One Thing Always Leads To Another
'Tis the season for cutting the lawn, or what was left of the lawn after some major trenching was done across the front lawn back in late spring. The trench was filled, grass seed was spread, and what was a large swath of earth began to look green again. "Time to get out the mower," I thought. Wrong thought, and one misstep led to a series of unfortunate events.
The earth below the surface of the lawn is not really soil at all. It is not rich and dark and moist, but a mostly clay-based substance that hardens like concrete as the spring turns to summer, and becomes so hard it is difficult to dig with a shovel. And then there are the rocks. Underneath the green of the hearty grass is a gravel pit of rocks held in place with the clay-based earth in a near concrete texture making any digging a challenge (I may post a photo of my shovel after a season of trying to dig in the garden so the reader can see how the rocky substrate impacted the steel of the shovel blade ;)
Why do I mention all this? The rocky soil is the bane of my lawn-cutting existence. The ground is very uneven and though I know most of the places to take extra care and slow down, the first cut of the new seeded area was a lesson in being too cavalier, thinking that the lawnmower was high enough that it wouldn't strike the gravelly surface, or that I was aware enough of all the rocks of larger size and could avoid them. The first crunch of the blades striking rock informed me otherwise. "Just a minor scrape," I thought and continued on my way, determined to trim the raggedy looking yard.
It wasn't until I noticed the cutting swath of the 48 inch mower seemed to be very uneven. That is a sure sign of something amiss with the blades. However, so determined was I to get the lawn "finished" before taking a look underneath, that I continued on my merry way for a few more minutes until I came across one of the blades on the lawn as I turned to do the next swath. What? It sure begged the question as to what exactly happened to the rest of the mower. I stopped and got out my lawn mower hoist to jack up the front end so I could inspect the blades and the condition of the mower deck. It wasn't pretty. The clay dust had mixed with the moisture of the grass clippings and created a concrete-like substance coating everything under the deck. It had built up so much that it was impacting the blades. Hitting a few rocks in the uneven places didn't help matters. I had to try to clean up the underside of the deck and see what condition the whole thing was in. I made the decision to remove the deck from the tractor and hoist the deck up vertically in the garage to I could better access the undercarriage. And you know the story, one thing led to another.
Removing the deck and pulling it out from under the tractor did not go as smoothly as I remembered in my last repair, and cleaning turned out to be even more of a challenge. Usually, I can just jack up the tractor's front and power wash underneath. Not so this time. A few minutes of power-washing became an afternoon of hammering and chiseling my way through the thick coating of grass and clay, and wire-brushing the rest to remove as much as I could. As I cleaned it all up, I noticed how badly the blades had been damaged by what I thought were a few uneven places in the refilled/repaired trench and a few minor encounters with stones. After cleaning it all up I could see that more damage had been done to the spindles and, one thing led to another, in a cascading series of unfortunate events with the final result that I had to replace all 3 spindle assemblies, three blades and a part known as a "stripper mandrel". So much for an easy and quick lawn-cutting.
I learned a lot about sourcing parts throughout this tale of woe. So much is available through on-line direct purchases with reasonable delivery times (a few days to a little over a week) and better prices than if I were to go through my local small engine shop. However, with the economic impact of a global pandemic, I chose to go through my local shop for most of the parts I replaced. I learn a lot by asking questions as I bring in my broken parts, learn the names of each doodad and whatchamacallit , and I learned that they have most of the common parts (such as spindle assemblies and blades), in stock. However, even I will venture to internet purchases if the cost locally is significantly higher at my local shop than the same product sourced online. One case in point is the spindle. I could have replaced all three for 1/2 the cost IF I had purchased a three-pack. Lesson learned. The same for blades. Buying them individually ( I thought I could make do with simply hammering out the bends and dents on 2 of them so I only purchased the one blade to replace the one with the most damage. Better to have some on hand I think, at least the way I cut the grass ;)
So, next time, if there is a next time - my mower is 6 years old and I have not replaced many parts - I will likely use a blend of purchasing options. I do issue a caveat emptor (buyer beware) - be careful to read everything about the on-line products and where they are sourced, size and part descriptions ( OEM or aftermarket), import costs, delivery fees or additional fees. These can add up to make shopping locally a better, friendlier and supportive route to take. And be careful as you take stuff apart, One thing has a way of leading to another.