Monday, September 20, 2010

I Thought I Could, I Thought I Could...

On the third trip to ACE Hardware on Saturday morning, little Juliana, standing behind her cash register, asked, "Are you back again, Miss Linda?" She advised that I find "a guy to start your engine." Hmmm.... She's a sweet young girl from, I think, Jamaica so I refrained from making a quip about finding a man to get my motor running. But I was sorely tempted since I almost never waste an opportunity to be knee-slapping hilarious and can usually come up with a clever one-liner. This time I just let it alone.

I was living in a MasterCard commercial:

Additional Spark plug: $2.99
Blaster: $4.99
New Gas can: $3.49
Fresh Gas: $2.69
Fresh Motor Oil: $5.00
Engine Starter: $3.59
Siphon: $5.99
Fine sandpaper: $0.69
Liz Claiborne jeans: $64.00 (when bottle of motor oil slipped out of greasy hands, hit patio and bounced back up.)
Conquering Combustion Engine: Priceless

If I had to diagnose what was wrong with the lawn mower, I would make a stab that the carburetor and fuel line needed to be cleaned. It wasn't the spark plug and it wasn't the air flow. However, I admit I am not at all certain. After my third trip to ACE I came home armed with product called Blaster, a pink liquid that gets sprayed into the spark plug housing. (I forgot to put the spark plug back on first time around and it all spurted out, but now I know better.)

From 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., I tinkered with Sparky. I sanded out the inside of the spark plug cap. I tried to adjust the throttle. I stared into the carburetor. I siphoned out the gas and oil and replaced both. After the second dose of Blaster "the Sparkster" started up with a great smoking growl...only to die within seconds. I held down the throttle, pulled the cord, and he roared to life. Once again he fizzled. Again and again we engaged in that dance, Sparky and I, for what seemed like hours. The sun rose higher and warmer. At last, hot, grimy, and exhausted I sat on the patio steps and murmured calmly, "I hate you." And then I did what one does with machines when all else fails. I pulled myself up and kicked him. Swift and hard.

Was it the Blaster? Did Sparky get bored with the game? Or was it genuine fear of injury to movable parts? Who can say. But on Saturday Sparky acquiesced. On the very next attempt he sputtered, then belched and began to hum.

In triumphant joy I pushed him toward the lawn. He putt-putted happily. He did a mighty fine job when all was said and done. We'll have to have another go at it later in the week, however, since I was too exhausted to do more than attack the worst parts of the lawn.

Afterward I let him rest in the cool shade of a Magnolia tree before putting him away. I felt proud of myself and happy Sparky won't be thrown into a landfill any time soon. I think he must be happy about that as well. I'm not certain but as I wheeled him into the garage I do believe I saw him wink at the new edger. She's a new model and is quite good looking, if a little too thin. With any luck, she might be just what he needs to keep his motor running.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Little Engine That Won't

Tempus fugit...what can I say. And the older one gets the tempus fugits even faster.

Let me fill you in on the latest dilemma. I've spent the greater part of the week on a particularly thorny problem. I've expounded before on landscaping issues which are part and parcel of living in my subdivision. There are rules. Actually, it is a very nice place to live. I love my neighbors, and the Homeowners Association is pretty good at planning little events to help keep it a real community. But there are rules, and I'm breaking one of the cardinal ones with my grass. I don't want to break the rules, but I do not take defeat lightly. So here's the scenario. I no longer have a landscaper. He was too expensive. He made more per hour than I do. But he was good. When you think about it, being good at what one does for a living - keeping consistently at peak best through the day-in and day-out grind - is not as easy as it's cracked up to be. No denying it. He was good. I simply could no longer afford the luxury.

As I've written before, I found a power mower in my garage. I dusted it off, oiled it up, and it sputtered along all summer - until two weeks ago. It's not an old mower. I pull the cord, the motor spins, but it doesn't kick in. (I have a John Deere riding mower in the garage as well, which also doesn't work and which needs to get hauled away on a trailer for servicing, but that's another story.) This is what I have learned about power mowers - they need three things to start: air, fuel, and a spark.

I learned how to change the spark plug - nothing. I learned how to change the air filter - still nothing. I drained the gas and re-filled it. Dead. Yesterday, I decided I'd clean the carburetor - at least I think it's the carburetor. I learned that when I press the little red "prime" button, a squirt of gasoline shoots through an opening inside what I think is the carburetor, and then into the part of the engine that houses the spark plug. Should it do that? I sat on the patio steps and thought hard about it - trying to get into the mind of the combustion engine. The spark that the spark plug is supposed to make probably ignites the little squirt of gasoline and that sets the whole caboodle in motion. Is that how it works? Could that be right?

I've tried getting a copy of my owners manual on-line. There is an owners manual for my lawn mower, all right. But instead of it being an owners manual for the walk-behind power mower, it's a manual for a leaf blower. The leaf blower manual is not much help. Did I mention that being good at one's job is admirable? Things should just work right. Is that a tall order? I want my lawn mower to work. I want the owners manual for the mower to be for the mower and not for a leaf blower. Should I print off the leaf blower manual anyway just in case I buy it one day? Did someone make a mistake and switch the two manuals? Maybe if I pulled up the manual for a leaf blower I'd find the manual for the lawn mower.

The lawn situation is getting pretty desperate, so I will have to hire someone to cut it. That should give me another week or two to tinker. I don't think the problem is the starter spring. Until yesterday I didn't even know there was such a thing as a starter spring. But I learned how to change that as well, just in case.

My reading assignment for the weekend will be to learn everything I can about the combustion engine. I cannot allow it to win. Like Winston Churchill, I will fight on the land...I will fight on the sea...I will never give up.

Wrestling the lawn mower into submission is one of my loftier goals. It's right up there with baking a flaky pie crust. (The secret is vodka.) I'll let you guess for which one.