By Gary Pierce
Over the years I’ve heard people use the phrase “losing traction” when they refer to some task. For example, people say I’m losing traction on the weeding in my vegetable garden. The word “traction” is being used to describe the achievement of progress, not the adhesive friction between a moving object and the surface on which it is moving. While I hear folks “lose traction” on this or that, I only use this word in reference to vehicle tires. Slippery mud or rainy roads make me think of losing traction.
This summer I happened to be visiting the local hardware store while they were conducting their annual lawnmower sale. This sale featured the wildly popular zero turn mowers. What is there not to like about these mowers? They have comfortable seats. They mow very fast, turn on a dime and extend the usual mowing width a foot or more. Their construction is heavy duty, and their engine is huge. There was only one issue left to address – price. These bad boys range between 3 and 10 thousand dollars apiece. Of course the one I wanted was over 4 thousand.
After rationalizing this choice for an entire weekend, I returned the following week to wheel and deal. As the mower was being delivered to my house, I ask the salesman how they cut on a slope. After all, I have some slope around my pond. He said, “You have to be careful on a slope. These zero turns will sometimes lose traction.”
These mowers are not like your regular riding mower. Zero turn mowers have two handles. Each handle controls the tire on the same side of the mower. You push forward to spin the tire forward and you pull back to spin the tire backward. There is NO brake to slow you down, only a parking brake.
Well, I poked around until I got comfortable. I’ve operated similar equipment, so it didn’t take long. I still took it slow around the pond. About the third time I mowed the lawn, I was cutting around the pond. The first two passes near the pond I took it slow and meticulous. On the third pass I was about 10 feet from the pond as I whipped the mower around to head back in the opposite direction. The centipede between me and the pond had been mowed. It was regulation height – 1.5 inches. The combination of short grass and slope caused my mower to “lose traction.”
Since the downhill tire is always the one that loses traction, the mower swung to point at the pond. I cranked back on both handles to throw the thing in reverse. If your tires have lost traction, then tires spinning in reverse don’t really slow you down much. In a matter of a split second, I hit the water. Once I hit the water, I threw the handles apart and leaned forward to grab the parking brake. This action finally stopped the mower. Luckily the engine didn’t go into the water.
While the phrase “losing traction” now has a more crystal clear definition in my mind, the mowing/swimming incident was the second time I had lost traction. The first time, I lost traction on my economic budget when I bought the mower.
Gary Pierce is a Horticulture Agent with the Harnett County Cooperative Extension.
This warning is all too real after the death of a Johnston, NC man - read the story here