Archive for August, 2012

Lawnmower Woes

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my Craftsman lawnmower since I bought it 9 years ago. This relationship has been progressively less love and more hate. Being the sort-of person I am, I just couldn’t bring myself to discard a working (if not particularly good) lawnmower. I’ve kept up the regular maintenance: oil changes, air filters, plugs, deck cleaning, etc. I’ve evicted several mice (including several complete families), washed out their detritus and repaired their inevitable wire chewing.[1] I’ve replaced countless blades thanks to my lovely trees and their obnoxious rocky-soil avoiding roots. Deck brackets, axles, and other mechanical parts have been straightened, bent and straightened again (or replaced) oh so many times. Each time, I managed to get the crazy beast running again just well enough to mow my lawn, albeit unevenly.[2]

This summer, with the extended June/July drought, proved to be essentially mower free. Finally the August storms came[3], and I put off mowing until just before our trip to Maine. All was well (after evicting another mouse) until the engine started running even rougher than usual and making awful popping noises. “Strange”, I thought, “I don’t think the air filter is supposed to be pushing out of the intake.” Upon further review, it was clear exhaust was being blown back into the air intake. Ugh.

Vacation intervened with half the lawn mowed, and we returned to quite the lush jungle of grass. Off come the valve covers. And what to my wondering eyes should appear (or is that disappear?), there is but one (and only one) bent pushrod.[4] “Huh? Where did the other one go?” The exhaust valve was very stuck, but the intake was moving (and apparently allowing the explosion to escape). There’s a very small oil drain hole at the base of the push rod housing… just big enough for the pushrod to slide into. Nice. Somewhere in the crank case is a well digested push rod.[5] After some research it was perfectly clear that I had neither the time nor money to invest in tearing out the engine, dropping the oil sump and attempting to find the broken bits of the pushrod.

Meanwhile… grass grows.

I spent the week stopping at various lawnmower sales places, which, have horrible hours for working people. Usually something like 9 to 4:30. I can’t decide if I want to buy one of the same general quality as the one I had (which I didn’t really care for) or shell out twice as much coin for a bigger/better(?) model.

Meanwhile… grass grows.

Finally, today comes and I’ve got to do SOMETHING with the lawn. Off comes the cylinder head. The steel insert that the exhaust valve slides in (theoretically) has shifted a good 3/4″ up out of the head. Even after freeing the valve (with a hammer!), it can only move about 1/8″. The intake valve insert is similarly displaced. Desperate to get some lawn cut, I remove the exhaust valve and bent push-rod and put the head back on (sans spark plug). Figuring one cylinder’s worth of power is better than nothing, I begin to mow. Of course now I’m billowing white smoke as the one operating cylinder digests the fuel meant for both… I manage to mow the front yard before I can’t stand the cloud anymore and stop. Oil is oozing all over the side of the engine, smoking profusely. I’m guessing the disabled cylinder is leaking quite a bit of oil, as it’s all over the spark plug hole. This might explain the immense black build up on the piston and the bottom of the head. Anyhow, seeing my despair (and probably noting the telltale smoke clouds) our neighbor offers to let me use hers. I thank her and finish the job.

So now, when I ‘sell’ the mower, do I put the valve back in, or just give the new ‘owner’ a bag of extra parts?

  1. Why do rodents like to chew wires? So many other things to chew, but they seem to really go for plastic insulation and copper. []
  2. 42″ deck doesn’t mean 42″ mowing really looks nice… I got maybe 32″ of useful mowing considering the overlap required to clean up. []
  3. Reminds me of Tucson. []
  4. For the non-engine types, these are the rods that get pushed by the cam shaft and open the valves at the appropriate time. []
  5. The other cylinder’s valves checked out. []