Reel Mower



Garth Woodruff


For the sake of the rain today and my focused mind fogging over, I found myself perusing

a list of famous people and places in Gloucestershire, England.  Interestingly I found

quite an impressive legacy of faces, those at the top being Prince Charles, Prince William,

Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and the like.  To no surprise the list included many

names one would recognize from the silver screen, countless musicians and artists. 

However, to my great disappointment Edwin Beard Budding (1795-1846) wasn’t

anywhere in the top 100.  This man single handedly stole millions of precious Sundays

and summer evenings from humankind worldwide with his devious invention, the lawn

mower.  Yes, August 31, 1830 marks the birth of the reel mower.  And like many bad

habits we seem to collected from other countries we adapted the mower.  I, like many

this time of year, am facing my last pilgrimages across my lawn tottering behind some old

friend who helps maintain and shape the way others look upon me and my home. 

With the long weekend break from the University Lani and I slipped back to Virginia for

a day of maintenance on our home there and I was one of those men missing a Monday

night football game in exchange for quality time spent in the yard.  I do love our

mountain there and found myself saying on the drive back to Michigan how I could have

mowed the lawn 100 more times just for the opportunity to be outside in the woods.  In

Virginia I have a reel more.  I do!  It’s the same design that Budding patented over 180

years ago.  Little has changed and with nothing to complicate it.  My wife raves about this

simple thing.  She needn’t struggle with it up the steps as it’s light and she needn’t fight

with starting it, as it has no motor.  If a twig gets caught in the blades she stops, reaches

down, pulls it out and keeps mowing.  It’s like the perfect mousetrap.  Now, in all fairness

our lawn there isn’t much larger then my office here and can take up to eight whole

minutes to mow, thus our happy marriage to the ‘reel’ mower. 

Michigan, and a larger lawn have brought a new challenge.  After seeing the grass grow up

at this new home the first few weeks I quickly realized that it was high time to buy a ‘real’

mower.  Yes, a man who may not philosophically support lawns has a reel mower and a

real mower.  Oddly enough I quickly fell into line and felt like I was a true Middle

American too, with someone picking up my trash for the first time in 40 years and

mowing my lawn on Sundays foolishly waving to the new neighbors.  How cool.


Well the gardens are facing their own seasonal maintenance.  The mowing there is

quickly wrapping up.  The string trimmers have been set aside and larger pieces of

equipment take the place in the fields.  Plastic pullers remove the row covers where older

crops are done; manure spreaders are starting to dump fresh fertilizer on the soil to rest

the winter away in preparation for next year.  And before we seed a hearty winter cover

on our resting land we will disk that fertilizer deep into the earth… with none-other than

an implement that was first seen on an Egyptian wall painting dating thousands of years