Zen and the Art of the Wheel Horse

by Nancy LaFever

That’s a riff on the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” written by Robert Pirsiq in 1974. Never read it, just love the title. It’s probably full of those deep, philosophical thoughts we had in the ‘70s. There was a lot going on besides really bad hair. 

“Mowing” probably doesn’t fit most people’s definition of summer fun, but I’ve found mowing my rural acreage an almost Zen-like experience. I let some of my lot go natural for the wildlife and to irritate my citified neighbors who go for a giant putting-green look on their property. 

So, while the rest of you are cracking a beer on the deck or heading to the pool, I’m firing up my rider mower and capturing many hours of uninterrupted mowing bliss. 

Mower DOA

Last summer my Craftsman rider mower died. My mechanic pronounced the engine DOA and said it would be $800 to replace. I could have flexed a credit card at Home Depot and replaced it for a few hundred dollars more. On my mechanic’s advice, I checked with a local guy that  rehabs mowers who had three to show me. 

I should explain my interest in mowers and other decidedly not girly things. As a kid, I loved going to the hardware store with my dad and I drive an F-150 (a full-size Ford pickup for you girlier types). But I don’t know much about mowers. The perfect person for a mower-scouting trip was my gearhead friend, Tony. I asked Tony and Vickie, his gearhead-by-proxy wife, to come and advise me. 

Love at First Sight

Outside his shop, Mower Guy showed me a Craftsman like my dead one but that didn’t excite me. He said there was an older one inside. There she was – a 1987 418-C Wheel Horse rider mower with retro panache and a fine patina of rust on just the right parts. He explained the Kohler engine would run forever. 

He fired her up and I was a goner - remember, 70’s girl here who grew up with muscle cars. When she idled, my friends exchanged a knowing look and said, “Harley!” at the same time. Even I recognized that distinctive sound. 

Hydraulic, Hydrostatic Fun

The Wheel Horse had a hydraulic lift deck and hydrostatic transmission. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded cool. Okay, like my friend when I called to tell her about it, I can hear your eyes glazing over. My friends gave the mower their seal of approval and I told the guy I’d think about it. A couple days later, I negotiated a good price, throwing my dead mower in on the deal.

Crop Circles 

I took delivery of the mower a month ago, but until yesterday, I hadn’t mowed. I had just backed her out of the shed and admired her. But yesterday, as any writer on deadline would do, I decided it was time to mow. Kicked her up to full throttle and tried my hydraulic mowing deck at different cutting levels and did a few passes. Afterwards, looking out from the second floor, it appeared a drunken alien had created crop circles. Nice!

If you’re wondering if my first crush has faded, not only have I joined a Wheel Horse forum, I’ve asked Gary from Canada where I can get a copy of my baby’s out-of-print operator’s manual.

Full-time freelance writer Nancy LaFever has published hundreds of magazine articles, blog posts and does copywriting and web content on dozens of topics. LaFever draws on her corporate background and diverse careers as an advertising/marketing maven, graphic designer, fiber artist and hair salon receptionist to inform her writing. 

Also a Master’s level licensed psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor, LaFever is currently not practicing because after 20 years, she finally got it right. She tries really hard not to do more than one of the above at the same time - it confuses people.


  1. Love this one! My mom is the same way. Mowing gives her peace of mind. With me, it's washing clothes by hand on a sunny day.

  2. Thanks, Beth. Now if we could just figure out a way to wash clothes WHILE mowing...


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