My Shiny New Vehicle

No, not the Mini Cooper Countryman. That’s currently on a boat in the Atlantic (seriously, it is; I know because the nice saleslady who sold us the car calls us every now and again to give us an update. The last update: “It’s on a boat!”). This is the other new ride, a Toro Titan MX4880 Zero Turn Mower. We got this because the previous lawn tractor, a Craftsman that we got the year we arrived in Ohio, was in its last legs; ten years of mowing five acres of lawn every week for eight months out of the year will do that to a machine. Our local lawn tractor folks (who are Amish, as all genuinely excellent lawn tractor folks are) suggested that a zero-turn mower would cut not only grass but huge amounts of time off our mowing session. That’s what Krissy wanted to hear. This is the zero-turn Krissy liked the most. This our new mower.

It’s very nice, but I have to admit I was taken aback when I looked at the sticker and realized something, which I then related to my wife:

Me: This thing costs more than that Escort I bought when I got out of college.

Wife: Of course it does. It has a bigger engine.

It’s hard to argue with that.

106 thoughts on “My Shiny New Vehicle

  1. Before anyone asks: As I understand it, my Amish lawn mower people can sell and repair the lawn mowers, they just don’t use them in their personal lives.

  2. I have been reading your blog for some time now, and quite enjoying it too, but have never felt a twinge of jealousy for the life you lead.
    UNTIL NOW!!!
    Nice ride.

  3. A friend of mine was going to get a zero turn mower, then he realized that they take both hands to drive, so he wouldn’t be able to drink beer while he mowed. Maybe you need to get Krissy a beer helmet.

  4. If you want to track down the Cooper, my wife is an expert after keeping track of her Clubman on its way over..

  5. That reminds me of the Chevy Sprint I had back in the day. It had a three cylinder engine and sounded like a lawn mower on steroids when I revved it. Still, I miss that car. It was a solid little thing. Same color as your new mower.

  6. Andy@5: I knew a guy who tried to water ski behind his lawn tractor. Not terribly successful, that.

  7. Way cool new tractor. Me, I’d see how big a root I could vaporize with that thing!

    And though you covered it in #1, I still find Amish lawn mower salesman has the ring of Kosher Pork Salesman to me. But then I never thought the SPice Girls would be all that big in the states so what do I know!

  8. I see the yellow power washer in the back corner that we have too. I have always had a lot of trouble with mine – pressure drops off for no reason, trouble getting soap to mix, and in general a sore hand after using it for a while. But it was so much cheaper than the other options that I guess I shouldn’t whine too much.

  9. My dad has a similar (although slightly larger) machine for his yard. I remember marveling at how 5 acres could be easily trimmed in just under 3 hrs. Perfect for a few podcast or audiobook sessions!

  10. Thanks for clearing that up about the Amish tractor sales people. You kind of blew my mind writing that you bought the tractor from the Amish.

  11. Excellent! Finally, a photo for us tractor nerds! And you took the photo in the shed, Triple Points multiplier for that! If you can implement even a moderate 25 to 1 Cat to Tractor photo ratio it would be greatly appreciated.

    Not cheap but the time saved in mowing will be well worth it. We upgraded mowing our vehicle a couple years ago and cut our time in half. At the end of the season that amounts to more than two full work days of hours saved for us. Found plenty of other things to do with that time.

  12. I’ve used a ZTR twice, once on a really small one that my dad rebuilt and once on one of the big commercial ones at a marina. Mowing with a ZTR is a simply a better experience than mowing with a regular riding lawn mower and it does shave a lot of time off the task. Plus, they’re just really fun to drive. :D

  13. As someone who has cousins among the Amish, I always need to remind people that the Amish aren’t Luddites; they have no problem with modern conveniences, they just don’t see a use for any of it in their lives.

  14. Bearpaw @# 18

    At first glance I misread that as “My favorite piece of lawn-care equipment is a rottweiler.”

  15. Not to be the horrible eco nerd, but you seem like a thoughtful guy: why five acres of lawn? That seems wasteful in the extreme.

  16. This thing costs more than that Escort I bought when I got out of college.

    –>”You kids get off my freshly-mowed lawn!”

  17. Chang@12, Jason@19, Chris@23: There is a magnificent hardware store run by Amish in Charm, Ohio — between Canton and Wooster — that is as gleaming and computerized as any suburban Lowe’s. Hand tools, yes, as well as top shelf power tools, appliances and an amazing selection of exotic hardwoods, etc.

    The staff, of course, commutes by horse-drawn buggy.

  18. @mafisto: Given the location and pictures of the Scalzi compound that have been shard and John’s allusions to allergies, he could either maintain five acres of yard or five acres of cultivated land. I’ll let you do the math on which would be more environmentally damaging.

  19. Not to be the horrible eco nerd, but you seem like a thoughtful guy: why five acres of lawn? That seems wasteful in the extreme.

    Wasteful of what? It’s being a happy lawn at the moment. I suppose a few more trees might make more oxygen…alternatively, a veggie garden could keep them in fresh produce. I don’t see being a lawn as wasteful though.
    Strip malls, on the other hand, we have an abundance of in my neighborhood. Particularly the ‘empty’ kind. I’d trade most of them for some nice 5-acre housing lots. A rancher neaby sold his 23 acres, and we got a Lowe’s Hardware, several shoe stores and restaurants, and a Bed, Bath and Beyond in exchange. I miss the cows.

  20. @Adam – that’s a false choice, and that’s not how allergies work. I’m from a rural community myself, and there are other things to do with land than ‘lawn’ or ‘corn’.

    @John – my point wasn’t that owning five acres is inherently wasteful. It was more to the effect that lawns are essentially sterile, resource intensive landscapes. Honestly, no judgement (not that you care about my judgement), I was just wondering if you had considered alternatives like prairie restoration. Having spent many hours on one, I know the allure of the riding mower. Carry on.

  21. Sweet machine. I looked at a ZTM but we have a hill on our 8 acre lot that make a ZT a little too sporty. We ended up with a JD rider with a 54″ deck. The Mrs. likes to mow with it ;) . I use a 50’s Ford tractor for the non- lawn areas..

  22. Yeah, riding mower, shiny, red, powerful, meh.
    Back in my day, we mowed all five acres every day on our way to school, uphill, in the snow, both ways, using only the braces on my buddy’s teeth.
    Got tiresome swinging him back and forth by the ankles, but by gum! We were tough back in them days!

    ‘Course now . . . somewhat less. Bought a used Sears 21″ yesterday to deal with the mutant zoysia and crabgrass threatening to swallow the house. With luck, I’ll find the garage soon.

  23. I’m so allergic to grass, I’d have my lawn cut every other day during the summer if the wife would allow me just so the stuff would get the message that it shouldn’t grow in my yard, ever.

  24. @Richard – I hate when people ignore my questions, so I’ll tempt fate (and a Whatever-style comment war) and respond directly to the question of lawns.

    *Most* lawns are not ecosystems, they’re a veneer of organic matter on nearly sterile soil. Because of this, they have to be watered, fertilized and chemically protected from competitors like weeds, grubs, burrowing creatures and the like. Because the soil structure can never develop, the soil compacts over time, requiring mechanical aeration. Compacted soils encourage runoff, washing chemical effluent into watersheds and into ground water sinks. They require specialized equipment, which can pollute more than an order of magnitude greater than cars.

    That’s worst case scenario, obviously. Not everyone has a highly managed lawn. And honestly, lawns are pretty awesome. They’re a great, open space for people to do things, like eat charred animal meat and throw Frisbees. But they amplify the space that humans take from fragmented wild land. A lawn, for habitat purposes, are no better than AstroTurf.

    Hence, wasteful. They magnify our footprint disproportionately, and consume resource needlessly.

    @Adam – I didn’t mean to be flip in my response. I lived in town (central WI), and got pounded by allergies every season. Wind borne allergens honor no boundaries. Imagine haying season ;-)

    If prairie grasses won’t work, there are lots of other choices. An orchard? Oak savannah? The landscaping palette is immense, and just about every other color is better than straight lawn.

  25. @Mafisto: I don’t have to imagine, just remember. My allergies actually developed when I was a teenager and out baling hay. After a particular 100F+ day stuck in the barn stacking I was never the same.

    Another thing to remember about the lawn here at issue, it’s not an urban turf-carpet, it’s a post-agland cut prairie. The two are very different.

  26. @Adam – Jesus, you’re giving me flashbacks. I remember distinctly looking like I had spent the day in a large sack with some angry cats and a leaking canister of pepper spray. This is how character is built, I’m told.

    I get the post ag land distinction, and I get that a benignly neglected rural lawn is better than commercial cropland. I just get a little antsy when people give a helpless shrug when simply planting some trees would mitigate the impact dramatically.

  27. First, I wonder which new vehicle will be larger.

    Second, I don’t believe that the Amish have strict guidelines on which technologies are used or not. I’ve seen them using farm tractors and ATM’s in Indiana and wearing Bluetooth earphones here in Kentucky.

  28. Here’s a kubota with an endloader and backhoe for $15k in Columbus Ohio.

    http://columbus.craigslist.org/grd/2298408435.html

    It’s only a year old, so if you kept looking you could probably find something a little bit older and quite a bit cheaper.

    They’re four wheel drive, diesel engine, and you can get a mower deck for many of them. Also, cheaper than a john deere.

    End loader can be handy when you need to move some of that ohio blizzard snow out of the way. 3 point hitch with pto to rototill your garden. foldable roll bar so it can fit in a car garage.

    I don’t work for Kubota. I just wished I owned one.

  29. That’s a sweet ride. When I actually am able to mow, I will make sure to drip envy on every blade of leaf my old hulk cuts.

    Given, of course, that the Long Suffering One doesn’t get to the lawn before I do.

  30. We have one for our private gun range. About 5 acres.
    A while back, some Texas State Troopers were out qualifying on their handguns. It’s an annual requirement for their job. They were commenting on how fast one of the groundskeepers was driving our zero turn. They got out one of their radar guns and the 85 year old guy was mowing at 35 mph!

  31. The John Deere 1145’s have a 72″ cutting deck, and can pivot (at high enough speeds) on one front tire, and do upwards of 18mph. You can cut up to ten hec’s in an 8 hr day with those. Fun times, put me through Uni that did.

  32. You should also get the outriggers to add more cutting space (don’t know if they’re available for that model of Toro). Also, I wouldn’t be so sure the Amish don’t use them their own selves. Most of the Amish I see around here use push mowers (the “tube-o-blades” variety). However they also use gas weed-whackers. I’m not so sure if some of them don’t use a gas mower. (And it really depends on the local bishops anyway)

  33. Y’know, if I had that kind of acreage to work with, I’d build me a really kickass motocross circuit. Berms, off-cambers, whoop-de-doos and one massive-air jump.

    Just sayin’.

  34. @mafisto: impact of what? Planting a couple of trees is not going to obviate the need to mow five acres of grass, whether that is prairie grass or fescue. The irrigation is from the Great Above, so no impact on water supplies.

    You’re trying to map your reaction to Arid Surburb Lawn Guy’s grass fetish to an undeveloped chunk of rural Midwestern land. It’s a poor fit.

  35. I think I love your wife. Considering the fact that one of my high school rides WAS a Ford Escort, I completely concur with her statement. I think I quite possibly could have walked faster. She made my day, please pass along a sincere thank you!

  36. Your allergies must mean that Krissy rides the mower instead? I can’t remember if you had addressed that question. Hey, I’d mow the lawn on that sweet baby. I do bet it’s fun to drive.

  37. oooooh! Shiny! There is a small power equipment geek inside me yelling “I want one!” But sadly, I live on one quarter of an acre, and don’t even mow my own teeny lawn.

  38. “Because of this, they have to be watered, fertilized and chemically protected from competitors like weeds, grubs, burrowing creatures and the like. ”

    In my experience, the percentage of people who actually put that much effort into their lawns is a small one. I don’t know anybody personally (and I live a rural area where large yards are the norm) that does anything but mow and shoot the occasional groundhog.

  39. My first idea, seeing that picture, was it had to be a postapocalyptic wheelchair, or one for attending unruly conventions. (I do not wish to give any ideas; but if I do, we demand pictures.)

    Then I actually read and, oh, silly me.

  40. If the Scalzi compound is anything like the one I grew up on (rural, between Cleve. and Akron), he has a scattering of big trees, several copses that don’t need mowing, a few lawn patches big enough for a volleyball court or maybe baseball diamond, and several large patches of dogbriar multiflora rose that he prays don’t get any bigger. In those lights, what you end up doing is mainly tending the area so it doesn’t look like a junkyard, with possibly dead cars and/or bodies hidden in the undergrowth. Unless you are actually growing turf, you don’t bother watering a lawn that size. I suggest that the ecological impact of a maintained green space (NOT formal lawn) that size is a lot more favorable than you might think.

  41. While I wondered if there was some organic method of cutting your grass (llamas, goats, etc) I remembered my own method to avoid mowing the green stuff. I bought a shetland pony. (I was two, the parents were Not amused) Don’t Do This, John! Horses are expensive, smellly, and tend to release themselves on their own recognicense-sic-. You have a lovely wife & daughter. Don’t buy the horse or other expenses will follow. No Toro has ever escaped looking for other Toros to talk to.

  42. Me: This thing costs more than that Escort I bought when I got out of college.
    Wife: Of course it does. It has a bigger engine.

    John, believe me – ANYTHING has a bigger engine than an Escort! I wore out several sets of hampsters in the a several I owned back in the day, so I truly understand the sticker shock you experienced!

    Of course, at one point when I had a shiney new Escort EXP (the sporty 2-seater version), someone wanted to know how I could afford a fancy new sports car like that. When I stopped laughing I explained it was just an Escort with a recycled Mustang II cheapo body on it! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  43. Sheep and goats would be one alternative, assuming you never wanted to freely enjoy the space without watching every step.

  44. @mythago – to repeat myself, habitat loss. You can throw in more esoteric concerns around erosion, soil structure, subsoil nutrient development and the like, but ultimately, trees are a place for things to live. A lawn is a single species of grass kept in permanent infancy, giving a home to nothing. And water is not the only resource that goes into maintaining a lawn, as I’ve noted.

    @Justin – read the FAQ John posted. He does not water, but fertilizes, treats and aerates the lawn. I heartily endorse his right to do so, but it certainly negates your assertion that he does not do these things.

  45. @John regarding Amish salesmanship rules: this is another one of those exceptional religious self-accomodations which makes me wonder at the sheer capacities of wish-fulfillement of Humans. A bit like those Jews who pay someone else to press buttons on the sabbat because they can’t use electrical appliances, but apparently can benefit from their fonction… If the justification for a ban on modern appliances is that they are intrisically evil, isn’t kind of wicked to sell them to others?

  46. Loïc Haméon:

    I’m not aware of the Amish believing modern appliances are evil, so I think your question has a bad foundation. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s a problem providing people things you yourself do not partake in. I don’t drink alcohol, but I’ve been known to buy scotch and wines for friends, as an example.

  47. A mowed lawn has some objective benefits over an unmowed one. Mice and rats and other rodents generally avoid walking around in the open in short grass. Keeping the grass short for some distance around the house, buildings, and garden can discourage them from making home in your home.

    Probably less likely to step on a snake in the grass if the grass is short.

    But, mostly, I think its to keep the mice and rodents out.

    When did mowing the lawn become the “norm” anyway?

  48. I first read Escort as a lady of the night, not a vehicle – we don’t have the vehicle kind of Escort in Australia, thus the conversation was far more amusing.

  49. As someone who spent FAR too many hours in my early teens mowing my neighbour’s 5 acre lawn with an unreliable piece of crap lawn tractor, I am VERY envious of your new mower! I managed to get it down to 5 hours to mow that monstrosity, which also required me to dodge trees, derelict cars, and random piles of dog crap that hid in the deep grass. Hitting a patch of that with the deck meant that the poo did quite literally hit the fan!

  50. mafisto @72: To repeat myself, you’re talking about “most lawns” and applying those complaints where they don’t really apply. Unless you’re actually suggesting Scalzi reforest his property, a few trees are not going to prevent the need to aerate the rest of it. And I think my bug-hating kids would disagree that a lawn made of fescue, rye and/or bluegrass, rather than native prairie plants, is “home to nothing”.

    Speaking as a suburbanite who planted a trees in the grass median in front of my house and yet has to fertilize, water and care for those trees, which currently provide a home to nothing. Maybe in a few years I’ll get fruit out of them.

  51. Excellent! Finally, a photo for us tractor nerds! You could even start the Android’s Dream breed.I think I love your wife.

  52. Holy little baby jesus in his cradle in bethlehem- sick ride… No carpool lane for you though. Where the heck is more old mans war? Why do you torture me with the absence of awesomeness? I’m sorry, but none of your works have been quite as ridiculously perfect. I read every single one in two weeks flat…. Twice. Like your poll says, I WILL CUT YOU! Your books have also inspired me to write another sci fi novel

  53. The funny thing is that my husband’s neighbour at the time of our marriage was a retired gentleman who occupied his time with lawn care and built his own ride on mower *with* a Ford Escort engine. My husband was a pilot who was often gone on weekends so the neighbour would come over to mow his lawn just because it eas there.

  54. I love the name – both Toro and Titan. Are they trying to establish something?! Sizish?
    In my imagination ‘zero turn’ sounds like ‘no collision avoidance’ (aka ‘thunk’).

  55. So can we look forward to seeing you or your wife on Xtreme Lawnmower Racing? I would have happily mowed the lawn when I was a kid if I’d had one of those!

    A friend who ordered his Mini actually tracked its assembly at the factory and then on the ship as it crossed the Atlantic. This was at the height of the Mini intro and it was just crazy how much stuff Mini put forth for its customers, just for fun. It was like a cult. Now, years later, it seems that our local Mini dealer is just like every other – bring in your car, pay lots of money and we’ll fix it or at least pretend to care whether we fix it.

  56. schnauzer@83, from the link: Amish see threats in technologies which provide easy contact with worldly ideas and values (television, automobiles), or those which may break down the family or community, by serving as distractions or eliminating the need of relying on others in one’s community.

    Avoiding something because it could break down the community is an admirable goal.

    That it comes from a community that practices formalized shunning is… interesting.

  57. John@#76 – I think there’s a big difference in gifting things you don’t use yourself (such as alcohol) to others, and making a profit from things you disdain, for religious reasons. It’s hypocritical, but then most religions have a lot of hypocrisy holding up their followers, IMO.

  58. Thanks for the info on “Zero Turn;” I can see why that would be necessary.

    Now I’m going to check out that Amish website.

  59. @mythago – One of the joys of Internet Conversations is when you reach the point where being right is more important than learning or maintaining civility. I think we’re at that point, so I’ll bow out here.

    Thanks for the chat.

  60. mafisto@29: Not to be the horrible eco nerd, but you seem like a thoughtful guy: why five acres of lawn? That seems wasteful in the extreme.

    mafisto@92: where being right is more important than learning

    If you really are interested in learning, then here’s a lesson for you:

    that thing you said @29 came across as you being more interested in being right about what is acceptable lawn size and what is wasteful, rather than you being interested in learning.

  61. You’ve got 5 acres and what, a 48 inch deck there (maximum). John, when trying to mow large spaces in small times, size really does matter.

  62. KateH@90: Do the Amish really disdain the use of riding lawn-mowers, or have they just simply choosen not to use them in their own life? Perhaps a good analogy would be a priest who has taken a vow of celibacy but nevertheless performs marriage ceremonies.

  63. There are no Vulcans on planet Earth. Everyone is goign to exhibit some degree of irrationality. People may avoid technology for themselves but sell it to their neighbors. That sort of behavior wouldn’t neccessarily pass the Vulcan logic test. But it doesn’t really hurt anyone either.

  64. CPL@98 – Your ‘analogy’ is …. odd ….. My comment about making a profit selling things you find ‘wrong’ for religious reasons might be better comparing it to a pimp being celibate for religious reasons but making a profit from his stable. A priest being celibate has a different purpose (whether one understands and/or agrees with the idea) than that of a merchant.

  65. It’s funny to say the Escort had a smaller motor (actually over twice the displacement), but it’s even funnier to look it up and realize the mower really does have a MUCH superior power to weight ration than a base model 1st gen Escort.

    Good gods those things must have been dog slow.

  66. KateH @100: My dad makes money every time he performs a marriage (well, probably not when he married my cousin, but I never asked, maybe they did pay him too). I’m assuming those that take celibacy vows also get paid to perform that service.

  67. Sunidesus@103 – Performing sacraments, and getting money which is SUPPOSED to be given as a donation/gift, is not the same thing as a merchant being involved in trade and receiving/making a profit which (one assumes) is taken as salary. Catholic priests celibacy is meant to make the entire congregation the ‘flock’ (children) and their welfare must come first to their ‘shepherd’ (father). The father in a married couple is supposed to make his own family first in his duties. Now, obviously, humans aren’t perfect and in many cases fathers of either kind don’t make their respective flocks first in their duties. These relationships are not the same as a merchant/buyer one and that’s why the analogy is not a good one.

  68. It’s not 100% logical behavior to avoid owning technoligy but to be able to use it, or to avoid owning it but be willing to sell it to others.

    but then no one is 100% logical. it wouldnt be too hard to find example of illogical behavior in christianity, islam, judaism, atheism, or agnosticism. anyone who claims they are 100% logical arent looking too closely.

    and since no one is 100% logical, it would seem a different measure should probably be used. such as ‘does their behavior harm others?’

    and in that regard the answer is clearly ‘no one was harmed in the selling of this mower’

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