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Saturday, March 27, 2021

60 Years of Memories: Grass Keeping In Butler


60 Years Of Memories Of Butler

by James Ring


Mowing the lawn has evolved like everything else in our profligate, keeping-up society. Once upon a time, when I was newly in town, it was common to see a kid towing a push mower behind his bicycle, seeking lawns to mow. Sometimes he even had a can of gas attached. For fifty cents, a nice little clipping could be rendered, and movie and comic book money could be earned.


Lawns were smaller then, and perhaps expectations were less. Flower beds were tended by the non-working lady of the house, and instead of a power-driven weed-eater a pair of grass shears or glove-shielded hand yanking would suffice to clean up the corners missed in mowing. Fertilizing a lawn? Forget it! Why would anyone want to encourage more rapid growth of the grass that just needed cutting anyway?


We were happy to have a 20-inch rotary mower whirled by a Briggs & Stratton motor. It replaced, after all, grandpa’s reel-style manual grass cutter, shoved into the overgrowth to gnaw it away by sheer arm and shoulder strength. The curved blades would be sharpened by turning the apparatus over and pulling toward you, perhaps with a little valve-grinding compound to perfect the process.


Keeping the little roaring whirly-gigs tuned up and running was the job of small-engine shops like Jim Gardner’s. Every one had its specialty, a preferred make of machine made in a factories not too far away. The Lawn Boy two-cycle mowers came from Lamar, and Max Swisher’s early zero-turn rider was built in Warrensburg. A riding mower was rare in the 1960s, used only by people with lots of grass to mow.


As time went on, mowers became more sophisticated, and expensive. Electric starters replaced the old yank-and-curse lanyard, and self-propelled walk-behinds were a thing, although I never found that they matched my urgent need for speed. I wanted to get the job over with as quickly as possible.


The riding mowers encouraged more frequent and extensive mowing. A weekly clipping administered by one’s neighbor required a matching effort, and the City of Butler came up with Codes specifying how long the lawn could get before a warning was issued. We had become a Big City imitator.


Max Harwick, owner of Harwick Chemicals on North Main street, could apply pesticides and herbicides to keep your lawn immaculate. I remember one year when Max sprayed green dye on his Zoyza grass lawn so he could have a green yard all winter, even in the snow.


From the times when commercial mowing was a fertile field for youth employment, before child-abuse laws made working at such hazardous occupations a no-no, we eventually progressed to having retired men do the mowing. Ralph Jennings pushed a lawn mower for his customers until he was into his 80s. Nowadays, lawn care services use fat-tired $10,000 zero-turn mowers that zip around a yard in a few minutes, clipping 60 inches at a pass, and a corps of weed-eater wielders follow up to nip the edges. 


I have observed that personal lawn mowing takes 90 minutes to complete, no matter how big the mower. If one buys a larger machine, the area to be covered simply expands to maintain the 1.5 hour time frame. Our grandparents were content to have a house-wide yard behind their picket fence, with perhaps a shaggy back yard for play room. Today, we want a two-acre estate, with a “John Deere room” built into the McMansion.