The Farm Report: Two Beasts Are Better Than One

      16 Comments on The Farm Report: Two Beasts Are Better Than One

My jungle-battling efforts on the farm require a division of labor, at least as far as the equipment employed. I use The Beast to take down wannabe-jungle areas like this:

The Beast is awesome for tearing through nasty stuff, but the lowest setting is about four inches above the ground. So for ex-jungles that have been thoroughly reformed and seeded with grass, I’d been using a Toro mower.

Trouble is, the Toro was apparently designed for tame suburban lawns. After about a year in service here on the farm, it broke apart on me. Based on looks alone, I thought the base of the engine was made from some kind of metal. Nope. I’m pretty sure it’s just hard plastic disguised as metal. Here’s the evidence:

Other parts around the engine also shook themselves loose recently:

I didn’t smack the Toro into big rocks or fallen branches. The snap-crackle-pops were caused by nothing more than running it over our bumpy back pastures and hills. So I decided it’s a case of you get what you pay for and went looking for a beefier mower engineered for rough terrain.

After reading reviews, I settled on a Cub Cadet model and ordered it online. Based on the pictures (I didn’t look for the dimensions), I figured it would be about the size of a souped-up mower with a more powerful engine and bigger back wheels. I knew I’d figured wrong when I picked it up at our local Tractor Supply. The thing just barely fit in the back of the van with the seats down. It was also way too heavy for the clerk and me to lift. He went back into the store for a ramp, and the two of us pushed the thing into the van.

I was almost home when a thought occurred to me: I’m a moron. I don’t have a ramp at home. How the @#$% do I plan to get this out of the van? I should have bought a ramp while I was still at Tractor Supply.

I finished driving home and shared my theory about being a moron with Chareva. She disagreed with the moron part, but did wonder how we’ve managed five years of small-time farming without a ramp in in our repertoire. So it was back to Tractor Supply to get one.

As you can see, the new mower is juuuuust a smidge bigger than the old one.

It’s actually about the size and weight of The Beast – which makes sense, since it cost nearly as much as The Beast.

As a red-blooded male with a new engine-powered toy, I of course had to take it for at least one spin around the back pasture right away. I turned the key …. Ohhh, yeeeahhh! Listen to that engine. We’re talking about some serious power.

Unlike the Toro, which I had to push up our steep hills despite the self-propelled mode, I simply followed this thing uphill. Those big back wheels kept right on gripping the ground.

Since I was only going once around the property for the maiden voyage, I didn’t bother wearing long sleeves or spraying myself with Deep Woods Off. I paid for that sin with several chigger bites on my hands and arms. Lesson learned.

I was impressed, but unsure what to call this new machine. Beast II? Son of Beast? Since it’s made by Cub Cadet, I eventually settled on The Bear.

Yesterday was the first weekend day where I had both the time and the weather to put The Bear into action. Compared to a wimpy ol’ suburban mower, there are pros and cons. The pros are the power, the big wheels, and the wide cutting base – 33 inches, as opposed to 21 inches with the Toro. The wide cutting area comes courtesy of two blades instead of one. That means fewer hikes around the property to get the job done.

The cons are the weight, the weight, and the weight. If I cut sideways across a hill, the thing wants to drift downhill and I have to manhandle it into holding a straight line. If I cut straight up and down a hill, the uphill part is a piece of cake. But going downhill, I have to lean back and resist with my legs to keep it from accelerating downhill. It’s also not easy to pull it out of a corner. There’s a reverse gear, but I like being able to back up by just pulling backwards.

Those cons aside, it’s exactly the kind of mower we need on this property. It rips up sticks and small branches easily and, unlike the Toro, it tears through deep grass without becoming clogged. Even though we had heavy rains on Saturday and the deep grass was still damp on Sunday, I never once had to stop and yank clumps of grass away from the blades in order to continue.

I did, however, manage to drive The Bear over a big rock hiding in some tall grass. Something went WHAM!, then I heard the blades bang against each other and stop, then I smelled burning rubber as the belts continued trying to turn blades that could no longer turn.

Since the rear wheels can turn with the blades disengaged, I steered The Bear back to the house. As I suspected, the rock had jammed one set of blades, while the other set of blades continued turning until they collided. The manual told me the blades should be at 90-degree angles to each other. It also told me if something causes the blades to collide with each other, the cure is to take the machine to a Cub Cadet dealer for service.

Well, to heck with that. I’m a born-again Tool Guy, after all.

I was pleased to discover that The Bear, like The Beast, has a top cover that lifts off to expose the drive belts and such. I was equally pleased to discover that Alex, Chareva’s younger brother, was outside and curious to give it a look. Like his dad (builder of the train line), Alex is quite adept with tools and all things mechanical.

After poking around for a minute, he pointed out the spring that keeps the timing belt tight. I loosened a nut that locks the spring in place, then Alex shoved the spring aside so he could rotate one set of blades independently of the other. Bingo, they were back at 90-degree angles to each other. Yeah, I would have figured that out. Eventually. I think.

Alex also noticed something called a “stop nut” wasn’t extended far enough to do any proper stopping and took care of that for me. Then he oiled some stuff that needed oiling to prevent rust.

Bing-bam-boom, cover back on, and it was back to the mowing while listening to an audiobook. The Cub Cadet mechanics will have to wait for something more serious to happen before getting my business … at least as long as Alex is here.

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16 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Two Beasts Are Better Than One

  1. Bruce

    Live and learn right.
    A couple of things. The Toro may have taken a powder on you because of the blade digging into the ground a few to many times. This can happen on uneven ground. I believe it is probably designed for a flatish type lawn.

    Check to see if you have an oil injected engine on “The Bear”. If not, taking the mower on extreme (check the manual) angles might cause it to starve for oil as many of them are more of a splash system which does not work as well on steeper angles.

    Having those front pivot wheels is probably the cause of the mower being difficult to control when cutting sideways, Unless there is a way to lock them, it’ll need to be horsed the entire time.

    Good luck. I am envious of the farmette you have, but glad I don’t have to take care of it!!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ll check, but the Cub Cadet site states this model is designed for hills and rough terrain, so I hope they got the oil injection right.

      I enjoy taking care of the farmette. From a purely economic standpoint, it would make sense to pay the crew that cuts the front pastures to cut the back as well. But after sitting in a chair and programming all week, I like going out there and getting Dog Tired Satisfied.

      Reply
  2. Lori Miller

    I hear you–I use a hand-powered push mower and a hand sickle on my little lawn, partly because I hate noise and don’t like dealing with gasoline cans, but also for the exercise.

    Reply
  3. Walter Bushell

    Old Chinese proverb: “The pain of poor quality is remembered after the pleasure of low price.”

    Reply
  4. Tom Zachary

    Tom

    Just discovered you by listening to 2 keto dudes podcast where you were being interviewed. I almost fell over when you said you had moved to Franklin TN from Los Angeles! I just moved to College Grove from LA this June.

    I’ve been a software engineer – CTO – Manager – musician for the past 30 years and never thought I’d move to the south. I have a 9 year old daughter and was not crazy about her growing up in LA for all of the reasons I’m sure you’re familiar.

    I just read one of your blog posts about moving to TN, the driving, conversations with people lower cost of living and such – my exact experiences.

    So we are really loving middle TN!

    And for the first time I’m on a 1/2 acre of land with a lot of grass and some brush that I’m going to have to figure out how to tame!

    Anyway, you don’t know me — but I’d love to have coffee with you one of these days if you have the time. I think we have a lot in common. I’m 59, been on a keto diet for the past year, moderate democrat turned moderate libertarian and have an engineers mindset.

    Now I’m going to rent FatHead on Netflix

    Cheers
    Tom

    Reply
  5. Don in Arkansas

    At some point in time you might want to upgrade from The Bear to a ZTR mower. I have a 60″ Cub Cadet and love it. We mow about 12 acres and this mower has cut a couple of hours of my mowing time. Plows through heavy, wet grass as well.

    Reply
      1. Bruno

        No offense to any brand, but Cub Cadet is going to be a little less “heavy duty” and if you look at pros, they don’t use them much (except new startups who need a less expensive machine). By far the best cutting and most reliable, as well as versatile brand, is Exmark. I can cut TALL wet grass with the mulch kit on and it looks bagged. Current models are even better than the ones of a decade ago.

        Why the emphasis on reliability and sturdiness? Because when your 1,000 lb mower dies at the bottom of a steep hill, away from where you can reach it with a truck mounted winch, you will appreciate the “spend more to get more” concept. Laying on your back in a field full of bugs with it jacked up making a repair is not fun.

        Reply
  6. Bruno

    FYI, as a retired lawn care business owner, I would suggest that when the Bear dies or needs a friend, you look into slightly used commercial grade walk behinds. A gear/belt drive model would be perhaps $2,000 for a fixed deck, $500 more for a floating deck, and they are built to take abuse from $10/hour employees. Hydrostatic versions work a little better in terms of backing up, but when they break it’s not a DIY fix much of the time, and they cost a good deal more, as gear drives are out of fashion.

    A little older and they fall under $1,000. I bought one in 1998 for $500 and sold it for $900 over a decade later. Never broke down and was still running strong.

    Reply

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