Pulled in with the dogs a little after 4:30 pm. So far, this year’s Spring has failed to impress; temps are in the high 40s with drizzly, intermittent rain. Today’s trip is a short, goal-oriented one: I’ve come to collect all of the disappointing riding mowers from the pole barn.

(sips beer) “Yup.”

Two weeks ago, I came up pulling dad’s trailer with a 2011 John Deere X320 as cargo. This, friends, is quite the mower. Hank Hill himself would weep at its beauty. Whomever owned it and traded it in at Riesterer and Schnell’s Chilton branch took exquisite care of it–the plastic parts look washed and wax and not a single piece of trim is damaged, missing, or out of place. Really, the only signs of its true age (apart from the 320 hours on the engine clock) are some minor paint flaking and rust spots on the 48″ deck. Hell, it’s even got a brush bar on the front so the hood will hold up to my inevitable piloting ignorance. Oh, and the mower came with a Power Flow bagger unit, which means it’s ready to tow around the NASCAR trailer from day one.

I mention this new mower to a) brag, b) cover a recent Puckaway development I haven’t logged about, and c) provide context for today’s mission. This new Deere is not complementing the existing mower fleet, it’s half of a new team that’s replacing them. Last fall, Dad bought a different mower for Presque Isle as he’d much rather deal with foot pedal drive controls than a seat-side speed selector. He’s kindly handing over the other mower, an older but still well-maintained Deere product, which should find its way to Puckaway later this month. With a new pair of reliable green and yellow lawn machines available for use, I’m happy to clear out our lesser equipment entirely. Today, I haul away the Sabre, Craftsman, and MTD.

The pole barn, looking fantastic.

The Sabre mower has been good to me up here. It was the first mower I’ve used that had a power-assist lawn/leaf collection system that led to me building the NASCAR trailer and significantly reducing the amount of time spent bagging and dumping Puckaway’s top export: oak leaves. However, the Sabre is also showing its age. With over 500 hours on it when it was pressed into Puckaway service, it was already a little battle-worn. Now, after nearly a decade of use, it looks like it lost a few street fights. The hood is falling off, the deck gamely soldiers on despite having spit out a pulley a few years ago (seriously, why does it still work? are some deck pulleys like the human appendix?), but it bogs down when trying to collect leaves and the power bagger has been patched multiple times with JB Weld, HVAC ducting, and even sliced sections from a 55 gallon barrel.

The Craftsman mower has been cutting grass at Puckaway since before I met my wife. After the arrival of the Sabre, it was demoted to the roles of dedicated backup and marsh-trail tamer. It’s not particularly happy about this. The Craftsman is reluctant to start and doesn’t see PTO engagement as a simple on/off affair; it likes to take its time spinning those blades up or down. There’s no discharge chute flap (which actually benefits marsh cutting), so it’s generally a good idea to avoid direct eye contact with the deck unless you want a faceful of clippings Last fall, one of the deck spindles broke for the second time. I’m done throwing money at this thing.

Somewhat anomalous is the MTD. This mower was the original Presque Isle riding mower for a few years until it suddenly decided that it would turn over all it wanted but would never start again. This thing never cut a single blade of Puckaway grass and was deposited here much to my consternation. Today it leaves.

Hannah, looking wet and tired.

Anyway, back to today’s trip. The dogs hit the ground running, as per usual. I got the green ATV and the boys’ ATV fired up and moved out of the pole barn, then pulled the truck around to the east garage door. With the aid of the ATV ramps, I was able to guide the Sabre into the bed under its own power. While the mower is just slightly too long to fully close the tailgate, I was able to get it “half” closed by looping the retention cables around the gate latches. This is a handy trick I’ve used more than once when hauling long lumber and plywood in a short-bed truck.

Before removing the ramps, I took advantage of my eye-level position in front of the south yard camera and mounted a rain shield for it. I keep getting false motion alerts because of rain dripping over the lens and I’m hoping this will take care of that.

A dork, looking into the abyss (as the abyss looks back in 1080p).

I hitched up the little red Harbor Freight trailer (with the walls removed) and turned my attention to the remaining two mowers. Rather than mess around with ramps again, and knowing I couldn’t even start the MTD, I decided to load them with good old-fashioned manpower. I slipped the hook of a ratchet strap around the front axle of the Craftsman, disengaged the transmission, and dragged it over to the trailer. Then I worked up some nerve, hopped up on the trailer, and lifted the front end onto the edge. With that done, it was relatively easy to go around and lug the back end up.

It was at this point that I began to question the logistical feasibility of my three-mower transport plan. These stupid things were longer than I had pictured. I measured the wheelbase for the Craftsman and MTD and they were both 48″ axle-to-axle. That’s not going to cut it on a 4′ x 8′ trailer. Suddenly, the very flat right-front tire of the Craftsman inspired me–if I were to flatten all of the tires, and turn this thing sideways, it’d fit just fine and wouldn’t be able to roll. So that’s exactly what I did. Two extremely tightly cinched ratchet straps later, and the Craftsman was practically welded to the trailer deck.

The process of loading the MTD was pretty similar to the Craftsman, except that I had to use a 2×4 as a lever to get the back end up on the trailer. This one has a lot more junk in the trunk for some reason. I didn’t have to rotate this mower, but I still flattened all of the tires out of an abundance of caution before strapping it down.

Hank, looking at nothing in particular.

I took a moment to admire the increased floorspace in the pole barn, then pulled the truck forward so I could get the ATVs back inside. The dogs had been very good about sticking around this whole time. I remembered that I had a tennis ball in the truck, so I threw it a few times for Hank. I then also remembered that Red left his lacrosse-stick-looking tennis ball thrower up here, so I tried it out. You can really launch a ball with this thing! Hank loved the challenge but got tired after four sprints halfway down the driveway. I closed up the pole barn, rounded up the pooches, gave all of my ratchet straps a final inspection, and started the butt-puckering journey home around 6:30 pm with the cruise set exactly to the speed limit.

Spoiler alert: I made it to Oshkosh and nothing fell off! Here’s hoping I can get some money for these mowers.