Cutting Up On The Lawn

TO WIT

April 12, 1992|By DAVE BARRY

When I hear some loudmouth saying that the United States is no longer a world technology leader, I look him in the eye and say: "Hey! There's a worm pooping on your shirt!" Then, when he looks down, I spit on the top of his head and sprint away. I'm not about to stand still while somebody knocks my country, not when we're still capable of achievements such as the World's Fastest Lawn Mower.

That's right: The World's Fastest Lawn Mower is produced right here in the U.S.A. by Americans just like yourself except that you are probably normal, whereas they put a jet-powered helicopter engine on a riding lawn mower. I know this is true because -- call me a courageous journalism pioneer if you must -- I drove it on my own personal lawn.

This event was arranged by Ken Thompson, a Miami-based sales representative for the Dixie Chopper brand of lawn mower. He wrote me a letter saying that the Dixie Chopper people had a special customized jet-powered model touring around the country, and it would be in my area, and he thought it would be a good idea if they brought it to my house in a sincere humanitarian effort to get free publicity. As a professional journalist trained to be constantly on the alert for stories that I can cover without leaving home, I said sure.

I've had an interest in lawn mowers since I was 10 years old. I used to earn money by attempting to mow neighbors' lawns with our lawn mower, which was powered by the first gasoline engine ever built. I believe this was actually a stone engine. The only person who could start it consistently was my father, and he could do this only by wrapping the rope around the starter thing and yanking it for the better part of the weekend.

By about the 1,000th yank, he'd be dripping with sweat, ready to quit, and the lawn mower, sensing this, would go, and I quote: "Putt." Just once. But that was enough to goad my father into a furious yanking frenzy, transforming himself, wolfmanlike, from a mild-mannered, gentle Presbyterian minister into a violent, red-faced lunatic, yanking away at this malevolent stone, which continued to go "Putt" at exactly the right tactical moment, until finally it got what it wanted, which was for my father to emit a burst of extremely mild profanity. Then the lawn mower, knowing that it now had a funny story to tell down at the Lawn Mower Bar, would start.

Sometimes, in an effort to earn money, I'd push the stone lawn mower next door and ask Mrs. Reed if she wanted me to mow her lawn. She'd say yes, and I'd yank on the starter thing for a while, then sit down, exhausted and discouraged, and Mrs. Reed, who had been watching from her kitchen, would come out and give me a quarter. It was a living.

Lawn mower technology has come a long way since then, as I discovered when the Dixie Chopper trailer pulled up at my house and the crew wheeled out the World's Fastest Lawn Mower. It's a normal-looking commercial riding lawn mower except that it has what looks like a large industrial coffee-maker mounted horizontally on the back. This is a 150-horsepower turbine engine from a U.S. military Chinook helicopter. According to the crew, Warren Evans and Mark Meagher, it can easily make the lawn mower go more than 60 miles per hour.

After briefing me on the controls, the crew started the engine, which sounded like a giant vacuum cleaner, getting louder and louder like this: whooOOOMMMM until it was shrieking and shooting flames out the back. Then I put on some ear protectors, climbed into the driver's seat, pushed the controls forward and Whoooaaaaa . . .

Let me say, in all journalistic objectivity, that I have never before experienced that level of acceleration in a lawn mower, or for that matter a commercial aircraft. Rocketing around my yard, watching concerned Dixie Chopper people leap out of the way, I was thinking: "This is great! I want to take this baby out on the interstate! I want to [whump]."

OK, so I hit a tree. But the mower was undamaged, and so was I, and the tree is expected to recover. The bottom line is, if you're interested in extremely high-speed lawn care, this is the lawn mower for you. The Dixie Chopper people said they'll make one for you just like it for only $29,000, which, according to my calculations, you could easily earn by simply not mowing Mrs. Reed's lawn 116,000 times.

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