I thought all dads relaxed as the lawn mowed itself

My dad had an unconventional way of mowing the lawn, but I was too young to appreciate that. I was vaguely aware of the facetious comments friends and relatives would make about it. Still, I thought every father mowed his lawn that way.

Looking back, it makes perfect sense. Dad was a mechanical engineer and a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee. He enjoyed applying his engineering skills to household problems, and his creative thought processes were never hindered by convention.

Sometimes his solutions were driven by the desire to save money. Our washing machine, for example, had been discarded as a relic by its previous owners. Dad gaily replaced the bearings in the old Bendix and installed it in our kitchen. And he repeated the procedure so many times over the years that my mother despaired of ever getting a new washing machine.

Obviously, Dad didn't let aesthetics interfere with his practical solutions. When the gas line on my old VW bug became clogged and I needed to go back to college, Dad simply ran a length of plastic hose from the gas tank under the hood up over the top of the car to the engine in the rear, securing it to the roof with duct tape. Hey, it worked.

Saving money was convenient – and often necessary. But saving labor was where Dad really shone. He rigged up a clothesline on pulleys that enabled Mom to shuttle laundry for seven people out to 100 feet, without ever stepping off the back stoop.

In engineering college, Dad had put what he was learning to immediate practical use.

Screwing Erector-set parts together, he created a motor-operated arm that would close his window early in the morning. Switched on automatically by his alarm clock, the device enabled this comfort-loving student to sleep with fresh air and wake to a warm room.

Unfortunately, a dean discovered it during Christmas vacation and condemned it as a fire hazard.

Thankfully, there was no one to inspect Dad's lawn-mowing operation, developed years later during what must have been the height of his homegrown engineering innovation.

It all revolved around two iron pipes implanted at ground level in the center of our softball field-sized lawn. Fitting perfectly inside these iron pipes were two other pipes that protruded from a large block of wood. One end of a precise length of rope was attached to the block of wood. The other end was tied, yes, to the mower. As the reel mower propelled itself forward, the rope wound around the block of wood, drawing the mower around the lawn in ever-decreasing circles. While the sharp blades sliced through the half-acre of grass, Dad watched from a shaded lawn chair in a pleasant frame of mind.

I guess I was too busy leaning over the side of the wagon that was tied behind the mower, scooping up handfuls of cut grass for our pony, to notice the people who drove by. Dad tells me they'd slow down, stop to watch, and finally drive away chuckling.

No doubt there were others of the pre-riding mower days who also possessed Yankee ingenuity. But Dad's brand had to be all his own.

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