Earlier this week, I bought a Scotts 14″ reel mower, model 304-14S from Home Depot for $79 + tax. It replaced (at least temporarily) my Friendly Robotics RL-850 robotic mower, “Beetle”, which cost me a little over $1300 back in early 2009. Right now they are selling for almost $2K.
First, a little about Beetle.
Within the first 90 days, it had to go back for a warranty transmission repair. After I got it back, it ran the first season with no other problems. Last year, while sitting in the garage attached to the charger, the drive wheels started turning, and it tried to push its way through the garage wall (completely ignoring the bumper interlock, which under normal circumstances disables the drive wheels) for an hour or more before I heard it and removed the battery. As a work-around, I started charging the battery outside of the machine. It continued to work for the rest of the season.
This year, it started quitting after 20-30 minutes of run time. At first, I thought the battery pack had gone bad, but every time it did this and I checked on it, the display was completely blank instead of displaying the normal “recharge battery” message. I found that it would run for its normal 2+ hours if I ran it after the sun was almost down. Perhaps the control/display panel shorts out when in prolonged direct sunlight. No problem, I can mow at night. It’s quiet and doesn’t bother the neighbors.
This week, I took the battery off of the external charger and placed it in the machine. It beeped, but wouldn’t complete the boot-up sequence. I checked all the fuses, and everything else I could think of, all to no avail. I loved Beetle and wish that there was a network of repair techs instead of only one or two centers in the US that can repair these machines. It would cost nearly $100 for round-trip shipping just to find out what the problem is.
The reel mower is the opposite end of the technology spectrum. The design dates back to 1830, and aside from some design improvements that have made it much lighter and easier to use, it is nearly unchanged. I like it. It is more work to use than any other design, but if you have the patience, the end result is worth it.
First of all, you have to mow regularly. Anything over 4″ high has a very good chance of being pushed over and left uncut, forcing you to come at it at different angles until the blades catch it. The mower works best when the grass is a maximum of 1-2″ higher than whatever height setting you have selected. However, it actually cuts the grass, rather than beating it into submission. It also doesn’t like bumpy surfaces, but part of that is because I have mine adjusted to the lowest height setting. You also have to clear any debris before you mow. Twigs can stop the blades if they are big enough.
The Scotts model that I bought it extremely light and manageable. The published weight is 19 pounds, but it feels like a lot less. Sure, it is slow with a 14″ cutting swath, but for suburban lawns of less than a quarter acre, it is fine. That size also makes it easy to maneuver in and out of tight spaces.
Honestly, I bought it because it was the cheapest one I could find. Lowes’ cheapest model was a hundred bucks, and neither my Walmart nor my Southern States carries a single model. I’m happy with it. Sure, I could have bought a used (probably stolen) gas model off of Craigslist for fifty bucks, but it would have taken up more of my already very limited garage space. This thing takes up less space than my hydraulic floor jack.
Now I just have to remember to mow every week so I don’t have to go over the yard ten times (like I did this week) to get it under control.