An Unexpected Love Story

You never know where a story idea will come from . . . This one came from my husband when he powered up his new Lawn Boy power lawn mower. Who’d have guessed that our modern method of cutting grass originated with a romance?  Not me, though I love my husband dearly for taking care of this particular chore.

The Lawn Boy love story began in 1904 with the pursuit of a woman who liked ice cream.  Ole Evinrude, the eventual founder of Lawn-Boy, had eyes for Bess Cary. Bess liked ice cream and Ole wanted to bring her an ice cream cone.  Two things stood in his way. He had to row across Wisconsin’s Okauchee Lake, and the sun was blazing hot. Determined to impress Bess, Ole made the trip, purchased the cone and rowed back across the lake as fast as he could.  Predictably he arrived with a soupy mess.

Never again, he promised her. That promise led to the invention of the outboard motor.  Ole perfected the design in 1907 and Bess presumably had all the ice cream cones she could eat.  Evinrude Motors was born with Ole’s invention, a basic design that’s still in use today. Outboard motors eventually led to power lawn mowers.  Through different mergers and partnerships, Evinrude Motors became Lawn-Boy, a multi-million dollar business that’s appreciated by millions of men and women who have the task of mowing the lawn.

My husband  is glad for the power mower, but on a day like today–it’s 90 degrees outside and humid–he wouldn’t mind a little help from Mother Nature. Some American Presidents had the same idea. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson  used sheep to control the grass on their estates.  When Woodrow Wilson was president, sheep grazed on the White House lawn. This was more than just lawn control. It served as a reminder of the wool shortage during World War I.  The wool from the sheep was auctioned for $100,000 with the proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

Having grown up in a suburban part of Los Angeles, I’ve always taken lawns for granted.  Until I was about six, my dad waged war with dandelions and crabgrass in an effort to have a perfect dichondra lawn. He lost . . . but not without a fight that included weed killer and steer manure. (I can still smell it–phfew!)  The weeds won and eventually he planted winter rye, the greenest grass I’d seen before coming to Bluegrass country here in Kentucky.

Lawns weren’t always common. In the 19th century they were considered a luxury and a sign of wealth.  The upkeep required groundskeepers who cut the blades with scythes. It was a massive job that required surprising skill.  Watering was a chore, too.  Hoses and sprinklers came into use much later.

It’s not surprising that the game of golf had a role in getting grass to grow so commonly in America.  In 1915, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture collaborated with the U.S. Golf Association to find a grass–or combination of grasses–that would grow in U.S. climates. Fifteen years later grass was common and a new industry had been born. To protect their beloved lawns, Americans needed fertilizer and pesticides.  Throw in garden hoses, sprinklers and lawn mowers like the one invented by Ole Evinrude, and you have a brief history of lawns in America.

Just for fun . . . Do you have a lawn?  What kind of mower do you use?  Push or power? Does anyone have a ride-on?  Check out this video for the coolest idea of all…

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32 thoughts on “An Unexpected Love Story”

  1. Hi Vicki, the video just cracks me up!

    What a terrific bunch of information on Mr. Evinrude. I had no idea! We have a gardener who takes care of the front lawn. Since we had three Labrador Retrievers who were hard on grass, we designed a backyard of flagstone and planters. Turned out pretty good. (No more pups, sadly. They all live with God now.)

    Because of water shortages these days, lawns are getting kind of controversial LOL. Xerographic plants and native grasses are getting more and more popular in many S. Calif. areas. But we’re not ripping out ours.

    I love this blog! oxox

  2. The things we do for love!

    Our grass is facing the enemies of 100 degree temps and tree roots. We left enough grass in the yard so the kids could play ball but it has been a struggle since. But we did not water here due to drought conditions and high water bills. Man O Steele has a gas push mower.

    In one corner where we cannot get any to grow, we put in a zen garden. You can’t kill rocks!

    Love the doggie!

  3. I’ve been to beautiful Okauchee Lake! I’ve eated Friday night fish fries at The Golden Mast restaurant. Yummy! My daughter lives down the road in Oconomowoc. I never heard the Evinrude story.

    We have two lawn mowers, a Honda power mower and a push mower. Our yard has two levels. The push mower is used on the small lower level.

  4. Hi Tanya, Ole’s story made me smile, in part because my husband was pleased to tell me about the guy. Right now my dh is in a fight to the death with the sun and semi-dry summer for our newly planted grass. Water is the key, and I know how controversial that can be in southern California and other arid climates. Your yard sounds like a nice place for a bbq!

  5. Hi Julie, My kids grew up in a mountain community where the only grass was at he park. When we moved to the big city and a real lawn, they were kind of in awe. They could actually play games in their own yard… Lawns really are a huge amount of work. It’s a whole industry these days.

  6. Howdy Laurie G! How cool that you’ve been to Okauchee Lake! I could just picture poor Ole rowing across it with that ice cream cone… I bet the lake is pretty, especially in the summer.

    We’re getting some drainage work done in our yard. When it’s done, it’ll be two levels and one big consideration was being able to get the mower to the stop section. A small push mower could be just the ticket. Thanks for the idea!

  7. We do have a lawn and we have both lawn mowers, a push mower and riding mower. I used the both yesterday! It was about 96 degrees heat index was 110 and I was out there doing the lawn, you don’t have much choice in the matter, it has to be done. I push off some of it and use the riding mower for the rest, then I had to do the weed eating. Was not a fun day!

  8. Oh my, Quilt Lady! All that work with a heat index of 110! That calls for gallons of lemonade or iced tea. But you’re so right . . . the grass has to be mowed or it takes over everything. We have some vacant lots in the neighborhood that are waiting for construction. The grass on one was 4 ft tall before the builder knocked it down.

  9. Being an ice cream lover myself, I have to say that a man who invents a motor just to be able to get my icecream to me before it melts is a hero to be praised and fawned over. Hooray for Evinrude!

  10. This perfectly illustrates the difference between men and women for me. If a woman wanted to surprise her sweetie with ice cream, she would get some ice from the ice house and spend a couple of hours making it for him. A man uses it as an excuse to spend three years inventing outboard motors (think speed!)and power mowers (think labor saving device!) This sooooo cracked me up.

  11. Vicki, cute video. I’ve never seen a dog mow a lawn before. I wonder if I can hire him! I hate mowing my grass. I’d rather take a beating. I might look into that sheep idea. Ha, wonder what my neighbors would think! One thing for sure, it’d make the rounds of every house here in a couple of hours. That’s small town life for you. 🙂

  12. My neighbors aren’t happy with us. We moved into an area of mostly retired “I have the perfect yard” neighborhood. Both my husband and I worked and did not have the time or inclination. We do keep our front yard somewhat decent (which means weeds mixed in with the grass lol). My back yard is a 3 tiered hillside that I kept nice for the longest time but with kids and too many bouts of poison ivy and caring for feral cats, it’s turned into a jungle. I like it and so do all the wild animals. I think it beats poisoning the land. I should live in Arizona where there are some beautiful rock gardens lol.

  13. Hi Linda, When we lived in a mountaini community, some friends decorated their yard with life-size wooden cows. From a distance, they looked real. Boy, did that get the talk started! “COWS! THEY CAN’T RAISE COWS IN THEIR YARD!!!” Maybe you could get a fake sheep and see what happens 🙂

  14. Hi Catslady! Our neighborhood is a mix of great, good and uh-oh lawns. As long as the front lawn is movwed, I’m good with it. Poison ivy is nasty stuff. We’ve got some on the backside of the fence. I’m very, very careful!

  15. I miss having a lawn… was not a fan of mowing it, but I miss the green, the smell of fresh cut grass… all we have now are rocks rocks everywhere… have to deal with stupid weeds though…
    love the video! 😀

  16. We are lucky and live in a townhouse so the lawn is mowed for us. For years my husband took care of the lawn and he had a riding lawn mower. He bought his first riding lawn mower by bidding and winning a contract to mow the grass where he worked. He made enough money to pay for the mower.

  17. Hi Colleen, The video cracked me up, too. I wish our Jack Russell/Beagle mix could mow the lawn. He’s smart, but he’s not that smart!

    Hi Judy An, We see a lot of ride-on mowers around Lexington. There’s grass everywhere and it gets TALL. We lived in a townhouse in northern VA but we had to do the yard. The ground there was so hard nothing would grow. I like Bluegrass country!

  18. I loved the dog mowing the lawn. What a cool video. Just saw another video today of a dog that made a baby laugh and laugh and laugh — they were playing. How utterly cute!

  19. I’m not sure you could call what we have a lawn—-let’s just say we have grass and a power mower.
    We sold our riding mower when we moved to town.

  20. Hi Tracy! Condo living has some definite advantages when it comes to yardwork. I’m hopeless with gardening, so I’m happy to have someone else keep things beautiful.

    Hi Karen! I took me forever to figure out how get YouTube in the blog, and it ended up being so simple! I smile every time I see the dog on the mower 🙂

  21. Hello Estella! Grass and a mower counts as a lawn with me. In Northern VA we had grass around a circle of dirt because of a big tree. The grass just wouldn’t grow in the shade. The tree was cool–a Japanese elm–we were sorry when it died, but we were glad to have grass again.

  22. ah we have a wild and crazy lawn for sure!
    last year when i was home to raise three little girls alone and tend to our small acreage and animals as well as a full time job i decided a sheep and goat might be just the right thing to help keep the lawn down…it was a rainy year and with a baby and a total of three 4yrs and under it was impossible to find the hours it took to take care of the yard
    that was one of the WORST ideas ever
    i don’t even think the sheep and goat new the lawn existed….but they ate EVERYTHING else and pooped and peed all over my porch always
    it almost made me insane

    i try to be green…but we buckled with the size of the yard and my husband has a riding mower and continually breaks my push mowers
    i am waiting for an old school motorless mower i’m buying from a co-worker..but from reviews it doesn’t sound like it will actually do much good out here in our weedy/bumpy yard
    i do have coworkers that rave about their electric weed eaters however and i think i might invest….

  23. Oh, Tabitha! I can just picture the goat and sheep having a good old time while you chased down three little girls! What a mess! An electric weed eater sounds like a good idea . . . much better than that hungry old goat.

  24. Love the video! We live on a farm with a large weed and grass lawn. This year because of an overabundance of rain it is thriving. Usually we would no longer need to mow…now it is a daily chore to keep ahead of it. Since we no longer have domestic animals the rest of the farm is high with weeds. This great cover for many wild animals which share our world. The deer actually come to the houseyard to eat.

    I grew up with two brothers whose job it was to mow. Mine was to do the dishes…how I would have loved to trade. Then by the time I had a lawn to mow I also had a husband and two sons who loved to mow so I have never mown at all.

    Romance wins out always and I will never think of ice cream again without remembering this blog.

  25. Hi Connie! I liked the dog, too. He looks so pleased to be riding on the mower. I bet the deer nibbling in your yard appreciate the meal. Rain. Drought. It seems like it’s always one or the other.

  26. Hey Vicky, I liked your post. To mow our huge farm yard, we have a riding lawn mower with hydrostatic reverse. That means we don’t have to shift into reverse, we just put our heel down on the pedal and we go backwards. Easy Peasy. 😀

    We tried doing the sheep thing, but they were very particular and only ate the most tenderest grass which meant they left the crabgrass. On a prairie farm, the lawn is about 50% crabgrass which you don’t notice when it’s mowed regularly. But you sure see it when the ‘good stuff’ is gone.

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