Pushing to save fuel

Manual lawn mowers return from the past to reduce global warming and obesity

Renoite Phil Bryan gives his lawn a trim the old fashioned way.

Renoite Phil Bryan gives his lawn a trim the old fashioned way.

Photo By David Robert

Grandpas love to talk about simpler, quieter times, like the time when mowing the lawn at 7 a.m. didn’t make the neighbors mad. Someone must be listening. No advertising campaign glorifies the benefits of stepping behind a manual mower, but folks are stepping back in time anyway.

Riding mowers bask in prime display space at Lowe’s on Oddie Boulevard. Along the mower aisle, 15 gas powered push mowers and two electric models are on display. At the aisle’s end, the manual mowers sit in boxes on the shelf. A bag-free model sells for $89.98, bag equipped for $129.98.

Andrew Lee works in the mower department. He offers to assemble a manual mower, lamenting that Lowe’s has no room to display one. That hasn’t hurt sales.

“Definitely, there is a marked increase in manual mower sales,” Lee says. His customers are expressing environmental concerns. “They don’t want to deal with gas and pollute the air,” he says.

Scott Magruder of Reno switched back to pushing a manual mower three summers ago. Environmental concerns powered his decision. He’s committed to his manual mower. “Not only does the grass look better, but I like the exercise,” he says.

Magruder, a state worker, inherited his push mower from his parents when they moved onto a floating home in Portland. The mower is 30 years old and weighs about 30 pounds. But lighter models, made with lightweight metals and plastic, are available.

It takes Magruder about an hour and a half to mow his lawn. He got tired of having to get gas, starting it up and stopping. He says manual mowing is easier. The trick is frequent mowing. Don’t let the grass get too long, and no bag is necessary—not that a bag is usually needed. In fact, leaving grass clippings on the ground reduces need for chemical fertilizers, sometimes by as much as 25 percent.

“I get some looks from neighbors,” Magruder admits. Despite those looks, he tries to convert some of them because gas mowers are loud. “You just don’t realize that until you get rid of it,” he says.

Magruder’s efforts have successfully converted management consultant and meditation instructor Phil Bryan. With his manual mower, he’s found Zen in lawn maintenance.

“I’ve come back to my beginnings,” Bryan says. He earned his allowance mowing lawns with a manual mower when he was a kid. He converted because he didn’t enjoy using the gas mower. “All my senses are more in tune using the push mower, no ear protectors, no smells,” he says.

Manual mowers require less maintenance. Occasional dousing of WD-40 on the wheels and a biannual sharpening are the main requirements. Manual mowers make more sense for consumers with smaller lawns and they cost less.

Safety concerns are also pushing sales. Twigs and rocks aren’t propelled with great velocity from a push reel mower. Parents can hear their children while they mow, along with birds singing.

“The best part of using the push mower is that the relative volume of sound is much lower,” Bryan says. “The sound is just a low level turning of the wheels. It’s a very pleasant sound.”