Answer man: Uphill battle finding the right lawn mower

News-DemocratJuly 19, 2013 

I have a couple of pretty big hills to cut and am having a problem with my lawn mower because of them. I am using a four-cycle engine, and everyone tells me I am having problems because the oil keeps mixing with the gasoline on the hills. They all tell me I need a two-cycle engine, but no one knows where to get one. I am hoping you or one of your faithful readers could help me. -- William Knewitz, of Okawville

Sad to say, but your hills won't be alive with the sound of a two-cycle lawn mower anytime soon.

At least, not a new one. Most two-cycle devices were discontinued long ago because the government said they were just too dirty, according to Kate Jones at Jones Boys Inc. in Belleville.

"I think it's been eight or nine years since two-cycle lawn mowers were made," she said. "They can't meet emissions standards. Every year Lawn-Boy would retool their factory and meet the standards and every year the (Environmental Protection Agency) would say, 'Next year, you have to do "x."' So, finally, they just stopped making them."

Now if you're like some, you're probably wondering what the heck kind of harm could one small engine do running just an hour a week. Well, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that one gas mower running an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for an hour. And don't forget that, in aggregate, Americans burn 800 million gallons of gas per year just keeping their yards manicured, according to the EPA.

The more powerful -- but less efficient -- two-cycle engines were even worse. In some cases, they threw off nearly a third of their unburned gas and oil into the air. So, after being unregulated until 1995, mower engine restrictions became tougher and tougher.

Jones feels your pain.

"When you had a two-cycle mower, you literally could hold it upside down and it would still get lubrication," she said. "Now even if you get one with an oil pump, there's a pickup tube. But if you happen to be on the hill with that pickup tube on the high side, you're still not getting lubrication. So your reader is in a difficult position."

A couple of suggestions: First, keep your mower is in tiptop shape. You probably know this, but, just in case, make sure fluid levels are at their peak when you attack the hills, have a clean carburetor and spark plug and check fuel filter and hoses for dirt.

Unfortunately, people with hills and large yards usually need self-propelled mowers, so there's not much alternative. However, if you are able to use a simple push mower, you might consider a battery-powered model, which "would mow beautifully on a hill," Jones said.

Otherwise, you'll probably have to look for a used two-cycle mower -- but, remember, these are at least a decade old already and people who have good ones tend to hang on to them.

"I have people who will spend $200 to keep their 27-year-old, two-cycle mower running," Jones said. "They'll easily spend that because they'll say, 'Without it, I can't mow.'"

Can you tell me the original colors of the rainbow? I thought there were five or six. Now they draw such bright colors as purple, etc. It's not real. -- S. Olsen, of Hamel

If you're lucky, your pot of gold when you spot a rainbow will be in seeing all of the major colors that Isaac Newton listed in his spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

At least, that's how it works in theory. When you shine light through a prism, it can break the beam up into those seven major colors (and countless hues in between).

Raindrops in the air essentially serve the same purpose. Sunlight is broken into colors as it enters a drop. Some of it is reflected off the back of the drop before it is further refracted as it exits the front of the drop.

I won't put you to sleep with talk about deviation angles, wavelength frequencies and rates of dispersion. Suffice it to say that because of various atmospheric conditions -- angle and brightness of the sun, size and shape of the raindrops, density of the moisture -- rainbows usually have colors that are much less saturated, they may be smeared and some may be missing entirely, often the blue and purple.

So, yes, the colors in real rainbows are far more delicate than, say, the ones many children draw with their crayons or ones you may find in other representations. I suppose many people like bold colors to make them stand out.

But, again, if you're lucky and look closely, a leprechaun will paint you the entire spectrum across the sky after a storm.

Today's trivia

What did philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donate to Princeton University in 1906 --and why?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: In the 1950s, popular actress Lois Nettleton reportedly was the first caller into Jean Shepherd's late-night radio program on WOR in New York. She soon became a regular guest and wound up married to the popular "A Christmas Story" humorist in 1960 until they divorced in 1967.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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