When I was quite young, perhaps between 6 and 9 years old I was sometimes permitted(!) to mow my grandparents' yard using the only implement then available, the rotary push mower. For those who are too young to have first hand knowledge, these implements of destruction were heavy appliances equipped with a rotor on which were mounted from four to six blades which spun and mangled grass when enough forward propulsion was supplied by means of human muscle being applied to the wooden handle. Pushing one of these with enough force to both make it progress in a forward direction as well as spin the rotor took every bit of effort a young lad could muster. Frequently while straining over this contraption I wished for something better, something more modern. Sometimes we are cursed by getting what we wish for.
My family's first power mower was a gold colored Lawn Boy which my father pushed home proudly from the dealer who lived only two blocks from our house. Glittering in the sun it promised adventures in lawn care hitherto undreamed of by boys previously indentured to creaking rotary antiques. Alas, it was not to be. Although that first day the shining new Lawn Boy started on the very first pull it was to be the last time for such compliance, thus foreshadowing a lifetime of combat to come. I made the trip to the dealer's garage many times over the next few years where he would disappear with the Lawn Boy into his shop. Usually after about 20 minutes of clanking and swearing I would hear the machine cough to life and be sent home to mow. Eventually it got to the point where he would bring the mower out to me still running and tell me that I should probably not shut it down if I wanted to get any mowing done that day. I became a familiar figure in the street trudging the two blocks to my house with the mower merrily roaring away. This led to many a taunt from passing cars of teenagers about how well I was keeping the grass down on the blacktop. In my youthful innocence I would think "someday I will have a mower of my own and it will be a good one." Ah, the foolish dreams of youth.
Now many many years later I have owned many many mowers. I have also owned and used many other gas powered tools - chain saws, weed whackers, snow blowers, stump grinders, sod cutters, and lawn aerators to name a few. Based on this record of experience my conclusion is that the lawn mower industry's goal is to screw the customer hard and long. Maintain your chainsaw properly and it will give you years of willing service. Follow the manufacturers advice and your snow blower will get you out of your driveway with great reliability. But no matter what you do, no matter how diligently you pamper and service your lawn mower, it will fail time and again and at the worst possible moment. And it does no good to insist that you get what you pay for as, over the years, I have come to such a white hot hatred of lawn mowers that money is no object if I could obtain one that was reliable. Starting with budget K-mart mowers and progressing over the years through Craftsman riders and pushers to the current state of the art Snapper, no matter what you pay, no matter what the sales literature insists, lawn mowers are designed to move heavy, unwieldy chunks of metal as quickly as possible from the dealer showroom to the city dump.
Mower manufacturers are devishly clever in devising ways for mowers to fail. First it goes without saying that the day you bring the mower home will be the last time the mower starts as advertised. During the life of any mower arcane rituals requiring priming, pulling, cursing, and procedures from the sacred texts known as owners' manuals will be necessary to bring the machine to life. During my own long history I have had mowers defeat my efforts to start them in a variety of ways; starter rope breaking, starter recoil spring breaking, engine seizing, magneto failure, fuel line obstruction etc. Mowers that have any part of their mechanism driven by belts will slip the belts and/or tear the belt to shreds at least once annually and frequently more often. Self propelled mowers will throw belts, break c rings, jam, throw bearings or become clogged with debris. Any part of the mower that is expendable needing periodic replacement will be hidden behind shields and proprietary fasteners and will be so inaccessible that special tools and dental mirrors will be needed to effect a replacement.
My latest demonic entity is a top of the line Snapper self propelled mower less than three years old bought at daunting expense. I thought that Snapper, having fended off the attempt by Wal-Mart to absorb it and being built in the United States, deserved my patronage after the latest Craftsman's starter mechanism failed like a cheesecloth pup tent. In the showroom I mentioned my doubts about lack of either primer button or choke. "New technology." said the satanic minion attending us "It will start on the first pull everytime." And once more I believed and broke out my checkbook. It did start on the first pull. Once. Taken back to the "we service what we sell" folks they assured us there was nothing wrong with it and demonstrated starting on the first pull. Unbeknownst to me, it will start on the first pull once hot, but no power on earth will make it start when cold except yanking the rope at least a dozen times and then letting it sit for up to 20 minutes before trying again.
In the owner's manual I was warned that the oil must be changed after so many hours of use, so I attempted to change it. Of course the oil plug was concealed by the housing - but not to worry, the manual assured me that you could drain the oil through the filler spout by turning the mower upside down. Yes folks, I do possess a modicum of commmon sense, but there it was in the manual - turn it upside down and drain it through the filler spout. So I did. Huge mistake! Knowing what I know about the useful lifetime of a mower I would have been better off just to run it until the congealed, gritty old oil ruined the engine. After this fiasco it took two days of effort and supplication before it deigned to start again. Then, as soon as it started spewing huge clouds of oil smoke it broke a retaining clip on the self propelling mechanism and pushing it became a task for the World's Strongest Man competition. It's going to the shop tomorrow. Do I have high hopes? HA!