Garden Tractor 4, Me 1 — But I Still Win!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Throughout the history of individual home ownership and maintenance, there is one never-ending conflict that tests the mettle of every homeowner – mowing the grass. For most folks who live in a subdivision or other such ‘burb, this usually means getting out with a push mower and spending an hour or less tidying up their postage-stamp-sized front yard. In the countryside where I live, we measure and mow our grass by the acre. Between the yard next to my house, the area around my barn, and the spaces in between, I estimate that I have between two and three acres to mow every other week. There’s no way a person with a push mower could do all that here in Texas and not collapse from heatstroke. So, what’s the solution? A riding mower, of course!

These days, zero-turn mowers are all the rage. These are the mowers that the professional landscapers use; they are highly maneuverable, and with their wide mower decks can make short work of a large acreage like mine. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of those mowers; we bought ours back in 2001, before the zero-turns were being offered to the general public. Our mower is a more “conventional” style known as a garden tractor. The difference between it and a regular riding mower is that the garden tractor is capable of doing light tractor work such as tilling a garden or pulling a box blade to level the soil. However, its first job is to mow grass, and in that capacity this tractor has lived up to the expectations we had for it. With regular maintenance, replacing blades and belts and so forth, it has served us well for the past nine years.

That is, until this week.

While cutting an area near our barn last Saturday, the mower clogged up with grass and I had to stop and clear it. Usually I leave the engine running while I do this, but when I found the clogging was going to take a while to clear I turned it off. After I finished clearing it, I hopped back into the driver’s seat and turned the key to start the engine up again.

Click…no engine starting.

Check all the switches to make sure they are set properly, then try it again.

Click…still no engine starting.

Hop off the mower, open the front hood, and check all the electrical connections. They all look tight, so get back on and try it again.

Silence this time…not even a click.

“Great, just great,” I thought. “Here I am only halfway through my mowing and now I can’t start the engine.” So, I stopped trying to turn the switch over and over, and began looking at all the possible points of failure. I found three – the keyswitch, the battery, and the start solenoid. The most obvious thing was the battery; it was four years old, and has been through a lot of wear and tear mowing this huge space…maybe it just needed to be charged up? So, I got my tools, pulled the battery, and put it on a charger. When the charger said it was done, I put it back in the tractor and turned the switch.

Silence. Score one for the tractor.

Okay, the next point was the keyswitch. It was original to the tractor, and was pretty well worn on the outside. Maybe it was finally worn out on the inside as well and wasn’t making contact any more. So, off to the store I went to purchase a replacement. I picked one up, brought it home, popped the old switch out, popped the new one in, and turned the switch.

Silence. Score another one for the tractor.

“Okay,” I said, “I replaced the start solenoid a few years back when the original failed, so perhaps something has gone bad in this one too.” I didn’t have a chance to go back to the store that day, so it had to wait until Sunday afternoon.

Sunday rolled in. I went to the store and picked up a new start solenoid. Brought it home, got my tools, disconnected and removed the old one, installed and connected the new one, and turned the switch.

Silence. The score’s now three for the tractor and zero for me.

I started to get a little nervous. The mower wasn’t showing any signs whatsoever that it was even getting power to the starter (there’s a gauge on the dash that is supposed to move when you turn the key, and it wasn’t moving). I had to go off and think about this one for a while.

That “while” led me to Wednesday afternoon, when I decided to pull the battery and try charging it once again. Unlike the previous time, this charging cycle didn’t end; it just kept going and going. Maybe the battery had gone bad after all? I loaded it up in my truck, headed to the store, and traded it in on a new one. Brought it home, installed it, and turned the switch.

Silence. Now it’s four to nothing.

At this point I was totally demoralized and lost for an explanation. I began to check every wire I could find, tracing lines from the switch to the solenoid to the starter and back again. Nothing seemed broken or out of place. Then I started tracing other wires, and found one buried deep under the steering column with a strange connector on the end of it. I wiped the grime off it, and found it was really a fuse holder with a 30-amp blade fuse in it.

“Since when did they start putting fuses on garden tractors?” I asked. I pulled the fuse out, took one look, and saw that it had blown. Could all of this trouble have been caused by a 25-cent fuse?  I went back to my truck to see if I had a spare, but didn’t. It was getting dark, so I decided to wait and pick up new fuses the next morning.

Which brings this story up to yesterday. I finally got to the store, picked up a package of 30-amp fuses (so I’d have a few extras), got home, installed a new fuse, and turned the switch.

Bingo! The engine started like it was brand new (and well it should, given all the new parts I’d just installed). Score one for me!

I took the tractor up to the house and parked it so I could look it over and make it ready to go back out and mow again. My work will be cut out for me, with an extra week’s growth to deal with over half the yard.

So, now I know what I’ll be doing this weekend. How about you?

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This entry was posted on Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 12:25 am and is filed under Today's Reality. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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