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My First Day with Campus Maintenance

Self-propelled != self-controlled (!= is a computer science way of saying "not equal"), but I'll get back to that.


I've sometimes heard people wonder how Keith Poeppe can ride the mower summer after summer after summer. He goes all day everyday all week for weeks at a time. For the record, there are others who ride other mowers on the perimeter of campus that we just don't see as much. But I typically enjoy coming home and mowing my own lawn and even felt a bit jealous that Keith, Brandon and Darryl, and sometimes student workers like Cody, get to use those big mowers on the Graceland lawn (more correctly called "turf").


Friday morning Bob started me out at 7:00a preparing for "Jazz on the Green" in front of Shaw Center. It is Bob's crew, with Dennis Core's help, that sets out the plywood to form a stage on the grassy area in front of the amphitheater. We set out what I think was 15 sheets of 3/4" thick 4'x8' plywood, screwed to 1"x6" boards to tie it all together. Then we setup the risers for the band students to sit upon. Frank Perez' students took care of setting out their chairs and music stands and setting up their equipment.


Once we finished that, Bob took me over to the garage where the walk-behind mower is parked. We maneuvered it out and filled the gas tank. This was another learning moment because we order in fuel into our own gas pump. Then, when that fuel is used, it is charged out through Carol Robbins' inventory, to the area using it. In this case, it was charged to campus turf as a standing work order (meaning it is a work order that is always open and can receive charges of various kinds - fuel, material, labor, etc. - at any time).


While I learned how to charge out the fuel, Rob Washburn was kind enough to add some oil to the mower.


This is an interesting machine, which you've most likely seen used around the center of campus. It has a little trailer for the operator to ride upon, but the mower is designed to be controlled by an operator behind the machine, not on it.


Bob took me over to the soccer pitch and explained that the perimeter should be mowed first, and not to go too far down the east and south sides as the grass might be wet and slippery, which would be dangerous on any mower, especially one like this. Then he explained that they change the mowing pattern on the field itself every time it is mowed. They'll mow it east/west one time, north/south another, then northeast/southwest and finally northwest/southeast. This is to keep the grass from becoming lazy, a tendency for it to lean one direction from being constantly mowed the same way. Friday, I was mowing north/south.


After giving me a brief rundown on how to start, maneuver and operate this mower, I got started on the perimeter. I was pretty shaky at first, going real slow along the fence line. It was a little better when I wasn't constrained by fear of running into something (or scratching or breaking anything), but still slow and hesitant.


By the time I nearly finished the perimeter, I realized it was a beautiful, warm day with plenty of sunshine and I had no hat on my head. So I took a short break to go take care of that. On my way in, Bob informed me that little trailer is optional and if I'd be more comfortable, I could certainly remove it. When I got back out to the mower, that's what I did.


That made a huge difference to me! With my feet firmly planted on terra firma, I felt like I had a lot more control of the mower. You see, control of the mower relies on hand pressure on each side of a double inverted U-shaped bar. That is, one inverted U-shaped bar is like most mowers, a safety mechanism to kill the blades. The other requires pressure applied to one side or the other or both to steer or drive it. I just found that more easily done while standing on the ground than on a trailer it was pulling.


So walking behind the mower was more my speed. Besides, it racked up a few steps on my Fitbit.


I mowed until a little before 11:00a, then went to watch the high school jazz band kids play (of which my son is one). After they finished and I got him some food, I grabbed some myself then went back to mowing. By this time the slopes on the south and east sides were dry enough I could finish mowing them. So I finished the playing field then moved on to the sides where I realized just how challenging a big mower like that can be to handle. But I think I did alright, even though I also thought Bob had every right to be upset with some of my performance. He later told me that it'd be OK. If I messed anything up, by today it won't be noticeable. I figured that, but it's something else to have it said out loud.


Then Bob let me ride along with him while he put chemicals down on the soccer pitch and the lower practice field north of College Street. I learned that piece of equipment that distributes the chemicals can be finicky. It has about a 20' wingspan or so. Not all the nozzles like to spray evenly, no matter how much attention Bob gives it. I also learned that Bob has a special mixture he uses on those surfaces to get the right kind of growth and inhibit weed intrusion. It seems to work well as those playing surfaces are pretty nice, in my opinion.


Prior to this work day, I had told the supervisors it wasn't a competition, but between the 3 crews I'd worked so far, housekeeping had put the most steps on my Fitbit at approximately 10,000. Building maintenance didn't get a fair shot at it as I had a previous appointment and needed to leave that day by 3:00p. But both building and mechanical maintenance gave me about 6500 - 7500 steps each (I didn't keep track those days since they were below the 10,000 step mark). But, by the time I left the campus on Friday, my Fitbit had reached close to 27,000 steps. My personal best was about 28,000 from last summer working at Jr. High church camp. So I did a little more activity Friday night just to top the 30,000 step mark.


We'll see what the next work day brings.

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