I know about accident chains having flown a hundred thousand miles, plus or minus a pee stop, in our own plane.
Part of the F.A.A. WINGS program includes the study and understanding of “accident chains” and how to break them. Prevents falling “out of the sky.”
What’s not widely appreciated though is the accident chain’s evil twin: Serial Failures. Especially at home, especially when you’re rolling on a punch list before Ure’s spouse’s next hip surgery….
Saturday morning, Peoplenomics was done, and I’d made the decision to skip breakfast and just work straight-through until dinner time. Which was penciled in around 4 PM with a couple of dee-lightful inch-and-a-half Porterhouse steaks.
Got the mower started, headed around to the front of the “tractor port” to fill ‘er up. Everything was tracking…
As I made a first pass up alongside the driveway markers, I lazily watched as Elaine was prancing around the yard with her “reacher” and a bag. Picking up a few paper bowls dragged from the cat feeding spot on the 180-degree room’s deck.
Suddenly, I felt the tractor becoming uncannily smooth running; quieter, too.
“Shit fire and save matches!”
Damn blade belt had come off.
On a three-bladed old Husky lawn tweezer, not the kind of thing to tackle in the driveway where the ants live. So – cursing in the approved ShopTalk fashion, I drove around to the north side of the shop. The one where I’d built that 9-foot square “lean-to” so I’d have a dry spot for tools in weather too hot (or too cold, or wet) for working in the open air.
It was clear what the initial fault was: While I was eyeing Elaine, I’d not been watching where I was mowing. A small stick, not more than a foot in length, had flipped up onto the engine belt pulley and had “power-pried the belt” off.
I found that failure…or so I thought…
Bringing in the Big Tractor
Fastest way I have found to get under the lawn tractor is to maneuver the Big Tractor around and lift the front of the little one with the lift bucket on the Big.
#Except! You’ll remember the Big Tractor has been down and was trussed up like a turkey to lift up the rotary cutter. The final item I am waiting on is a large cotter pin to secure the castellated nut on the stump jumper pan.
There for, before I could get to the mower, the big tractor had to be un-trussed, the bush hog 3-point lift adjusted, and in less than 10-minutes, the lawn tractor was hanging in position ready for repair.
#Except! Now I faced the screws that held the pulley power covers in place. “Well, I’ll go approve some reader comments and give it a shot of Aerokroil (penistraighting oil, lol).
20-minutes later (because scheduled plans were already heading for the rocks) the covers were off and ready to restring the belt.
#Except! In a senior moment, I couldn’t remember THAT magic formula. So back to the office and 10-minutes later (cheat sheets are good) I was back in business.
Lowered the tractor and I’d fire up the lawn tractor for testing. Started right up, but…oh-oh…. “Shit fire and screw the matches…” A cloud of blue “belt smoke” engulfed me.
So, nose high again only to discover that there was now a piece of antenna halyard (no idea where that came from) wrapped around a shaft. Off came the port-side blade, wraps were cleared…whew! Finally ready to test-run and get this damn lawn item off the punch list.
#Except! Try as I would, the lawn tractor wouldn’t start up. “Skip the matches and fire…let’s get right to Oh Shit!”
Lawn Tractor Failure Chain
Battery: About here, logic was starting to scream: “Just toss the charger on it and keep it running to complete the lawn…”
#Except! That didn’t work because the battery wasn’t getting enough “Oomph” to the engine to crank over. No start, no joy.
Besides, I have a spare AGM replacement and it didn’t work either.
So the next failure-chain check was the starter solenoid:
No particular corrosion (*a fine layer of dirt to preserve the patina and well-used look, of course). So I sat down at the controls with hopes high again. It turned a little faster (or was that my imagination?)…
#Except! It didn’t catch.
I figured as much. I was ready to double-check the wiring to the starter motor…
But here, again, there was no joy to be found.
So, into the office again where the serious troubleshooting would be conducted next.
The Guilty Party?
Near as I could reckon, this particular engine, a Briggs and Stratton V-23 InTek, has a common issue of not turning over easily if the valves aren’t dialed in just so.
Between .005 and .007 for my model.
Having found the .006 gauge in the shop (properly stored in grease, a quick wipe and ready for action) I judged my next moves carefully. Here’s the problem:
See that spark plug on the left? I have every plug wrench in this quadrant of Universe…
#Except! That one.
And that matters why? Because to line up the valves, you need to pull the plugs and put a wrench on the top of the engine (removing more safety coverings).
Absent the right wrench…and having used my weekend allocation of foul language, I sat back and considered my plight. Which had gone from a “simple” belt come off due to errant twig into a full-on Stephen King-like run-in with modern “value engineering.”
See how nicely that outdoor stainless table and cobble-welded concrete step table holds tools at the ready under the lean-to so I can mislay them anyway?
I took a break for a bite of leftover Teriyaki chicken. All I needed to do was “get lucky” and my problems would be over. The only major stumbling block visible is the possibility that it’s not valve adjustment issue. Might be the internal compression release and now we’re quickly moving over into the “I don’t have time for this shit right now,” column.
But – no time like the present. With the bite of chicken and a handful of semi-sweet chocolate morsels *(energy food) I was almost ready to sit down and tackle the valves. Which I knew would make a terrible oily mess because I just topped the mower off with Royal Purple in the morning before start-up. Spilling drinks is considerably cheaper.
#Except! Time to Replace?
The rider of ours is about 15-years old. I’ve already been through the starter once (replacing the nylon starting gear, too). I also made a personal decision that if ever given the chance to fly a Briggs-powered ultra-light, I’d chicken out and walk, instead.
Then I started looking at what else was wrong with the old mower. Came up with a list:
- The seat is torn. Nothing I did. Just 15 years of incidental Texas sun-frying and that happens. Big tractor seat has the same problem and it’s also in that 2004-2005 vintage.
- All four tires leak. I have kept them alive with goo and running the compressor before each mow…that’s a pain…
- The transmission is getting a bit cranky, too.
- Also time for another set of blades.
- Oil change and filter wouldn’t hurt.
This would be on top of a new starter if needed ($70) and a new solenoid ($13) too.
#Except! I still needed that plug wrench.
I started thinking about this deeply. Despite being able to “afford” a new mower easily, it’s the point of trying to keep everything in tiptop shape. At 72, will I live long enough to get 15-years out of the next rider?
Frankly, still pondering that. But with rain due in this morning, maybe I will try on the valves before giving in to the “replacement urge.”
“Can I buy a $3,000 house upkeep tool, too, dear?” Elaine was looking at me with one of her “Is she serious or pulling my leg?” looks.
#Except! Late Saturday I found the spark plug wrench. Even with no compression damn thing wouldn’t spin up. Looks like a new mower is in my immediate future.
“Whatever you want, dear…” (Except….)
Dinner turned into pizza. The steaks will play tonight. Maybe with a new mower in view.
I had another serial failure this week, too.
Trying to move from an old slow HDD on my Linux laptop to a new SSD.
Same kind of thing. Except code issues and things like MBR issues don’t seem to matter as much.
Even though we live on a large “lot” (29-acres), there’s still some long-term brain damage recovery from owning a home in a “competitive front yard” area for 15-years. When divorced in ’87, was it? I reveled in living on a sailboat which never needed mowing.
Lawns are a modern curse. And I’m feeling a certain kinship with ancient flocks of sheep who suffered similar “serial failures” after many successful lawn mowings. You know what happened next to them…
Special 7:25 AM Update
W00-woo here. I have always figured that I run 3-weeks ahead of Mercury Retrograde.
Just for the hell of it – I looked it up: Sure and hell – Starts on May 29 to June 22. So right frigging on track.
Everyone has an offset – have you kept track long enough in Life to figure out yours?
Write when you get rich,