Cutting A Deal On Mowing


June 19, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Beth popped the question at supper, between bites of pizza.

"Whumph do you wagph for Father's Day, Dad?"

Something special, I said. A gift that will draw the family closer together. A gift I can share with Beth the Pre-Teen.

She suggested a large pepperoni with extra cheese.

My choice? A new lawn mower made especially for kids.

Beth almost gagged on her pizza.

"Wait, let me explain," I said. The new Youth Mower would help our relationship, I said. It would allow us to trim the grass together -- a great opportunity for father-daughter bonding, I said.

What better way to celebrate Father's Day?

Beth pondered the offer, then demurred. "Nice try, Dad," she said. From across the table, her mother shot me a knowing glance.

"Ever the thoughtful father," she said wryly.

They're partly right, of course. I'll do anything to avoid dreaded lawn chores. In this case, however, I plead innocent. I don't want to turn over the whole yard to a 12-year-old. In fact, I wouldn't mind cutting the grass in tandem with my daughter. Mowing alongside Beth would make the job almost bearable.

And what would Beth gain from the experience? Pride, exercise and a strong work ethic.

Clearly, the Youth Mower is a tool whose time has come.

The mower, an old-fashioned hand- or push-type, has large red wheels, a shiny black metal frame and a short tubular handle. At 19 pounds, the machine is light enough for an 8-year-old to maneuver around the yard.

Made by the American Lawn Mower Co., of Shelbyville, Ind., the Youth Mower answers parents' calls for a scaled-down version of the adult push mower, which the company has produced for 100 years.

"We kept getting letters from people saying their kids really wanted to help them mow, to emulate what they were doing, but that there was no machine they could use," said Teri McClain, a spokeswoman for the firm.

"This one fits that niche."

Children seem most impressed with the machine's innards, she says.

"They love to watch the blades turn. They are as fascinated by push mowers as they are by those kiddie 'popcorn poppers' that they push around for hours," said McClain.

No toy, this. The tempered steel blades go thwirp-thwirp-thwirp when they cut grass, a comforting sound lost in the post-World War II blitz of noisy gas-driven power mowers.

Children (and a growing number of adults) also like the push mowers because they are user-friendly, said McClain:

"The machines start when you start, and stop when you stop. They are virtually maintenance-free. There's no spark plug to change, and no battery to dispose of. There is no air or noise pollution."

Kids today care about the environment, she said. They tend to favor tools that don't deplete the ozone.

Parents appear to be wising up as well. Sales of the company's adult models, once on the skids, have more than doubled in the past five years, said McClain. Who's buying push mowers? People who live in big, new homes situated on tiny lots.

Also, many homeowners, particularly women, are fed up with fussing with cranky power mowers. Nearly half the push mowers in America are bought by women, said McClain.

"You can get a hand mower out of the garage and have the whole job done in the time it takes to get a power mower started," she said. "Plus, these mowers are easy to store. All you need are two large hooks on a shed wall."

For many parents, using a push mower is a case of deja vu.

"I remember having great fun pushing my grandfather's hand mower around the yard," said McClain. "Kids are always eager to help, until someone clues them in that what they're doing is work."

The Youth Mower (about $110) is available by mail order only, from Smith & Hawken (415-383-4415) and Alsto's Handy Helper (309-343-6181).

Father's Day is out, but I can still order a Youth Mower for Beth's birthday. Bet she'll be surprised.

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