I love it when it becomes clear that spring is on its way, in particular those weekend days where the sun shines, the temp warms up and optimism overtakes even the most failed gardener. And for me, my annual ritual always begins on one of those days when I fire my spring starter’s pistol, in the form of my trusty lawnmower.
So imagine my concern this year when, on a warm and deliciously springish Saturday, I pulled my mower rope over and over, only to be met with the sounds of silence, not even the putt-putt-putt sound that gives you just enough confidence to keep trying to start the mower, even if your arm is starting to feel as if you’ve pitched a complete game.
I’ve had my mower for about 10 years, and it has been a stalwart lawn warrior for its entire run. I chose this mower based on the fact that it was all black and looked kinda cool, like Knight Rider. My wife suggested I should have used other criteria, but I explained to her that, for some reason, mower companies did not advertise the two features I most seek in a mower: (1) The ability to roll over a large log pile and only occasionally cut out, but more often than not just continue to grind and roll and plow through whatever lies in its way and (2) The ability to be left out and neglected over the duration of winter, enduring cold and rain and having the unemptied collection bag weigh about 700 pounds until its forgetful owner discovers it in the spring, at which point it willingly – joyfully, actually – springs into action.
So, since I’ve owned this mower, it has embraced its role, which made this year all the more disturbing. Was this the year that it decided a season of abuse was cause to quit working? Surely not.
I knelt down to examine the mower, as if there would be some big on/off button that I could flip to make it suddenly work. The only thing that I noticed that looked a little odd was the rust around the spark plug.
Now I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea what a spark plug does. I assume it sparks and plugs. But cars and lawnmowers and goodness knows what else use them, so it must be an important part. I used one of those socket spark splug unscrewy things and freed it from the mower. I held it up and examined it, twirling it back and forth between my thumb and forefinger, as if inspecting some rare flower.
I headed off the auto parts store, as I did know that they sold them there. The woman behind the counter asked if she could help me. I held up the rusted spark plug. “I need one of these,” I said. “But it’s for a lawnmower, not a car.” Based on her look, that distinction doesn’t really matter.
I told her I thought I might need an air filter, too. I based this on my neighbor’s passing comment that I might need an air filter. Turns out, they carry those, too, so in just a few minutes and less than $10 later, I was out the door, on my way to go into lawnmower repair man mode.
My first move was the one I do whenever I am planning on home repair projects: I made sure my wife was out. I often will be neck-deep into repair failure and my wife will simply offer a suggestion that was more than likely actually helpful, only to be greeted by me handing her a screwdriver and saying, “Fine! You do it!” That always works out well for me.
So anywho, I cleared the house and set to work. First thing was to screw in the spark plug. Hmm. That went in awfully easy.
I attached the little silver cap thingee to the end of the spark plug, just as I was pretty sure it was before I removed it.
I then unscrewed the place that housed the air filter and replaced it. Both parts replaced, total time elapsed: About 30 seconds.
Clearly, I thought to myself, on the first pull of the rope, my lawn mower would explode and destroy my entire neighborhood.
I grasped the handle with my left hand and the rope in my right. I gave one quick pull. They said you could see the blast seven miles away.
Ha! I kid, obviously, as I am still here. The sucker fired up on the first pull, purring like a kitten. A kitten that could roll over log piles, which is really how the mower company should advertise itself.
Mike Gibbons was born in Aiken. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.