be had from 38- to 54-inch cutting widths with many features such as a grass collection system, with my favorite being the four-wheel steering, a feature I recommend if one is dead set on a garden tractor. The lower-quality lawn mowers start at around $1,000 with ones resembling a Swiss army knife—fitted with a front-end loader, backhoe and four-wheel drive—selling at $15,000 and beyond.

Korey Constable with his father a garden tractor
Korey Constable is photographed with his father on the family’s first garden tractor in 1988.

Lawn Equipment: The Walk-Behind Lawn Mower

Fifteen years ago, my good friend Chip was leaving for college, and when the opportunity came for me to buy his old 48-inch belt-driven walk-behind lawn mower, I took advantage of it because I knew it would be one of the best investments I ever made. I had a couple of lawn accounts in my neighborhood and was starting classes soon, so I needed something that was more efficient than the garden tractor I was using.

That day turned out to be a true testament to my first real investment in the lawn business. Chip and I were finishing up a property when we pulled out to do another property down the road and the lawn mower fell off the back of the truck. It survived the impact, breaking a small support rod under the controls that barely affected the lawn mower’s functionality. My dad found out shortly thereafter and was not too pleased with the old lawn mower I bought and broke and thought Chip was taking advantage of me. Unhappy, he demanded I stop mowing lawns with Chip and head home to mow their lawn, but I persisted and told him I would do their lawn once we finished the customer’s property.

Green Goodall walk-behind lawnmower
“Photographed is a mid-1980s 48-inch Goodall walk-behind mower, purchased from my friend Chip,” Korey Constable writes.

Once we finished our work for the day, Chip dropped me off at home by dusk with my new investment, which I fixed and made some adjustments to before mowing the lawn. By the time I got done, it was getting dark, but the lawn looked the best it had ever looked in half the time it took to mow. My dad was so impressed that he had a change of heart with my investment decision and continued to stand behind my lawn business ever since.

These lawn mowers are great for homeowners and commercial operators alike. They are more efficient than garden tractors and are great on steep inclines. They are my No. 1 choice for homeowners with an acre or less who want the biggest bang for their buck. Most commercial users will tell you that hydraulically driven (hydro for short) lawn mowers are superior to their belt-driven counterparts, but I digress for three major reasons.

Belt-driven walk-behind lawn mowers:

  • Weigh 150 to 200 pounds less
  • Have less expensive moving parts that are less prone to messy and expensive repairs
  • Have a much better turning radius with greater maneuverability. Take my word for it—I’m constantly left physically drained from this hydro lawn mower we use at a golf course!

I wouldn’t pay less than $3,000 for a new belt-driven walk-behind lawn mower, but used ones can be had for less than $1,000 in good condition. They are commonly found with cutting widths ranging from 36 to 52 inches, although I personally had a 61-incher at one point and have seen 72-inch ones for sale. The ones powered by Kawasaki engines are your best bet.

I paid about $500 for Chip’s lawn mower, which was at least 15 years old at the time. This lawn mower made me hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I still use it to this day.

Lawn Equipment: The Zero-Turn Lawn Mower

In spring 2007, I picked up more lawn accounts, including 2½- and 3-acre properties and needed bigger lawn equipment. I did not like the concept of the new zero-turn lawn mowers because I had heard from a customer that they ripped up lawns from the way they turned. And I used one on a hilly property that did, indeed, rip it up! I found a large version of Chip’s lawn mower on eBay, a 61-inch walk-behind, another 48-inch walk-behind and a box truck for storing and transporting lawn mowers, all located within a half-hour from each other in Northern New Jersey, about two hours from my home, located in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Great Dane Chariot zero-turn lawnmower on grass
“Pictured is a 61-inch Great Dane Chariot zero-turn mower,” Korey writes. “Note the control levers, which drive each wheel independently via hydraulics.”

I had a neighbor drive me to a train station at about 7 in the morning. I took a train to a location near one of the local general aviation airports, where a flight instructor met me. We drove from there to an airport for a flight lesson to an airport outside the dealership, where I bought the truck from a salesman, who happened to be a pilot. From there, I drove the truck to the first lawn mower and then to the other one before heading back home. The whole process took about 12 hours, and I lasted two weeks with the mowers before realizing they weren’t cutting it (no pun intended) and upgraded to an old and loud but fast 52-inch zero-turn lawn mower, which was very difficult to keep in a straight line at first because it did not have the shock dampeners at the controls, which the newer ones have, stabilizing the controls. I used that lawn mower for the season and upgraded to a more modern 61-inch lawn mower with a low center of gravity, which held the hills better than just about any lawn mower on the market. I like this mower so much that it remains my primary lawn mower.

Zero-turn lawn mowers are so named for their ability to turn 360 degrees while remaining at the same point, not unlike belt-driven walk-behinds. They mow at speeds ranging from 10 to 15 mph, with newer ones claiming a whopping 18 mph at top speed. The only major downside is their inability to maneuver on hills because of their center of gravity and balance. This is why many lawn-care providers include walk-behind lawn mowers in their fleet. Fortunately, the zero-turn mower I use has a low-mounted gas tank as opposed to a gas tank mounted above the tires and is well-balanced for a lawn mower of its kind so it handles relatively well on hills.

Zero-turn lawn mowers are a good investment for commercial operators and homeowners with an acre or more to mow. New ones run more than $6,000 for commercial models, with used ones selling for about $3,000 in good condition. Common mowing widths range from 48 to 72 inches, but a few manufacturers offer 96-inch models with special articulating decks that bend with the terrain! Once again, Japanese-powered ones are your best bet unless you are in the market for diesel power.

Lawn Equipment: The String Trimmer and Blower

It’s not just about cutting grass but keeping the property looking neat, so no lawn job is complete without the aid of two smaller pieces of lawn equipment: the string trimmer and blower. I use the trimmer around trees and tight areas that are not accessible by lawn mower and also to edge beds and curbs to give lawns that freshly manicured look. It takes some practice to cut the grass level with the trimmer and even more practice to edge with it. Edging requires the trimmer to be at an inverted angle with the trimmer head close to 90 degrees to the surface. I recommend doing an Internet search or talking with seasoned users about how to hold the trimmer while edging because there are multiple preferences for holding it.

Redmax BCZ260S lawn trimmer
Photographed are the Redmax BCZ260S trimmer and Echo PB460LN backpack blower.

I recently acquired a new trimmer and even though it is not my top pick, I really like it because it weighs only a little more than 10 pounds without fuel and has just the right amount of power for the jobs I do. I was using a heavier trimmer with more power that is considered more of a heavy brush cutter than a trimmer and required more physical energy to operate. I was seriously considering a professional quality battery-powered trimmer, but due to time constraints and local unavailability of the product, I went with a gas-powered trimmer, which is not environmentally friendly because they use a mixture of gasoline and oil.

The same goes for the backpack blower I recently acquired. A local store offered one on sale for a price I could not refuse, so even though it is not powered by my preferred choice of energy, it is quieter than most other blowers, which are usually the loudest of lawn equipment. I use this blower to clean clippings off roads, walkways and beds. If there are cars nearby, I like to blow off any accumulated dust from jobs. If you have a small yard, handheld blowers will do just fine. Otherwise, keep in mind your arm and wrist will eventually get tired.

Decent handheld blowers and trimmers (stay away from curved-shaft trimmers) start at $150. For another $150, you get longer-lasting lawn equipment that adds more convenience such as the backpack feature and lighter weight as well as more power.

Lawn Equipment: Alternative-Powered Equipment

Mean Green CXR zero-turn lawnmower
“This equipment is a step in the right direction,” Korey writes about the Mean Green product line.

Most of us are familiar with the underpowered electric push lawn mower and trimmers that you plug in, but several companies have taken advantage of battery technology and now offer lawn equipment with rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs with claimed half-hour run times for handheld lawn equipment and push lawn mowers. Even though there is no doubt in my mind that we possess more advanced technology to run this lawn equipment, at least some companies such as Mean Green Mowers are genuinely trying.

Mean Green offers packages for the lawn-care professional, complete with enclosed trailers and solar panels to recharge lawn equipment. Mean Green even features commercial-grade zero-turn lawn mowers, with advertised mow times in the seven-hour range, but expect to fork over at least $25,000 for one of these! I’m sure companies such as Mean Green face a lot of political pressure, especially from companies that have ties with the oil industry. This lawn equipment is a step in the right direction.

Popular companies such as DeWalt, well-known for its power tool line, have come out with a nice product line oriented for lawn-care professionals. The price range for the product line, which consists of a string trimmer, blower and hedge trimmer, is on par with gasoline-powered counterparts and looks very promising. I hope they continue to develop and offer products such as these for as long as there is a demand for outdoor power equipment.

Chip Huntoon is photographed with lawnmowers
Korey’s friend Chip Huntoon is photographed at his business in Durango, Colorado.

Another energy alternative is Diesel engines. Diesel fuel emissions may not be good for the environment, but the inventor of this type of engine, Rudolph Diesel, designed it to be much more efficient, quiet and more durable than gasoline engines. As a matter of fact, his first engine ran on peanut oil. Diesel engines today can be modified to run on various kinds of vegetable oils, which do not produce any negative emissions, but politics makes the cost of running these fuels less cost effective than gasoline. Rudolph Diesel mysteriously disappeared in the early 1900s, making for some interesting conspiracy theories.

It has been a pleasure to share my business experiences with you all, and I hope you have enjoyed the articles in this series as much as I have in writing them. As with the first series of articles, it is, once again, fitting that I dedicate this series on lawn care to Chip Huntoon, who, from the other side of the realm, has been helping me to carry on with my lawn-care duties.

Thank you, Chip.

Korey Constable holds a large watermelon on a beach

Check out Korey’s transformation story!

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