I had to destroy our lawn mower to save it.
The handle of our lawn mower broke off. I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever tried to use a lawn mower after the handle breaks off. If not, I can tell you it ain’t easy to do. Damn near impossible, would be my best estimation. If you have been in this situation, you already know this so what am I telling you for?
The handle was attached to the deck of the lawn mower in the very loosest sense of the word “attached.” The handle is like a wishbone, and at the forked ends there are pins about as thick as my pinky pointing inward, or there were before one of the pins broke off. The pins fit into holes drilled through a couple of brackets on the deck of the mower. The idea, I suppose, was to make it easy to put together after unpacking it from the box. The reality is, without either one of those pins the handle flops around uselessly, making the lawn mower useful only as a boat anchor.
I probably broke the pin off by being stupid. Grass clippings tend to get matted against the underside of the deck and when the mat gets thick enough, it starts to fall out in clumps. Whenever that happened, I would help it along by pumping the handle up and down as quickly and roughly as I could to make the deck jump up and down. I would be surprised if that kind of treatment didn’t put a teeny-tiny bit of stress on the pins.
Anyway, one of them broke off and there was no way for me to put it back on. It was welded in place, not screwed or bolted, and I don’t have a welder or know how to weld. I tried to solder it, but that was a disaster. Solder doesn’t stick to just any kind of metal and apparently the steel that the handle is made of is one kind of metal that makes solder ball up in a puddle. It wouldn’t even make a cold joint.
So then I tried bolting the handle back on, and here’s where I found out that the people who designed our lawn mower were sadistic, or idiots. I could easily shove a bolt through the hole at the end of the handle, but bolting it to the bracket on the deck of the lawn mower was a problem because it was sandwiched between the engine cover and the thick plastic hood that covers the deck. There wasn’t enough room to squeeze the bolt in there once it was stuck through the handle. There wasn’t enough room to sneak the bolt down there on its own, either. There was barely enough room to hook a finger down there when the bolt slipped from my grasp and I had to fish it out.
This kind of engineering pisses me off no end. What kind of asshole makes it all but impossible for a do-it-yourselfer to fix a broken lawnmower? Or nearly impossible. That asshole must have figured that the possibility that I would have a sawzall would be pretty slim. That asshole figured wrong.
They say that, when it comes right down to it, the only tools you need in your toolbox are a hammer and duct tape. It’s a clever sentiment, but wrong. For a start, I don’t use duct tape nearly as much as other guys seem to. Hardly ever, really. And your minimalist toolbox had better include two kinds of screw driver, a flathead and a Phillips head, or you’re never going to get anything fixed around the house. But after a hammer, the most important tool in your tool box is undoubtedly a saw of one kind or another, and if you’re not a woodworker but you will be fixing things around the house, you could do worse than to get yourself a sawzall.
Vaguely shaped like a bazooka, the tail end of a sawzall is a pistol grip with a trigger. That right there makes it one of the most awesome power tools in your kit. At the other end, a piston sticks out of the nose of the sawzall. You can stick all kinds of cutting things into this piston and clamp them down. A powerful electric motor shakes the cutting edge back and forth at high speed when you pull the trigger, making it possible for you to demolish just about anything. Except maybe zombie hordes. But anything short of that would be a walk in the park. I would feel confident about taking down a wall, or even a whole house if I had a sawzall in hand.
And because the blade sticks straight out of the nose of a sawzall, it’s perfect for jobs that no other power tool can do, such as sawing holes in the plastic cover on a lawn mower. After fitting a sawzall with a fine-toothed blade, I easily cut away the parts of the hood that prevented me from sneaking a bolt down through the narrow gap between the handle and the bracket. That done, I needed only a minimum of cussing to put things back together the way they were supposed to go. There was a short hitch while I figured out how to get a wrench down in there to turn the nut, but I was back to mowing grass not too long after that.
TL,DR: Don’t buy the Black & Decker lawn mower with the handle that breaks off. Get yourself a sawzall. Not instead of the lawn mower. You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out why.
lawnmower hack |
7:53 am CDT
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
I spent two and a half hours slaughtering dandelions this morning, and I’m bushed.
I was going to say “doing battle with dandelions” instead of “slaughtering” but, unless you count their ability to reproduce faster than rabbits, they can’t really fight back much, which makes it kind of a stupid metaphor.
“Slaughtering” is totally accurate, however. I waded into our knee-high crop of dandelion flowers with a weed eater, swinging it back and forth like a scythe as I advanced, and where they were so densely packed together that they formed a supercolony as thick as my thigh, I turned the head of the weed eater until the floss was cutting perpendicular to the ground so I could effectively mow them all the way down to the dirt. It was a bloodbath, or whatever the vegetative equivalent would be. A sap-bath? Doesn’t sound nearly as gruesome and awful as it should.
This is the third time in eight days I’ve mowed the lawn, the first two times with a lawn mower, this time with the weed eater because at this point I was just cutting down dandelion stalks. The grass wasn’t growing nearly fast enough to need mowing already and the mower isn’t effective at all in cutting down dandelions. The stalks get pushed to the ground by the front edge of the lawnmower’s deck, helpfully holding them down as the blades pass harmlessly over the majority of them, so that the next day the yard is a forest of dandelion stalks once again. Hence, my unconventional use of the weed eater.
Seriously, some of those dandelions have grown so old and thick that they should’ve evolved arms and legs so they can scramble away when I come at them with certain death. Life would certainly be a lot easier for me if they had. I’ve been reading about ways to control dandelions, not because I don’t want them in my yard, I do. I think they have pretty flowers and I don’t particularly care that other people don’t. I only wish there weren’t so many of them. Our front yard is practically nothing but dandelions. We could do with fewer.
As far as I can tell, though, there are just two ways to keep dandelions down: Poison them or pull them. Both methods have their problems. We don’t want to use poison in our yard, even though all our neighbors do, so that option is out. Pulling them is not really an option, either, because there are too goddamn many of them. If I had the leisure and/or the mental instability to commit eight hours every day to pulling dandelions, I’m pretty sure it would still take years to bring them under control.
So at this point it’s possible that the only way we’re going to make our yard presentable again is to cover it in black plastic, kill off every living thing and start over next year, a project I’m more than a little daunted by. I’ll need to think about this a while. If you need me, I’ll be in a lawn chair on the back deck, thinking.
2:02 pm CDT
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
If you were driving down Sylvan Lane in Monona this morning, you would have seen yard after yard of neatly-tended, uniformly green lawns, and then you would have seen a yard where Chemlawn had obviously not been welcome for many years.
after the devastation |
2:33 pm CDT
I finally mowed our field of dandelions this morning because, even though I think they’re pretty, I can obviously tell that the rest of the neighbors do not share my sentiment, and I have some sense of shame, so out came the lawn mower and, after the devastation, our yard looked normal once again, if you think looking like everybody else is normal. It’s not, but that is again only my opinion.
I left the patches of uncut grass around the base of the tree because a rabbit has made her nest in a hole there, so I wanted to leave her some cover.
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
The drain in the basement floor burped up a bunch of sewer water again. Oh, yay. And here I thought my weekend was going to be boring.
I was taking some random stuff to the basement when I noticed the big, wet stain on the basement floor. I had been washing clothes. The clothes washer drains into the basement sink. Seemed like a logical assumption that the wash machine must’ve had something to do with it, but when I opened the spigots to fill the sink up, I couldn’t make the drain burp again, so I mopped up and went back to washing clothes.
When the wash machine began to empty itself at the end of the first cycle, I trotted back downstairs to see if there was still a problem. There was. And this time it was worse. A whole lot of water, blacked by something with an evil stink to it, was bubbling up from the drain. Shit. (That was an expletive, not a description of what was coming out of the drain, or that’s what I want to believe, so let’s just pretend, shall we?)
To see if I could clear it up by force-feeding it some water, I connected a black rubber balloon to the end of a hose I keep in the basement and shoved it down the drain. I do this all the time. Sometimes it works. And then there’s times like today. After running water through it for a few minutes I noticed that the basement toilet was going glubglubglub and went to check it out. The bowl was filling up with water! It was almost up to the brim!
Ran back to the sink, shut off the water. With no water pressure, the rubber balloon-thing deflated and black sewer water came gurgling up out of the drain. Shit. Again. (See above.)
I had only one more thing in my bag of tricks to try, and that was snaking out the sewer line. Last time I had to do that was about a month and half ago. Going for two months this time. Rammed that snake down the line, pulled it back up, rammed it down again, worked it in and out, rammed it down some more, worked it in and out, rammed another five feet into it, worked it, and et cetera, and so on, and such like.
And it worked. When I took a break from snaking to see how the line was draining, I found I could run the spigot wide open, pumping as much water down the drain as I wanted without getting any backup, black stinky goo or glubglubglub from the toilet. I snaked it out some more just to be sure.
Then I put everything back together, mopped the floor with a 50/50 mix of bleach and water and went upstairs to take the hottest shower I could stand. I just love weekends.
boring weekend |
2:32 pm CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
The inside of the coffee mug that I use at the office as a tea mug had acquired such a rich patina that it was impossible to tell what color it had once been, so I brought it home and gave it a good going-over with a Brillo pad, which I thought would take forever but ended up lasting no more than a couple minutes, and that was including the time it took to rinse it and scrub again when I noticed I missed a spot.
I’ve never let a coffee/tea mug go for so long without washing it out, but in my experience there is a long tradition among coffee drinkers for this sort of thing, and I’ve heard that tea drinkers will do the same thing with their teapots, so I didn’t feel my health was in danger. No one was looking into my tea mug and saying things like, “Geeze, Dave, better get your tetanus booster if you’re going to keep drinking out of that mug!”
But the other morning as I was giving the mug a rinse at the sink in the kitchenette in preparation for making my morning cuppa, I noticed that the bottom of the mug had taken on such a rich dark hue that it looked almost like the bottom of a post hole I’d dug in the garden last year. Didn’t smell like dirt, but it didn’t rinse away and I couldn’t scrub it off with ordinary paper towels, so when I was packing up after work yesterday I stuffed the mug into my man-purse and brought it home.
When it came time to wash the dishes that night, I waited until I had cleaned up all the other glasses, bowls and utensils before giving the tea mug a dunk in the dish water and letting it soak for a couple minutes, thinking that might somehow loosen up the stuck-on tea even though my efforts in the kitchenette that morning should have indicated that no magical loosening-up was likely to occur. This was a job for Brillo pads, pure and simple, and I just happened to have a box of them squirreled away under the sink.
I truly did anticipate that, even with the combined power of steel wool and chlorine cleanser, aided by a generous helping of elbow grease, I would be scrubbing the insides of that tea mug for the next generation to get every last bit of the stain out. No such thing. Two minutes, tops, and the whole operation was finished. After making one quick swipe all the way around the sides, the Brillo felt as though it was gliding silky-smooth across the surfaces, so I wadded it up in the bottom of the mug and gate it a couple quick twists, then rinsed to get eyeballs on the situation and zow! All but the ring around the bottom was gleaming back at me, bright and shiny as a new quarter.
Drinking tea the next morning was a new experience, even though I drink the kind of tea that comes in bags stapled to a little string with a paper tag.
So, what do you do with a soggy Brillo after you’ve used it to clean just one thing? Stuff it in an empty cat food tin and save it for later? Yeah, me too. Those things are like gold to me. It seems like a waste to toss it when I can see even a little bit of blue clinging in the deepest recesses of the steel wool. I usually don’t toss ‘em until rust starts to take hold.
tea mug |
4:25 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, scrub-a-dub-dub
| Tags: random idiocy
Shortly before we left the house to go see the Gershwin Songbook, while we were sitting at the table eating lunch, the lights flickered and, from the direction of the garage, I heard an odd sort of growling noise.
“That’s the second time it’s done that this morning,” B commented.
“Really?” I asked. “Did you hear a noise, too?”
“Yeah. I remember because I thought it was the garage door opener until I remembered that you took the garage door opener down to fix it.”
The lights flickered again about five minutes later and again I heard the growling noise, so I got up and flipped the switches that turned off the light over the garage door and the light out front over the flower planter. The lights didn’t flicker any more and there was no more growling.
I excused myself after lunch, went to the basement and shut off the circuit breaker to the outdoor lights, then went to the garage and clipped the power lines and capped the ends with wire nuts before switching the circuit breakers back on. Not sure how, or even if I can find the short in that circuit, but until I do, those lights will have to stay dark. Can’t have the house burning down while we’re out enjoying Gershwin or anything else.
short circuit |
6:28 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
We’ve got a electric garage door opener. Always have had one. So, I would never know how much grunting I would have to do to open the garage door until the goddamn thing broke.
Well, the goddamn thing broke.
The first time it broke, it looked pretty simple to fix. The kind of garage door opener that we have uses a bicycle chain to pull the door up. A cog wheel just a little smaller than the one on the hub of the back wheel of your bike sticks out the top of the motor. The chain jumped off the cog, for no reason that I could see, but fixing it should’ve been just a matter of wrapping the chain around the cog.
Easier said than done, it turned out. First, because it’s been cold as Hell Frozen Over, in case you haven’t heard. Second, because the chain had to be wrapped tightly around the cog in order for the whole kit and caboodle to work. It was wrapped so tight that fixing it was not a matter of simply reaching up and hooking the chain around the cog. There wasn’t enough slack in the chain for that, and my fingers went numb before I could figure out how to loosen it.
Today was a little warmer than usual, so I bundled up and went out to the garage again to see if I could work it out. There’s a ten-foot-long piece of angle iron that runs from the motor to a bracket on the wall above the door; it’s a track for a metal shuttle about the size of a pack of cigarettes. The shuttle pulls on a steel arm that’s attached to the door. The track was high above my head, even when I was standing on a ladder, and too close to the ceiling for me to see anything going on above it, but I found a little pin that released it from the bracket above the door, and it swung down far enough for me to see what was going on.
The chain was bolted solidly to one end of the shuttle, but attached to the other end with a long screw. If I unscrewed it, the chain went slack enough for me to wrap it around the cog. Then, all I had to do was tighten up the screw again, lift the track back up to the bracket and put the pin back in. Voila! Fixed! Problem solved! I am a goddamn genius!
When I hit the button to pull the garage door up, though, there was a loud *SNAP!*, the chain went slack, and something went jingle-jingle-jingle across the cement floor of the garage. Well, of course it did. That fix was way too easy.
I didn’t have to pull the pin on the track this time to see what had gone wrong: I got a quick look at the top of the motor and saw that the chain had gone slack because the cog was gone. The goddamn cog was gone! It had snapped right off the end of the drive shaft! I didn’t even have to look far to find it on the floor of the garage. That’s what had gone jingle-jingle right after the chain went slack for the second time.
So I unbolted the whole mess from the ceiling, carried the motor to the basement work shop, and unscrewed the cover. The drive mechanism looked very simple, so simple that it appeared to be utterly disposable. I couldn’t imagine that anybody anywhere bothered with the expense of offering replacements parts for it. Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search came up with an on-line supplier for exactly the part I was looking for. What happened to me is either a common breakdown for a large enough number of people who own this particular make of garage door opener, or somebody out there likes me. I hope it’s Option B.
I ordered a new drive shaft and cog. It was only forty bucks, a whole lot less than buying a new opener. If it gets here this week, and the weather warms up by next weekend, then very soon I might be able to open the door without grunting.
an opening, NOT |
6:08 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
| Tags: Our Humble O'Bode
After cleaning up the dirty dinner dishes, I threw a load of dirty clothes in the wash machine so I could feel at least twice as justified about heading for my basement lair where I was going to pass the better part of two hours playing with my toys.
The wash machine finished the first cycle and began to empty the wash water as I started down the stairs. I don’t know what made me crook my neck to glance around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, but when I did to check on how the wash water was draining, I was greeted by the sight and smell of sewer water burbling up from the floor drain.
I wish I could tell you how fitting it was that I ended the day standing in a vile pool of greasy water that smelled of rotting food and who knows what else, wearing a pair of shit-covered rubber gloves while ramming a snake down the sewer line, but revealing the circumstances that lead up to this being a perfect coda to an awful day will have to wait until I publish my memoirs.
6:18 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
TL,DR: I snaked the shit out of the sewer yesterday afternoon and it’s all good now. And beer.
I just can’t figure out how the sewer works. In theory, it’s a pipe that carries water from a drain to the the city sewer line.
In actual fact, though, there are several drains, one leading from the kitchen sink, one from the basement sink, and one from the floor drain in the basement. There’s also a toilet in the basement. The drain from the kitchen sink and the basement sink converge at the top of the sewer stack before it ducks under the concrete floor. The floor drain meets the sewer stack somewhere underground. So does the toilet.
When the basement sink backs up, the floor drain is okay. I know because I usually siphon the backed-up wash water from the sink into the floor drain. The toilet gets sluggish, but it still drains. Only the sink completely stops up. I’ve tried to diagram how the three sewer lines might come together and work this way, but no matter how I do the mental gymnastics I can’t figure it out.
I used to unblock a blockage by forcing water through the pipes under pressure. This worked well for a while, but it doesn’t work so well anymore.
Some time ago I bought a sewer snake, thirty feet of tightly-coiled steel with a hook at the front end that I could force down the sewer pipe. Working it back and forth is like working a pipe cleaner through the stem of a pipe. In theory, it should clean the sewer out the same way, although it should be noted that the snake is only three-eights of an inch in diameter, while the sewer pipe is at least three inches in diameter. It might be closer to six.
If I had to guess, I’d say the blockage has to be a big gob of grease because there weren’t any roots or hair or another tangled-up mess caught in the hook on the end of the snake when I pulled it up. The sink drained fine after I used it, but the toilet never really improved. Sometimes it flushed fine, sometimes not so fine, and sometimes it wouldn’t drain at all unless I plunged the hell out of it. It didn’t make sense to me, but as long as the sink was draining I was okay with it.
When the sink began to back up again this week, and the old trick of blowing it out with water under pressure was absolutely no help at all, I got out the snake again, but was gobsmacked when that didn’t work, either. The blockage was more than thirty feet along? Then how does the floor drain still work? And the toilet?
I was not about to let this beat me. I went to the hardware store and bought a fifty-foot sewer snake. They had seventy-five-foot sewer snakes on sale, but they were mounted on motorized drums and were priced at more than three-hundred dollars. I’m way too cheap for that, even thought the motorized thing made my gadget lust twitch.
I’m not sure what happened at the checkout. The guy scanned the other items I bought, then held up the sewer snake and said to me, “There’s no price on this.”
I shrugged. “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I said, not knowing why he was pointing this out to me. Did he expect me to go back to the shelves and get the price for him? If he did, why would he take my word for it? What if I came back and said, “Oh, my mistake, it was on sale. Four ninety-five.”
He stood there for an awkwardly long time holding the sewer snake while I wondered what he would do. Eventually a woman came hustling up the aisle to ask him what was wrong. I assume she was a supervisor or manager of some kind. He pointed out to her that there was no price on the sewer snake. She turned to me and, pointing behind her, she asked, “They’re in the aisle on the other side of that wall, right?”
“That’s right, yes,” I answered.
Another awkward pause followed as they both stood looking at me. I couldn’t read their expressions. They might’ve been waiting for me to apologize for grabbing one without a price tag, or for me to go get one with a price tag, or they might’ve been trying to figure out how to suck out my brains through my nose. I couldn’t tell. At last the woman turned and hustled back up the aisle and disappeared behind the shelves where I found the sewer snake.
She didn’t come back for five minutes. The checkout guy could hardly figure out what to do with himself. He clearly felt uncomfortable just standing there doing nothing, but if there was a way to put my checkout on hold and scan the next customer’s purchases, he couldn’t figure out how to do it.
When the woman came back, she held up her hand, her palm toward her face, and asked me, “What was the price on it?”
What’s this? A guessing game now? “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I answered.
“Okay, it’s this one,” she said to the checkout guy, pointing to something, presumably the SKU, that she’d written on the palm of her hand. Computerized checkout but they couldn’t look that up in the database.
Back at home, I shoved all seventy-five feet of that snake down the sewer pipe and worked it back and forth, flushed the sewer with water, and worked the snake again before I pulled it all the way out. This is by far the uckiest part of the whole enterprise. The first time I snaked a sewer, I made the mistake of simply pulling the snake out. What do you do with a snake that’s covered over its entire length with black, stinking goo? I sure didn’t know. What a mess I made of the basement that day. What a lot of cursing I did. I learned to leave the water running so most of the gunk would get washed off the snake on the way out, but it’s still a pretty nasty proposition.
I ran water for about ten minutes down the newly-opened sewer before I shoved the snake down the drain again and did the pipe-cleaner dance some more. Then, just to make sure the path to the sewer was as clear as I could make it, I took apart the trap under the sink to make sure there was nothing in it, and I snaked out the pipe it connected to before putting it back together.
There. That ought to do it.
I threw all the bath towels in the wash machine, set the fill to MAX and crossed my fingers. The washer drains in to the basement sink and the sink is just big enough to hold all the water the wash machine can chug through in one complete cycle. After the wash cycle I ran downstairs to check on how it was draining: Okay, so far. Then the rinse cycle finished up and it was still draining okay. I ran another load and it was okay, too.
Cleanup was worst. It always is. I cleaned off the snake as best I could by rinsing the gunk off it, then leaving it to soak in a sink filled with water and a cup of bleach for half an hour. Then I rinsed it off again. In all this rinsing and washing and rinsing, after all the snaking and flushing and snaking, I got a lot of gunk and sewer water on my arms and hair and Oh My Goodness it even splashed ON MY FACE! There was a lot of spluttering and a frantic rush to the sink in the brewery to flush my face with clear water when that happened. After I cleaned up all the hardware and tools and rinsed off the floor, I peeled out of my dirty clothes, burned them and stood under a scalding shower until I felt almost normal again.
10:15 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
| Tags: consumerism, zombies
Oh boy! A plumbing emergency! Merry Christmas!
At least I got to sleep in. Sort of. After feeding the cats, I went back to bed and even fell asleep again, not to wake up until eight. Made a pot of coffee, drank most of it while reading the paper, then stripped the bed and threw the sheets and pillowcases into the wash machine.
“Aw! Those were just getting broken in!” My Darling B complained. She likes her bed sheets well-seasoned.
To reward myself for being so industrious on Christmas morning, I smeared honey on a couple pieces of toast, refreshed my coffee cup and retreated to the spare room to check out the goings-on out here in Internetland. The wash machine finished its first cycle and started to drain itself, and from the basement I heard an ominous bluppity-blup-blup-blup! unlike any bluppity-blup sound I’d ever heard before.
A quick dash down the stairs confirmed that, yes, the basement sink was filled to the brim with greasy wash water swimming with pasta and other food-like substances that had been flushed down the kitchen sink. I take all the blame for that. Apparently the In-Sink-Erator doesn’t grind the food up as finely as I thought it did.
So I’ve spend the past hour and a half plunging and snaking out the drain and, when that didn’t work, siphoning the greasy wash water out of the sink. I’ve been flushing the sewer line out under pressure with garden hoses for the past twenty minutes and am about to wade back into the front lines to see how that’s going. Wish me luck.
And Merry Christmas.
10:45 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode