The Farm Bleat: Driving Lessons

It's been at least a decade since I've driven a riding lawn mower, but it shouldn't be that difficult, right? Isn't it kind of like riding a bicycle -- once you learn, you don't forget?...


It’s been at least a decade since I’ve driven a riding lawn mower, but it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? Isn’t it kind of like riding a bicycle - once you learn, you don’t forget?

Growing up on the farm, I logged hours upon hours steering the Big Mow back and forth across the lawn as the blades cut a nice, neat row (most of the time). It was always north to south or east to west, depending on which patch of lawn was being mowed. We never were so fancy as to do that diagonal mowing pattern. On a farm with a big front lawn, as well as trees and gardens to navigate around, that kind of mowing would be too complicated.

The real complication, in my opinion, is that green machine - or rather the two of them - that my folks invested in to keep their lawn looking lush.

With Dad dealing with some health issues, I’ve stepped up to help with the lawn mowing chore this summer. It takes about five hours to mow everything alone, or half that if someone helps.

Last week I attempted to mow the lawn all on my own, which I’ve now realized is not a good idea and likely will not be attempted again without at least taking some Aleve - perhaps both pre- and post-mowing.


If it isn’t the constant jarring of the machine (some of which is induced by operator error), it’s the stretched shoulder muscles from trying to hold up branches as I’m mowing underneath them, scrapes on the legs and arms from mowing too close to the evergreen tree, and the beating that came from getting whacked in the torso when the tire swing I attempted to push out of the way pushed back on its return swing.

Those are life lessons, and while important to learn from, perhaps more important are the driving lessons.

Lesson No. 1, from Mom, was how to start the blasted mower. Once that was accomplished, Lesson No. 2 was how the heck it went into reverse. My push mower isn’t nearly this complicated!

When I finally reached the first grassy patch to mow, I felt confident with my route and the speed, which had to fluctuate as I neared every single obstacle - building, light pole, guy wires, asparagus patch, prairie garden, evergreen tree and other trees.

Every single time I attempted to go in reverse with the blade engaged, the green machine wanted to die, so I’d quickly hit the pedal to lurch me forward, suffering a bit of whiplash the first time it happened … along with a sore neck for the next few days.

It wasn’t until Week 2 that Dad pointed out a little yellow button that says (RIO) above it.

“Push that in when you want to go in reverse with the blade running,” he said, giving me Lesson No. 3.

Week 1 would have been so much easier, and less painful, with that knowledge.


When Week 3 mowing was in progress, I told Dad he had to go retrieve a sock from the front lawn - a tube sock he’d apparently been using as a grease rag and had stuffed into a catch-all on the mower. I’m pretty sure a tree branch caught the sock and dropped it on the ground.

When he pondered why I didn’t simply stop and pick up the sock, I gave two reasons - No. 1, every time I step off the mower, the engine dies (it’s a safety feature); and No. 2, this particular area of the lawn is known to have slithering snakes on occasion. My feet were staying on the mower.

This, of course, led to Lesson No. 4 - an orange button that, if pushed, apparently keeps the lawn mower running when the driver steps off, as long as the blades are disengaged.

After three weeks, I think I may have learned all of the driving lessons necessary to operate a riding lawnmower. If not, I’m sure Dad will give me another lesson after reading this. What I’d really like is for him to take that brute of a tire swing down from the tree.

I still look for my loveable pooch, Molly, to be watching me from the garage door as I mow. The farm is so different without her.

Yet, I give thanks to her each time I mow the lawn because, knock on wood, I haven’t seen a single garter snake yet. Molly was my snake-killer and my protector, and as far as I’m concerned, she’s still protecting me from above.

Odds are the snakes will be back some day, and when I see one when I’m out mowing lawn, Mom, Dad and the neighbors will know what the blood-curdling scream is all about.

Opinion by Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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