Saturday, May 26, 2012

Real reel mowing

When I was a child in the 1970's, growing up in Oregon, it was my job to mow our two lawns. We had a push mower with a giant bladed reel and a basket that attached to the back, to catch the clippings. I never even questioned that there was an easier, more modern way to cut the grass. In fact, although it may be hard to believe, I was in my TWENTIES before I even knew about gasoline-powered mowers with blades that spun like the hands of a clock.

When we bought Appleside Cottage, there were many things left behind from the previous owner. She was lovely to speak with; left her beautiful Madonnas at both doors to guard and bless our home, as well as a lively circular Shamrock sign attached to the side of our kitchen cabinets. Luck, luck and more luck.
There was a wonderful cabinet in the damp, stone basement with "St. Lawrence Waterway" stamped on the side in industrial stenciling, another beautiful beadboard cabinet nailed to the wall of the basement steps and painted 90 shades of white- which I promptly pried off the wall, stripped and restored and now use as a bookcase. We found a lonely spindle legged drop-leaf table in the back shed- minus the leaves that I cleaned and covered with one of my mother's 60's era tablecloths and now use as a computer table. But one of the nicest finds was the honest-to-goodness reel mower we found in the corner of the tiny, one-car garage.

By 2012, we had owned Appleside Cottage for 2 years. In that 2 year time, we'd never once touched the cobweb-covered tool. I honestly thought it was too old and too rusty to be worth mowing with. The handle was wooden. The wheels were cast iron. My 1970's era model at least had rubber tires!

While we were doing some gardening during the Memorial Day holiday in 2012, my husband and sons dragged the old reel mower out of it's corner and hovered around it, pushing it back and forth and speculating on it's possible effectiveness. Finally, my husband Jeff grasped the wooden handles and pushed it into the yard- a bold and determined decision to uncover the answers to their questions.

I watched this masculine dance with fascination; what was he doing? This relic couldn't possibly cut our grass decades after it had been parked! Well, I was delighted to be wrong... The wonderful old tool performed as well as it must have at least 100 years ago when it was made!

I have to confess to failing in trying to determine the origins of this mower. All I know is that it reads: Reading Special USA Pat Pend on the wheels.

To be honest, the cut-and-dried facts of the manufacture of our reel mower are relatively unimportant. What delights me is that this simple, well-designed, well-made American tool is every bit as good today as it was before I was born.

Detail of the wooden handle
And the environment loves it too!
This is a cylinder mower from 1888. It is almost identical to ours. According to county records, Appleside Cottage first changed hands in 1887. So this style of mower could certainly have been the type the first owners used!

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