We are now more than two months into another glorious lawn mowing season. One thing we don’t often consider, however, is that mowing lawns for profit can be a very dangerous business. I should know.
The year was 1991. I was a high school freshman, 15 and full of that adolescent, swashbuckling spirit more commonly known as dumbness. The mowing season had just begun, and one Saturday afternoon in early May my brother and I, along with a friend, were preparing to mow our grandfather’s lawn.
Robison Brothers Yard Service, which was never an actual thing, used a set of riding lawn mowers to get the job done right. We used our dad’s yellow and white Cub Cadet, and our grandfather’s little red Snapper. We would start out with these riding mowers and then finish up the yard with another set of push mowers. By that time in our pretend business, we had even begun to farm out a portion of the mowing to bored friends, enabling us to finish the job even quicker.
Our grandfather’s yard was not big. Between the three of us it represented a little over an hour’s work. The problem was that the Snapper was often stored at our house and was not suitable for road travel. Instead we transported this iconic red machine from the 1970s using another noteworthy vehicle from the 1980s: the Honda Big Red.
The Honda Big Red three-wheeler is the best piece of technology to ever come out of Japan. I understand that in a world utterly saturated by Japanese electronics, such a comment may sound rather stupid, but understand this: no Nintendo gaming system ever dashed anyone across the countryside in sprints of pure whimsy, nor has any smartphone ever climbed a dirt trail so steep it would make a mountain goat cuss. Thirty years after it came off the assembly line, I know of a Big Red that still rolls eagerly toward adventure, but I will not tell you where, because we all know that ATVs are not designed for pavement and such activity is illegal. But I digress.
On that fateful day nearly a quarter-century ago, we loaded our grandfather’s Snapper into a small wooden trailer and then hitched that trailer onto the Big Red. Prayers were shot up toward heaven and away we went.
On that particular day, I was driving, our friend was riding shotgun behind me, while my brother kept the Snapper secure to the trailer by physically riding on top of it. Granted, this arrangement would not have passed OSHA regulations, but we were in a hurry and it seemed entirely reasonable at the time. Was the mower strapped to the trailer? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Many moons have shone down upon many adolescent fools since that fateful day, and such specifics are now lost somewhere in the gravel-pocked road rash of time.
From our house to grandpa’s was a mere half-mile trek, past the power station and then down a gentle hill about the length of a football field. Puttering toward the job site at an unhealthy clip, we just about made it to the 90-yard line.
I would like to say that what happened next came without warning, but that would be a tremendous lie. In the “Road Warrior” world of mid-1980s ATV standards, the guy sitting shotgun had the job of basically being the rearview mirror.
“Slow down, Josh.” The rearview mirror said. “Seriously, you’re going too fast! SLOW DOWN!”
I would also like to say that I was paying too close attention to the road in front of me to have any memory of the disaster unfolding behind us at 30 miles per hour. However, that is also not the case. Due to a sad combination of poor towing decisions and asinine driving skills, the pin connecting the hitch to the three-wheeler came loose and shot off into space. For a very short while afterward, the hitch itself — probably due to tremendous inertia — bounced along the road.
But when it stuck, it stuck hard. The mower, abiding by each and every one of Newton’s laws of motion, catapulted out of the trailer like a post-apocalyptic siege weapon. No effort was ever made to repair what no longer even looked like a lawn mower, to a machine that ended its days in perhaps the most violent lawn-related spectacle in Illinois history.
As for my brother, thank God he somehow cleared himself of the missile before it exploded onto the road. He basically skidded on his backside and then somehow popped up running like a terminator robot. Too shell shocked to try and kill me — which any jury would have deemed justifiable homicide — he instead began to scream that he was not about to mow anymore that day. I did not argue.
With adrenaline surging through his body and most of our grandmother’s first aid focused on his shredded backside, it wasn’t until later that evening he noticed his thumb throbbing. The next day a doctor confirmed a broken bone and insisted he forgo the rest of his seventh-grade track season.
This embarrassing story ends the only way it could end and still be written about by the guy who caused it. A few weeks later my brother went to the junior high state track meet and competed in the pole vault. He won. He brought back one of Brownstown’s only state championship medals — ever — with a cast on this thumb and a swagger to his walk. His thumb still moves kind of weird, but glory is glory and that is that.
So take heed, young lawn mowers of today. You don’t have to be texting to shatter metal and bone. Sometimes all it takes is a few bad ideas going down a hill.
Joshua Robison is an Effingham resident and teacher. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org