It’s mid-March 2020, and while the world is wrapped up learning how to deal with COVID-19, I’m using the unexpected time at home to prep my lawn mower for the mowing season. I had to wait a long time to buy what I believe is the best commercial mower available, a Walker GHS Mower.
Some people dream of buying a motorcycle, a boat, or a sports car. I dreamt of buying a lawn mower.
Back in 1999 I wasn’t able to Google “What is the best commercial lawn mower?” or “What’s the best lawn mower for professional lawn maintenance?” I believe I know the answer today. I mean, that’s why I own a Walker and not something else. I’m not even a lawn maintenance professional, so I literally have no business owning one. Yet I do. Here’s why…
I’ve been into mowing since I measured my age in single digits. I began to like the look of well-maintained lawns sometime around the age I began watching baseball. I’d watch the game on TV or in person as fascinated by the different shades of green striping on the grass as I was by the game itself. When I reached an age where I was finally allowed to mow, I’d do my best with our little push mower to mow as straight as I could to produce the same effect as what I saw in the grass of the Major League Baseball fields. I learned it’s difficult to do with a side-discharge push mower.
When I was about 23 I began working for a small liberal arts college on the south shore of Boston as the assistant manager of the grounds department. Back in the mid 1990’s the school began to ramp up its efforts to spruce up their campus, which was also a registered arboretum. The college hired a manager who had worked as a horticulturist at Longwood Gardens for decades. Dave and his crew started ripping out weeds and overgrown shrubbery at a frenetic pace, paving walkways where people naturally tended to cut through, and erecting fences where they cut through and probably shouldn’t have. He took to his job with an intensity which sometimes made people laugh.
“Don’t walk on the grass! It’s living tissue like you and me,” he would shout! “How would you like it if I walked all over your back!?”
The staff and students who worked for him loved him. The students who wanted to play a pickup game of flag football on the quad? Not so much. Given my appreciation for green grass, I fell into the former group.
Dave also began to give the athletic field more attention than they previously enjoyed. The field was shared by the soccer teams, the baseball and softball teams, any club sports needing a field, as well as any student-led intramural sporting activity. It took a beating. When Dave took control of the grounds department, he set to a regular schedule of fertilizing, over-seeding, and plug-aerating the field and had it looking respectable.
There were two main challenges. First, the field was somewhat undulating due to the fact that prior to being used for athletics it was wetlands off the Atlantic Ocean. It was simply back-filled, seeded and … Presto Change-o! Let the soccer games commence!
Second, and most significant, was the lack of proper maintenance equipment. When I arrived as the assistant grounds manager the department had a fleet of small, walk-behind Lawn Boys and an ancient Gravely. The Lawn Boys were great, but not for mowing an athletic field. The Gravely was an absolute beast, but also wasn’t what we needed. One of the first tasks I was assigned was to test and purchase a new mower which could handle the demand of the athletic field, but was agile enough to be used on the rest of the manicured campus lawns.
As I recall, this was back in the day when hydrostatic driven, zero-turn mowers were just becoming mainstream. We had relationships with local equipment dealers who sold different brands, so after doing a bit of research I requested demos for three different brands. The second machine I tried was a Walker GHS (Grass Handling System) Mower.
There were several items which set apart the Walker as a different class of mower. But for brevity, I’ll list only my favorite three here, in no particular order though they are all part of the Grass Handling System, which Walker invented.
- A flip up, front mounted mowing deck– This allows for ridiculously easy access to the mower blades which automatically lock in place. No need to block the blades when working with the retainer nut on the mower blade. Safety alone made this a no-brainer feature.
- The vacuum– The mower has a vacuum system to collect the grass. …and leaves in the fall! The system sucks up the clippings beneath the blower, not to the side, and deposits them into a hopper. There aren’t any bulky tubes on the side of the machine blocking my access through my fence gate or banging into trees.
- Grass catcher box has an alarm– I never have any questions as to whether the grass catcher is full. There’s a little switch on a lever in the bin that beeps when the hopper is full. This is pretty useful if you’d like to prevent clogs. Raise your hands if you like clogged grass collections systems. That’s what I thought.
The demo of the machine was a tremendous experience. There was no question it provided the most compact operation, provided a great amount of agility and balance, and was simply fun to use. The choice was easy. For the next year I’d spend as much time in the seat of that mower as my duties would allow. I took a lot of joy in teaching my employees to use and care for it. The day I left that job for a new opportunity was bittersweet. I had to say goodbye to the mower, but I swore I’d buy one later on in life.
Some people dream of buying a motorcycle, a boat, or a sports car. I dreamt of buying a lawn mower. So, 20 years later when my family moved into a home which needed a larger mower, I had my chance.
I was looking through Craigslist and came across a Walker S14i with a 36-inch deck. With only about 60 hours on it the machine was practically brand new. I sent a link to the ad to my wife via text message with “LOL” underneath it. You know, because the LOL would prove I was kidding/not kidding about buying it.
“You should call him,” came back her reply.
I did, before she had a chance to add “LOL” in a follow up text.
I was able to make a deal with the seller and traveled from Maryland to New Jersey to pick it up. My little dream had become a reality.
Since that day there have been a few experiences I’ve had with the mower which I might write about some day. Nothing more significant than the time I had to spend on the phone with their corporate offices about a recurring issue I was having. I’d sent them an email about an issue I was having, and the corporate office called me in 15 minutes. After about 5 minutes of asking me questions, they gently guided me to the realization that it was user error. I was the problem, not the mower. I’ve never had user error explained to me in such a polite manner. The problems were my fault, but they never made me feel like it.
I remember when I bought the machine feeling like it was the last mower I’d ever have to purchase. Time will tell if this is true. But with the array of machines Walker Mowers offers, there’s a part of me that hopes I have another opportunity. As my father-in-law says while I’m mowing his lawn…
“Boys and their toys…”
It’s not a toy. It’s a tool, and the best one I own. Take a ride for yourself.