The reel world

If you're searching for environmental purity, even electric mowers fall short compared to the motorless, push-type reel lawn mowers.

Yes, in this age of sophisticated machinery, there's still a market - a growing one - for this simple contraption. The American Lawn Mower Company/Great States Corporation in Shelbyville, Ind., has carved out a nice niche for itself as the dominant US maker of reel mowers.

The company hawks about 300,000 mowers a year - some carrying the Scotts label - and sales keep rising.

Besides the purity factor - no gas, oil, charging, or fumes - reel mowers are relatively inexpensive. The average price of an American/Great States mower is about $100, compared to $250 or more for a rotary power mower.

They also start when you do and are easier to handle and push than many may realize, partly because they weigh about half as much (16 to 32 pounds) as they once did.

According to a customer survey, though, small lawns (1/4 acre or less) are the chief reason people purchase reel mowers. Environmental considerations are next, followed by ease of maintenance (infrequent blade sharpening).

Women are buying 40 percent of the reel mowers sold by the American/Great States company. They account for an even higher percentage (65 to 75) of the sales of $200 German-made Brill mowers, sold by Sunlawn Imports Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo. Brill's business, though, is relatively small, with projected US sales of 2,500 this year.

Bluegrass, rye, and other cool-season grasses fall easily before reel mowers, which can tackle most any turf grass.

The way they cut, shearing the grass with scissoring blades, seals the grass, leaving it less vulnerable than grass ripped or torn by rotary power mowers.

Reel mowers also have a good safety record. This helps explain why American/Great States has introduced a new, lightweight youth model for children 8 to 15, featuring lower handles.

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