Mind Your Rocks! Mowing a Rocky Field

RocksUp in the north country, this is not the time of year for outside work. If you live down south where it is currently sunny and warm, I don’t want to talk to you. Go outside and have your fun, and gloat. But those of us who live in northern climes where it gets darn cold in the winter are currently stuck indoors. Pity us. The ground is frozen solid, and depending on where you live there could be a good couple inches (or feet) of white stuff covering everything. Those of us caught in such straits can only gaze out the window and dream of projects that must wait for warmer months.

You know who you are. This post is for you.

Right now you might not be able to do anything outside besides strap on some skis and hit the slopes, but long before the weather is good enough to break out the power equipment there are things you can do in preparation for that glorious day. Let’s say you have an over-grown field out back — a field so long abandoned it has turned into a scrub lot. This piece of land hasn’t seen the blade of a mowing machine in perhaps twenty years, and is calling out for a DR Brush Mower to set things right. You can’t wait to fire up the old beast and head on out for some good noisy, bone-shaking fun.

But wait. Before you take your monster mower out for a little brush chewing jaunt you need to consider the bane of brush mowing: Rocks. Yes, that’s right. There is nothing that can ruin a good afternoon of mowing like hitting a large and rather well hidden rock. The boulders have the worst heart stopping effect when you hit them, but the little rocks aren’t nice on the DR Brush Mower blade, either. So be kind to your machine, and clear an unmowed area of rocks before you send the brush deck in. Your DR Mower will thank you.

Now you might be saying, “Rocks? What rocks? We don’t have any rocks around here.” Well, if you live in one of those parts of the world which is very flat, and hardly knows the meaning of the word rock because the ground is so unblemished–then I say good for you. Lucky you. But where I live (so quaintly called “The Appalachian foothills”) we grow rocks here better than we grow anything else. Around here, if you look out and see a field populated with scrub bushes you can be sure it also holds a passel of rocks just waiting to spring out and attack the unwary machine. Or something like that.

If you have a scrub lot that has never been mowed before, or not mowed in a long time, check it for rocks. Even if you are pretty sure there are no rocks–consider checking it anyhow. It takes just one large stone to ruin your day, and your machine. The last time I cleared a field (and a very small field at that) I ended up with a pile of boulders. A less ambitious person would have left the largest where they lay, but I wanted one pile, so I heaped myself a monument.

The reason for clearing your field now, or as close to now as you can get weather permitting, is twofold. First, you’re bored, remember? Twiddling your thumbs waiting for warmer weather to come. When warmer weather comes you won’t want to be grubbing around hauling rocks. So do that when you can’t be out playing with your DR Brush Mower. Second, and more importantly, now is the time of year when all the grass and leaves are down, so you can see the ground much better. If you wait until summer to check for rocks–good luck with that. The leaves will be out, the grass up, and the only way you are going to find those hidden rocks is with the sharp edge of your mowing blade. And that is not how you want to find them. So go out there and haul rocks.

This little instructional episode would not be complete if I failed to tell you my horror story. It was years ago, right after we got our first DR Field Mower. It was brand spankin’ take-your-hanky-and-polish-it new. The machine shone. Not a nick, not so much as a scratch in the paint. And I took this expensive piece of equipment on what was basically its maiden voyage–mowing a path for my mom through the field and woods. I was paranoid enough that I checked the path location before I mowed, scouting out any rocks or other trouble spots. I came upon one nub of a rock sticking up in the path which might have been just high enough to meet the mower blade. I tried to remove it, but discovered the rock was much bigger than it seemed (being one of those iceberg things that shows a nub, and has 95% of itself buried). I struggled and heaved, and tried to pry the rock out, but no luck. Oh well, I said to myself. I’ll just have to remember it is there and be careful when I come mowing through.

Famous. Last. Words.

Of course after I went mowing over the hill and through the woods I had completely forgotten about the rock, and I only remembered it when I hit the land mine. That is, the rock that was like a land mine. I was lost in my own little world when the heavy duty brush blade–capable of cutting through 3 inch saplings–struck the boulder squarely.

WHUMP!

It was an explosion. The machine shook with the force of impact, like it had hit a bomb, and the air filter blew right off. The engine died instantly. As silence descended the cloud of rock dust drifted upward from my disheveled DR Mower. Was it a billowing mushroom cloud? Maybe. Brand new, and I had killed it dead. Deader than dead.

Collecting myself, I went and put the air filter back on (marveling over the thin wisp of gray rock dust still wafting from the air intake) and then lifted the brush deck to survey the damage. The rock had been split clean through vertically by the impact, from the top all the way down to its buried bottom. The violence of the collision with the brush blade had jarred it loose in the ground so I could now easily pull both broken slabs out. The blade had one nice divot on its sharp edge but otherwise looked in perfect shape–not bent in the least.

Taking a deep breath, I started the mower. The engine turned over without complaint, roaring to life. Gingerly, I engaged the blade. Everything still happy. Hello, New York!

I finished the job in a state of slight disbelief that nothing was broken. I don’t know how I avoided bending the blade. For the life of me I can’t figure out why the pulley didn’t fail on the safety seam. And I’m lucky I didn’t bend the spindle.

The moral of this story has two parts. (1) Always check for rocks. (2) Never tell yourself “I’ll remember that one is there and mow around it.” No. Find all the rocks, move the rocks you can move, and clearly mark those you cannot move. You don’t want to risk life, limb, or your machine on the errant unnoticed boulder. Follow this advice, and you might just save yourself replacing one (or several) parts on your DR Mower. Just sayin’.