How NOT to Repair a Lawn Mower

Clip Art Illustration of a Boy Mowing the Lawn

Spring has finally arrived.  With it comes a lot of yard and garden refurbishing.  Something I usually enjoy.  Unless there’s a mechanical problem.

This year it was the lawn mower.  Those of you who have grass lawns know that the first cutting can be an ugly experience.  The fescue grows faster than the ryegrass, and some patches of lawn were fertilized heavier than others.  So it’s like a sea of dark and light green, mounds and valleys, with scattered leaves and twigs everywhere.  I couldn’t wait to attack the mess with some sharp blades.

I did all the necessary preparation.  Last fall I emptied the oil and burned up the old gas for the mower’s winter hibernation.  Then last week I sharpened the blades and replaced the spark plug.  After filling up with fresh oil and gas, I was all ready.  But after a dozen yanks on the cord, I realized I had a problem on my hands.

Unlike a lot of guys, I’m not “mechanically inclined.”  I’d rather crack open a Tolstoy novel than the lid of a toolbox.  My wife constantly reminds me that her father “could fix anything.”  So why did she marry me?!

I knew enough not to keep yanking, or I would flood the engine (whatever that means).  So I let the engine rest, and returned later.  Still no luck.  Suddenly, the prospect loomed of paying for an expensive repair or buying an expensive new mower.  As always, my wife chimed in.  “That mower’s older than the hills anyway, we need a new one.”  This has been a mantra throughout our marriage.  Any time something doesn’t work, it’s time to buy a new one.  But this time I held firm and insisted I would fix it.

A friend recommended buying some ether to spray on the carburetor.  This sounded great!  It only cost a few bucks, and if it worked, I might actually be able to kiss the shoes of my father-in-law.  The only problem was, I didn’t know how to find the carburetor.  What does it look like?  What does a carburetor actually do, anyway?  But I’d better do something, because the sea of grass was at high tide.

The guy at the auto parts store said, “Yeah, just spray a little on the carb and air cleaner.  It’s really flammable, though, so whatever you do, don’t light any matches.”  This scared me a little.  Even though I don’t smoke, what if I created a spark?  Even scarier… where was the “air cleaner”?

Well, I summoned the courage to lift my toolbox lid, and went to work.  Took the plastic cover off the engine.  Removed the spark plug.  Unbolted the thing-a-ma-bobber.  Unscrewed the doo-hickey.  Sprayed inside the holes.  Sprayed the air filter.  Then re-bolted and re-screwed everything (except the gasket thing, which kept slipping out).  Inserted the spark plug.  Primed the engine.  Then yanked.

Nothing.  In fact, it sounded worse than before.  There was a kind of grinding sound.  Was this from the ether?  Or did I really need that gasket thing?

Then help arrived.  It was in the form of my next-door neighbor, who was mechanically inclined, and from the patio guy, who felt sorry for me and was also hoping for our business.     

It turned out I actually did need that gasket thing (something about air and dirt getting in).  I also shouldn’t have sprayed the air filter.  Instead, I should’ve sprayed into the hole behind the air filter (I guess this was the “air cleaner”?).  I also needed a new air filter, since the other one was not only a grimy black, but I’d probably ruined it by spraying it.  Fortunately, the guy at the parts store who sold me the ether was busy with someone else, so he didn’t see me when I returned to buy a new filter.

The joy I felt when I heard that engine roar cannot be expressed in words.  My neighbor gave me a big thumbs up.  My wife smiled at me from the kitchen window (“older than the hills,” huh?).  Best of all, I calmed the roiling sea of grass.

I’m not so dumb after all.  I know a lot more about lawn mower engines than I did last week.  And if anybody out there needs some guidance on prepping his or her mower for spring, just let me know.  I’ll be happy to provide my neighbor’s email.

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