Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mower Rodents

RATS... A dear friend who often helps out at the farm "just for the exercise" decided we should have a riding lawn mower to reduce the labor of keeping the lawns and lanes tidy. I'm not big on motorized tools, but the offer was a generous one and though I don't consider it a long-term solution, it WILL be good this next couple busy years as the operation expands. Equipped with a grass catcher, we can use it to harvest forage for the sheep and chickens that otherwise would be hard to utilize due to lack of fences.

We spent considerable time at the store comparing different features and models, and finally found the perfect combination, and it followed us home. My friend (more of a power-tool person than I) gleefully rode it around mowing things. The sheep enjoyed their treats. But it had a tendency to "die" unexpectedly.

She eventually realized that the problem was the safety interlock in the seat. By sitting (not so comfortably!) on a small item strategically placed over the switch, it ran a lot smoother. I, on the other hand, could barely get it to run at all.

She contacted the highly reputable company to see about getting the switch adjusted or replaced. It turns out that the permanently installed switch is calibrated to 150 lbs. Meaning that no one less than that weight can operate the machine.

This is supposed to keep children from operating a potentially dangerous piece of equipment. But really, 150 lbs seems excessive. I weigh in at about 135 at my wintery heaviest, down to 125 when I'm working hard--and I have to work hard to keep that much weight on. And I am not a tiny woman. My friend is similar to me in size, probably closer to 150 but certainly not much more than that. There is obviously a bias or blind spot at work assumption that no women of small to medium build will want to use such a machine. At least not without holding a child in their lap? The obvious solution to not weighing enough is to add another person, though ofcourse the machine is covered with warning labels forbidding this dangerous practice.

What is especially aggravating is that this "set point" was never mentioned to us during the extended time we spent talking to sales reps, who could easily have observed that neither of us appeared to meet the minimum weight to operate the equipment.

More to come as we work through this irritating gender bias with the company....

AND MICE... Meanwhile the grass is growing and the sheep are hungry for fresh greens. So I dragged out the trusty gasoline push mower this morning and got all set to mow. First time this season, so I touched it up a bit...cleaned residue out from under the deck, unwrapped a bit of baling twine from the shaft, touched up the blade with a file. Fresh gas, check the oil, ready to go....

Except when I squeeze that bar that makes it not run when you don't squeeze it (OK, I'm not so well-versed on the proper terminology here), the cable just went slack and didn't move in the housing properly. I WD-40'd it as best I could, and it still didn't seem to move right. It seemed like the do-hicky it was supposed to be operating wasn't moving very freely.

I puffed up my cheeks and blew off the bits of dry grass that had stuck to the WD-40 to get a better view. There was a lot of dried grass, from when I had it tipped over to sharpen the blade.

But then I realized there was dry grass in places it couldn't have fallen into...and I realized I was seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Even before opening it up, I knew I would find a big mouse nest inside somewhere.

So, I went and got the socket set and started taking it apart. This was a big step for me. I haven't done mechanic work for decades, and have somehow lost a lot of the confidence I started out with years ago. Partly, I ceased working on cars because they started making them so difficult for ordinary folks without computers to work on. So I stopped even trying, and that apparently carried over to other areas of mechanics.

But, I can still DO this! I carefully dismantled several layers of covers and housings, and yes, there was the mouse nest just as expected. The spark plug wire had a little nibble out of it, too--of course, just like a car stored in packrat territory! It all came flooding back to my memory.

I reinforced the damaged insulation with electrical tape (the really heavy-duty rubbery kind with the plastic backing, that only sticks to itself), removed the tightly woven nest, and tried to get the rest of the dried clippings out. Not easy. Friend is right, I really need to get an air compressor someday, I could use it to blow this all out in a minute, even if I just had the right nozzle for the air bubble....

Then I thought of vacuuming it out with the Shop Vac... and realized that the Shop Vac can be set to blow as well as vacuum! Worked like a charm!

All back together, plugged in the spark plug (disconnected for safety whenever I'm not actually running the mower) primed it, and pulled the cord, expecting a bit of balkiness. But it started on the very first pull!

I'm glad I was able to get it all cleaned out and running...but concerned about the possibility of nesting, chewing mice doing greater damage in the future. That spark plug wire is permanently fused to some other part that looks expensive and out-of-stock/discontinued! This will be a real concern with the riding mower, too. So I'll be thinking about innovative mower mouseproofing techniques while the mower and I go purring back and forth down the lanes to the luscious smell of fresh-cut grass.

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