Nonmotorized lawnmowers making a comeback

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(Host) Mowing the lawn is one summer chore that never seems to go away.

Modern technology has made the job easier but not necessarily more pleasant, which is why, in some quarters, the old fashioned push mower is making a comeback.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Not all the sounds of summer are sweet. Consider the power mower…

Noisy, smelly, temperamental, polluting. No wonder some people are turning to a simpler alternative.

Peter Yost moved to Brattleboro with his family four years ago to work as an environmental building consultant.

(Yost) “one of the things that attracted us to a town like Brattleboro is that we were in walking distance of the grocery store the pizza parlor, the hospital. We try to use combustion engines as little as possible.”

(Keese) When it came to mowing his three-quarter acre yard, Yost wasn’t even sure if non-motorized mowers were still available. But for $120 he bought a good one at his local hardware store.

The storeowner called it a reel mower – R-E-E-L. He said sales have been increasing in the last three to five years.

“(Yost) And quite frankly, you know I wasn’t even sure if this was going to work, and when we first tried it we were amazed because, you know, you buy a good one, and it actually cuts the grass.”

(Keese) Yost says mowing this way takes a little longer. But he has a desk job, and needs the exercise. He thinks it’s safer. It starts and stops when he does. He doesn’t have to keep a gas can around, or banish the kids for fear of flying stones. When he’s finished, he just wipes off the blades.

(Yost) “Flip this over, and I just spin it free to get the grass off. I spray it with some WD40, and that basically protects the blade from rusting…and that’s it.”

(Keese) For some people, Yost’s new discovery is an old standby. Lester Dunklee runs a machine shop near Yost’s house. He sees about 30 old reel mowers a year. He says some aren’t worth servicing. But many are.

(Dunklee) “See, that’s the way they’re supposed to sound when they’re sharp.”

(Keese) The mowers’ working parts are a stationary metal striking surface and a spindle of curved blades that turns like a fishing reel when you push it. When the blades are sharp and adjusted perfectly, they hit the striking surface like scissors.

Dunklee uses paper from a 1962 Montgomery Ward catalog to test the blades.

(Dunklee) “Not the colored pages but the brown and white pages, it’s a little bit thinner. You go across the whole bed of the knife. Each one cuts, and it still spins free. That’s how we test them. “

(Keese) Dunklee has new customers who buy their mowers at yard sales, and old ones who’ve never stopped using theirs.

(Dunklee) “You don’t want to go out and do three acres with it, but if you’re just doing a small yard, a motor’s sometimes too much for people to deal with. They just push this thing around and that’s fine.”

(Keese) Yost says he doesn’t exactly look forward to cutting the lawn once a week. But it beats driving to the health club to keep in shape.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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