Lawn Mowing Through the Years

article image
Photo By Matthew Stallbaumer
GRIT Editor-in-Chief Hank Will gets some quality seat time on an Exmark Lazer Z series zero turn mower.

Last year, we had the privilege of testing close to 30 different models of zero turn radius mowers from more than a dozen manufacturers. These machines represented the cutting edge of modern lawn mowing technology, and we were impressed to say the least. As I pulled wheelies and spun doughnuts in the turf, I was filled with exhilaration at the power, maneuverability and cut quality that these machines were capable of delivering. Wow! Operating the zero turn radius mowers was about as far from my first grass-cutting experiences as driving my pickup is from piloting a fighter jet.

When I was a boy, I ached to graduate from the inside chore of dusting the stairs to the outside chore of lawn mowing. I realize now that my ache was born of the desire to run my dad’s old-in-1960 Briggs And Stratton powered push-type rotary mower. It was the machine that I really wanted to mess with — mowing was just the excuse. But even at that time, in my part of the world, parents were cautioned not to allow an 8-year-old boy loose with power equipment — but I begged and begged. And then it happened. For Christmas one year, a new mower arrived – imagine my disappointment when it was a badly adjusted, human-powered reel mower.

After what seemed an eternity of oiling, sharpening and slaving with that reel mower, two mowing seasons later, my parents relented and let me cut with the power mower. I was in heaven. And even though that machine was unsafe by modern standards – and I did pull it backwards and mow up slopes with it — I managed to reach my adulthood with fingers and toes intact. I even learned to rebuild small engines when that mower reached about 20 years of age and refused to start. It was perfect in its simplicity and oh-so-lacking in features, safety and otherwise.

Somehow surviving to adulthood, I eventually graduated to slightly larger and self-propelled walk-behind mowers, and then to garden tractors with belly- or front-mounted rotary and flail mowers as my lawn increased in size. I’ve mowed up to three acres of homeplace lawn but have scaled back these days to about an acre. I use an early 1980s Kubota-diesel-engine-powered Cub Cadet garden tractor with 50-inch deck as my go-to mower, but it’s not at all unusual to find sheep and fowl trimming our grassy vegetation a couple of times a year. My modern, precision Fiskars reel mower is perfect for trimming around trees and in areas too small for the Cub Cadet. I even swing a scythe to keep the borrow ditch along our road trimmed. What I’ve discovered after almost 50 years of mowing is that I like the activity in all of its manual and powered forms — even if I still count it among my various routine chores.

Mowing is a big part of field and lawn care. If you want to seed a lawn from scratch using the right grass mix for your situation, you will find all you need to get it done. How about sharpening mower blades and maintaining your mowing equipment? It’s all in GRIT’s Guide to Field and Lawn Care.

Whether you measure your mowed area in square feet, acres or square miles, I’d love to know what kind of equipment you depend on. Drop me a line at, send along a photo or two, and we just might use your story in a future issue of GRIT.

Keep on cuttin’,


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.