Home Page |  Writings Index

Doug's Busy Day
By: Doug Bittinger - April 18, 2009

I’ve been having trouble with my lawn mower.  All 3 of them.  But the one I’ve been using to actually mow is a Craftsman self propelled walk-behind mower.  It’s kind of a wrestling match to use on this hilly terrain, but it got the job done, until recently.  It’s been getting harder and harder to start, and the past two times it has tried to yank my fingers off when I pull on the starter rope.  I’ve decided that it’s firing the spark plug too soon: before T.D.C., and shooting the piston back down the cylinder, turning the crankshaft *backwards* thus instead of ratcheting on past the pull-starter pawls it locked in the pawls and ripped the cord back down – along with two of my fingers.

Seriously, it took most of last week for me to get the pain in the two middle fingers down to where I could use them.  I thought I’d dislocated them.  Last night after work I went out and tried again.  Why?  Cause I’m either stupid or incredibly stubborn.  After 9 or 10 fast, consecutive yanks on the rope, just as I was about to pass out, the thing coughed and jerked back.  I picked up my fingers and shoved the mower back into the shed, totally disgusted.

I’ve been trying to decide what to do about the mower.  I could take it to the repair shop in town, but I have no idea what it would end up costing to fix because I have no idea what’s wrong with it.  On a car, or at least a decent sized 4-stroke engine, I’d know where to start looking.  But on these little two strokers, I don’t even know if one can adjust the timing, or where such a thing would be done.  It would have to be on the crankshaft somewhere, but I’d have to tear the engine down to go looking for it.  I'm not tooled up for that.  I build furniture, not engines.

Add to that rather helpless feeling the fact that this mower is something my Mom gave me when she moved out here, and Brian (my half-brother) gave her when he moved to an apartment.  The last time he was out here visiting he saw me mowing the lawn with it and commented that he was surprised it was still running, “That thing has a LOT of miles on it!” So maybe it’s just time.

Add to that the fact that it is built like a tank.  And is almost as heavy.  Being sturdy is a good thing, but having to man-handle it around all the obstacles and up, down and across these slopes gets to be quite a work-out.  Which is not all bad, especially for someone who is 50 pounds overweight.  But, still… there are limits.

OK.  So when I started suspecting that this day might be coming up on us, I started doing some research.  Assuming that I don’t want to use a regular riding mower because of the DisneyLand E-Ticket ride qualities of trying to mow these hills on a rider, and the fact that I’ve rolled the rider twice and the fact that I can’t possibly afford the wide, low slung, kind of riding mowers that are made for this type of terrain (they start around $4,000.00) and I don’t really want to fence in the yard and buy a herd of goats for Zadie to chase around, what kind of mower would be best for mowing this yard?

Distilled form many reviews, articles and discussions these are the prime requirements:

  • Self propelled
  • Multi-speed transmission
  • REAR wheels powered, not the front
  • Biggest wheels possible, especially the rear ones.
  • Sturdy but not too heavy.
  • Thrifty on fuel is nice.
  • Option of using side discharge, not just a bagger.

Armed with these specifications, I went searching for a mower that encompasses as many of these attributes as possible – and falls within my very limited budget.  I found several that sold for $600 (too much) to $900 (way too much) and one that sold for under $400.  High but doable – if it is a good mower.  Specifications are [here] if you are interested.

I looked for reviews and user commentary.  It looks like this model has just been added to the Troy-Bilt line.  I found ONE comment and that was posted as reader feedback on a Poplar Mechanics review of lawn mowers, he was telling them that his mower would run circles around all of the ones reviewed, and they should have included the Troy-Bilt in their review.  Over all, comments on Troy-Bilt mowers are good.  One fellow cursed them up one side and down the other, but I think he was trying to use it as a brush hog, and the other users of that discussion forum ‘splained it to him too.  Especially the Troy-Bilt owners.

So, I found my mower.  Now, where can I get one.  There are several places (fairly) locally that are Troy-Bilt dealers, but none of them stock Troy-Bilt.  They can order one and have it in a week to 10 days and all of them had the same pricing.  One told me that Troy-Bilt and Cub Cadet are both built by MTD and are essentially the same mowers.  OK, does Cab Cadet make a model with these same specs? “Um, well, no they don’t.” So what what was your point?

More poking around and I find that Lowes sells a version of the TB86K XP; the TB340 XP which is identical except that it has a Briggs & Stratton engine instead of a Kohler.  I know Kohler makes good engines in the Marine Diesel line and commercial grade gas engines, but discussions with the mechanics at the dealerships I called (gotta love that Magic Jack phone: free long distance) confirmed that these small gas engines were something new to Kohler.  They agreed that Kohler makes good engines, but no one could attest to the reliability of these small engines.  Briggs & Stratton is a name I know and have trusted for decades.  They know small gas engines.

So I called the local Lowes – fully expecting to be told that they do sell the TB340 XP but are sold out or they are a special order item.  WRONG!  Surprise!  They have 6 on hand.  So I added Lowes to our list of places to go today.

Then I ran the truck over to the shop and started loading it up with all manner of stuff.  Some was plain trash, some was recyclable trash, my dead U.P.S.  and a baggie of dead batteries, 20 or so cabinet doors, a couple large trash bags of clothes that Marie doesn’t want any more, and so on.

I took the truck back over to the house.  Marie was still dressing, so I went down to Mom’s house.

Mom had borrowed my garden sprayer to mix up a batch of herbicide and spray her driveway to kill off the grass and weeds.  But, she couldn’t get it to work.  Or, so she said.  So I want to look at it.  I pumped up the pressure, twisted the nozzle to open it up and pulled the trigger – worked fine.  So I figured that this was her sideways way of saying that she’d like me to spray her driveway for her.  So I did.  Took all of five minutes.  Then I transferred her weed killer mix into another container, took the sprayer up to the shop and mixed up a batch of my own weed killer in the sprayer for use later on.

Back home again.  Marie was ready to go.

First stop was the local Convenience Center (where rural residents take their trash).  Trash-trash went into a dumpster, paper and cardboard into the bin for that, steel cans (and a few worn out bandsaw bands) into the steel bin, plastic jugs into the bin for plastic.

On down the road to Wilton Springs Hardware.  They were having “Bucket Days” today.  Ninety nine cents gets you a sturdy 5 gallon bucket (always handy to have) and anything you can fit into it is 15% off the marked price.  We found a few things we needed, talked with Mitch the manager, enjoyed a couple of free hot dogs and sodas for lunch, C93 radio was doing a live remote, Cowboy Kevin was the on-the-scene DJ.  We know Kevin well.  We declined to go on-air with him, but when we went through to have a hot dog he came and sat with us.  We discussed the various meanings of “chilly dog” depending on what part of the country you are from.

Next on the itinerary was the Goodwill store in Newport.  We donated the cabinet doors, clothing and some light fixtures.

Then down to the Wal-Mart parking lot and the Electronics Recycling drive that was going on this weekend.  I gave them the U.P.S.  and the baggie of batteries and chatted with Elizabeth the director of Keep Cocke County Beautiful and David a K.C.C.B.  member and R.I.D.  (Remove Illegal Dumpsites) mucky-muck.  Elizabeth commented that you’d think that after doing this drive a couple times a year for several years, you’d start running low on junk electronics, but not so; each time, they get MORE than before.  They already had enough computer equipment to fill a semi trailer all by itself and boxes and boxes (big boxes) of small appliances.  Amazing!

Finally we went on to Lowes and got the mower.  The display model had a sign in it saying “Was $399.00, now $379.00”.  Bunk!  Everywhere that sold the TB86K XP and the Lowes web site listing for their version all said the price was regularly $379.00.  I was of a mind to tell the department worker who fetched a cart and got the mower down off the shelf for me that I knew better: it is NOT on sale, that is the manufacturers stipulated price.  But, he did get the box down without my assistance, so I left him alone.  No sense picking on him, he probably doesn’t make those decisions anyway.

At the check-out line we ran into a couple of old friends we haven’t seen in a long while, so we stood around outside for a time and got caught up.

We got the boxed mower in the back of the truck and headed for home… well, the workshop.

One of the cool things about this mower is that it came fully assembled, so I didn't have to spend half the afternoon bolting on wheels, handles and chutes.  It even had a quart of oil in the box.  All I had to do was straighten out the handles, tighten a couple of wing nuts and pour in the oil.  (I did have to supply my own gas)

It took two pulls to get it started the first time.  Any time I shut it down thereafter, it restarted on one pull.  It mowed through even the deepest thickest grass (over the septic field) like a bull at Paloma, climbed the hills like a mountain goat and handled easily – once I got re-trained to using a rear wheel drive mower.  I had not realized how accustomed I had become to turning around by pushing down on the handle to raise the front wheels (the driven wheels on the old Craftsman) off the ground instead of messing with the drive engage lever.  Doing that on this one didn’t work!  But once I got retrained, the mower and I worked very well together.

I even tried to “brush hog” Mom’s jungle – a steeply sloped, over-grown area under a big willow tree in front of her house.  Right job, wrong tool – I abandoned that effort quickly.

I got the whole yard mowed in one session.  It took a couple of hours.  Using the Craftsman I usually had to split it into two sessions or by the time I was done I’d feel like I was going to die, or more like I had died but hadn’t fallen over yet.  Today I was tuckered out, but not dead.  I took the mower back to the workshop, let it cool off while I sat down and had an energy drink.  Then I cleaned the mower off and put it away in the shed.

To make room for it I had to do *something* with a wash tub full of coal.  Don’t ask me why I have a wash tub of coal, we’d be here all night.  So I divied up the coal into 4 plastic buckets (one was the one I got at Wilton Springs earlier today) that could be tucked away into smaller spaces, leaving the large space previously occupied by the wash tub for the mower.

Next up I took the sprayer full of herbicide and put it where it would do some good: the driveways, walk ways, around decorative stone, etc.

Then I got out the weed whacker and trimmed up around all the trees, under the bushes.  I chopped back The Jungle some and cleaned out the ditch along side the driveway up to our workshop.  Then I cleaned up the whacker and put it back away.

While taking the truck back home I stopped at Mom’s house to pick up the tape of last nights NASCAR race and put in another for tonight’s race.  This is our primary entertainment on weekends.

Then it was back home, get cleaned up and changed into some lounging clothes in preparation for Marie's home made Racin' Pizza and our race tape.  A good evening spent together enjoying something we both like.

I do realize that for some of you Type A personalities, this is just a normal Saturday, but here in the mountains folks don't usually cram quite so much into a single day.  Heck, some folks don't cram that much into a single week!  So I feel I've gotten a good bit done today, it all went very well, I am feeling grateful for God's blessings and wanted to share.  Thanks for inulging me!

* * * * *

[Click Here] for an index of all available articles.