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September 30, 2014

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Tom Gorman on the chances the lawn mower is going the way of the horse and buggy

A lot of people are so concerned about the drought that they've eliminated their grass lawns.

And that's rotten for George and Phyllis Diether. They sell and repair lawn mowers. Their business, The Lawnmower Shop on Nellis Boulevard near Tropicana Avenue, just started its 25th year. And it won't be their best. "In 1988 we sold 250 lawn mowers," George said. "Last year we sold three. Three. There's simply less grass in the valley today than there was then."

Over the years, they've done well by their shop. At one point they had two stores and employed 11 people. George and Phyllis' 10 kids all spent time working there, too, before going on to college.

Today their kids are successfully pursuing careers. Great kids, all of them. And I'm sure they picked up their work ethic at The Lawnmower Shop, doing honest, hands-on work.

But these days, it's just George from 8 to 5, and his wife in the mornings. It's a great old place with pegboard walls that hold up weed trimmers and edgers, chain saws and leaf blowers. Big lawn mowers that have been repaired are poised and ready on the smooth concrete floor, awaiting pickup. They are proud machines, battered and scuffed and smelling of grass.

Behind the counter, husband and wife toil over oil filters and spark plugs. George's T-shirt is stained with oil; Phyllis protects her blouse with a large orange apron.

They tune engines and sharpen blades because there are still some people out there who love their grass lawns. They water responsibly. They don't overspray. They fertilize. These are good people. I'm one of them. We have grass. Our winter watering day was Wednesday.

I met George and Phyllis this week because my lawn mower blade needed sharpening. This is a springtime task, along with cleaning furnace filters.

And I think the world of George for not laughing at me when I came in.

Other men, who tend to be buff and tanned, wield real lawn mowers around their yards. Lawn mowers that rhythmically purr when idling and growl in combat.

My lawn mower is electric. It whines. Wherever I push it, it trails an orange power cord. I don't have to yank at a starter rope to turn the engine over, I just squeeze a little bar with my pinkie, and I hear something like an electric knife.

Our son, Paul, won't be seen anywhere near me when I'm cutting the grass. He's embarrassed.

I was pretty sure the blade needed sharpening because last week when I mowed, the grass just bent. The blade was slapping at the blades of grass like an angry, scorned lover. An hour later, the grass recovered and was standing tall again.

The only stuff inside the grass catcher was some old, dead grass from last fall.

Jeanne warned me to be careful as I took the blade off the lawn mower, but if I had fallen on the edge of the blade with all my weight, I only would have creased myself.

George said he'd make the blade good. And then we started talking about the beauty of grass lawns. Customers came in and we shared stories about grass. It was as if we were in a turf lawn support group.

"Grass lawns take a lot of nasty stuff out of the air, the same way that trees do," George said.

"Grass is cooling. Rocks just radiate heat.

"There should be a TV commercial that goes like this," George said. "A guy is standing in his front lawn and sees a neighbor pull up in a brand new Mercedes. The guy goes, 'Wow, you've got a new Mercedes Benz!' And the other guy says, 'Yeah, but you have grass!' "

George is on a roll. He's an Ambassador from Fescue. "Grass is family-friendly. Rock is not. Do you see little kids playing on rocks?" A customer named Judy comes in to pick up one of the repaired mowers. It's a mighty mulching mower.

"Grass is good for the soul," she said. "We're going to save the world one lawn at a time."

We all nod in agreement. We are grass huggers.

I have to get to work, but I ask George one last question. I need a Weedwacker. Should I get electric or gas? Gas-powered Weedwackers are a lot more powerful, George said. He studies me, sizes me up.

"Get an electric."

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 259-2310 or at [email protected]

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