By Denny Bonavita
My war with the weed wackers might be over.
Back in the 1970s, when weed wackers emerged, I fell in love with the principle: A whirling string whacks the weeds.
But the whirling string also whacks ill-positioned ankles, vitally needed tree bark and even exuberant, unwary pets.
String trimmers, I found, are a lot like newborn infants. Attention needs to be paid to both ends.
At the power-it-up end, earlier models would refuse to start; self-choke in a cloud of smoke; or rev up with hair-trigger intensity, precisely when I did not want them to whack weeds.
At the business end, the spools of string, later of plastic, would break off completely, necessitating disassembly and rethreading. They would spring loose when the housing was removed, necessitating a complete rewind. Most annoyingly, they would "weld" together from the friction-created heat, making the rewinding a cut-and-cuss chore
I said bad words.
Some of the blame for my war with weed wackers rests with the machines themselves. Some comes about due to winter.
One does not whack weeds in winter. So one forgets to drain the gasoline and lubricate the spark plug because, well, when does winter begin? A few snowflakes in October seldom spell the end to the growing season. Besides, there would still be a need to whack the weeds I didn't get to during September. I too often procrastinated, postponing winter-storage preparations until, oh, March.
"Rrrr ... splutt."
Bad gas. Fouled plug.
During winter, one also forgets painfully learned lessons of the previous summer, including the precision with which one must rev the engine right after it goes "Rrr!" and before it goes "Splutt!" By the next autumn, I have usually gotten good enough to keep the power-it-up end of the weed wacker running. But in winter I forget how and must relearn annually.
Down through the decades, I have owned evil cousins to the weed wacker: Gasoline-powered rotary mowers, chain saws, riding mowers, etc.
The earliest mowers I remember had reels of curved steel blades and no motors. We pushed them. And pulled them back, then pushed them again, then pulled and pushed, unless the grass was so short that it really didn't yet need to be cut again. If the grass did not need to be cut, cutting it with a reel-type push mower was a breeze. Just lean forward, put a little muscle into it and whir along, row after row.
But of course the yards I mowed always really did need to be mowed.
So it was push-pull-push, over and over, chewing more than cutting the grass, leaving clumps that had to be raked (Parents said so!).
When the first affordable rotary mowers became available in the 1960s, I bought one. It was superb ... the first time. Then, dirt got into the carburetor, and we spent hours fiddling with needle valve adjuster screws and choke levers: "Rrrr....splutt."
Ditto for chain saws and riding mowers.
Ah, but in recent years, changes have been made. Things today actually do work better than the earlier versions did.
Fuel injection replaced carburetion. Computer chips came into play.
I bought a new chain saw, new mower and a new string trimmer within the past two years.
The chain saw even "stores" the energy of the pull on the rope, delaying the "Rrr! just long enough to allow my hand to return to the throttle trigger, starting without even a full-yank pull.
I actually did remember to drain last year's gasoline from the string trimmer and tend to the spark plug.
Four pulls, and it started!
The walk-behind mower is even more technologically advanced. It has no primer bulb, none at all. Just pull, and it purrs into life.
But the best invention is on the business end of the string trimmer. A replacement head allows me to stop using wound-up spools of string. Instead, I cut string to 8-inch lengths. When the string wears down or is snapped off by a rock, a concrete block wall, a sidewalk, etc., I merely shove a new string through the hole from the outside, pushing the stub of the old string out ahead of it.
Sure, I replace string a lot. It takes many 8-inch lengths to do the work of the 25-foot lengths of string I previously wound around the roller.
But the replacing takes seconds, not quarter-hours. No bad words, either. No weld-together.
Just start, "Rrr ... purr!" and trim.
Not really. It is still work to use any of them.
But at least the work now lies in the using of them, rather than the attempting to fire them up.
That is still a chore. Happily, it is no longer a war.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.