The manual is sealed in a plastic sleeve, so already I’m forced to use a tool. I’ll need more than my OXO Good Grips scissors now that I’m co-owner of a ride-on mower. Ride-on mowers are for people who own sheds with cans of different oils and a workbench with a vice. They have a tool for every occasion, kept sharp and lubricated with oil from the correct can. They are like our friend, Graham, who re-builds old cars and spent a day fixing up his own ride-on mower that he bought cheap off Trade Me. I own scissors, secateurs and a trowel, and my husband has allen keys for fixing bicycles. We bought our mower brand new.
Out of the plastic sleeve come two versions of the Operator’s Manual. The second is in Spanish. Not unexpected because John Deere is headquartered in Moline, Illinois, and in the US, instructions are almost always in English and Spanish. I start to have angry political thoughts but am distracted by a revelation: our ride-on mower is more properly called a Lawn Tractor, or in Spanish, a ‘Tractor para Césped’.
Good to know, even though our little D110 looks more like a pedal car than a tractor. I almost said, “It’s so cute!” out loud when Hayden from the John Deere dealership delivered it. I didn’t because I’m now a Lawn Tractor owner, and they are pragmatic and taciturn.
Moline, part of Rock Island, Illinois, and not far from Milan.
The sleeve also contains warranty gumpf, a safety DVD and the spare key, on which is printed the vaguely threatening message: ‘SAFETY: Live with it.’
It becomes immediately obvious that SAFETY drives the narrative of this Operator’s Manual. The first thirteen pages are dedicated to it, and there are warnings on every one of the following forty-seven. ‘Do not jump start a frozen battery!’ ‘Do not mow wet grass!’ ‘Keep children away!’ ‘ROTATING BLADES CUT OFF ARMS AND LEGS!’
A child was not kept away
There are seven instructions under AVOID SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH, including, ‘Drive up and down slopes, not across,’ ‘Avoid sudden turns’ and the Liam Neeson-ish, ‘If machine stops going uphill, stop blade and back down slowly’. The safety labels are shown with explanatory text and then with no text, like a memory game. Everything about my Lawn Tractor is potentially lethal, including the exhaust fumes. It’s a cute green and yellow death machine.
Look at its little face!!
We’ve avoided mowing a lawn for nine years, since we last moved house and the dogs turned what grass there was into a piss-scorched wasteland, so we decked it over. When we built this house, we spent the first summer surrounded by dirt and weeds. But last spring, the lawn was planted and now it’s grown.
Before a single green blade had emerged, everyone said, “You’ll have to get a ride-on mower.” The neighbours all have them – the community holds an annual ride-on mower race. My husband, David, isn’t fond of mowing or enforced fun, so in his mind, we were never, ever going to get one. But he was persuaded by 1) our neighbours offering to go halves, and 2) Les.
I don’t know Les’s last name and now it’s too embarrassing to ask. Maybe not; I could hear splashing the other night when I rang him, and he had no qualms about admitting he was in the bath. I described a character in a book as having the kind of outdoorsy perma-tan that meant he could be aged anywhere from fifty-five to a hundred and four. That was before I knew Les, but it fits. He wears black t-shirts and workman’s pants, unless it’s super hot, when he breaks out the three-quarter cargo shorts. He does all kinds of practical odd jobs for us, including re-stocking the rat bait. He gives me vegetables from his garden, and lots of advice.
“Catherine, y’can’t let the grass get too long. It’ll lie down, see, and then the mower will go right over the top. Y’wanna keep it at three, four inches, not too short, or it’ll burn off, see. And those weeds there? Y’can’t pull ’em, you’ll have to dig ’em out. [Takes knife out of pants pocket.] I’ll leave this for you.”
Les insisted we get a ride-on and specified the brand. When it arrived, Les came round at five in the afternoon and forced my husband to try it out. I was walking the dogs, and came back to find David mowing and Les jogging alongside, giving advice. “Y’gotta go up beside the drive that way, so the clippings go on the grass.” David gave me a look that communicated his forbearance, but he’s a competitive type, so he kept going and mowed the whole lawn. Took him two hours. Les would have stayed to watch except his wife made him go home.
David told me mowing was tricky on the slopes, and the Operator's Manual is very firm about slope safety. It even includes a Slope Gauge Template that you can use to ascertain how likely it is that you will die attempting this mow.
Avoid death with the handy dandy slope gauge template.
I read the whole Safety section and feel I’ve comprehended it. I know I should never mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary, and that when leaving the machine, I need to ‘Stop engine – Set park brake – Remove Key’. I can do that.
But on Page 18, the Manual goes next level technical. I can skip the two pages on Assembly. Our D110 was delivered pre-assembled by Hayden, who reversed it off a trailer down a ramp he also assembled on the spot.
Nine pages on Operating, including sentences like: ‘If mowing at 75mm (3 in.) height of cut or higher, set the anti-scalp wheels in their lowest position.’
I do not know where – or what – the anti-scalp wheels are.
Other terms I am unfamiliar with:
Terms I am familiar with:
Pages 34 to 49 are dedicated to Servicing, starting with Lubrication, using John Deere Multi-Purpose HD Lithium Complex Grease. Proper Lawn Tractor owners will have a special can for that.
The section on Sharpening Blades comes before the one on Balancing Blades, which has the following warning: ‘CAUTION: Blades are sharp.’
On page 45, it says: ‘IMPORTANT: Do not lose the shaft key.’
Terms I am unfamiliar with:
At this point, I decide I may as well switch to the Spanish version. ‘Aflojar las dos perillas (A) y quitar la cubierta (B).’ ‘No cambiar el bisel de la cuchilla.’ ‘Desconectar el mazo de cables.’
Right at the end, between more warranty gumpf and the index, I find the John Deere Quality Statement:
‘John Deere equipment is more than just a purchase, it’s an investment in quality. That quality goes beyond our equipment to your John Deere dealer’s parts and service support. This support is needed to keep you a satisfied customer.’
As long as I don’t die attempting a non-advised slope, and Hayden can take care of all the Servicing specified between pages 34 and 49, I should indeed be, as we say in Spanish, ‘un cliente satisfecho’.