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DayCreek Journal

June 29 , 2010


Sears Craftsman Model No. 917.273200

Sears Garden Tractor
Ten years ago, it seemed the right choice. I had a lot of mowing to do and the local Sears had a robust parts department so when the time came for garden tractor parts, I had a local source.  And so began my relationship with a Sears Craftsman garden tractor.

The first few years were for the most part heavenly bliss. We'd ride together every week or so happily cutting down everything from real grass blades to burdock. The only disagreements we would ever have would be if the grass was too wet. Then the tractor would end up with a "stuffy nose" and I would have to get off the tractor and clean out the clogged, matted green mess from under the mower deck.

As time went on, a few repairs were needed. Belts would break, tires went flat but all-in-all, it was still a reliable machine and the local Sears had a parts department that made things simple. Yes, we had our disagreements and yes, it was starting to nag on me every time I had to get off the mower to unclog the mower deck when the grass was wet. And...did I tell you about the safety feature that shuts the mower off every frickin' time I got out of my seat or causes the tractor to backfire when I hit a bump?

By 2005 the local Sears store shut down their parts department. This was a big blow to me since by now, my model no. 917.273200 tractor had long since been discontinued. (I think they change model numbers every year just to confuse the general public.)

With the parts department gone, I could no longer buy belts locally. Yes, Sears does carry belts in their stores, but not for my beloved model no. 917.273200.

Years passed. We grew apart. I think it all started when I was violently thrown off the tractor and down a ravine with the garden tractor rolling over me. As punishment, I refused to cosmetically fix the tractor once she was pulled out of the ravine. Half of her body is still to this day a mangled piece of green metal. A stark reminder of that faithful day.

After our tumble, we became more aware of the local topography and steer clear of any potential "pit-falls". Oh...about that pesky seat switch that kept causing me headaches. It was damaged in the accident. Duck tape has fixed the problem with the seat safety switch. Now when I get off the tractor, she still runs and never backfires.

A few more years passed and her body began to fail. One sunny afternoon we went out for a ride and she came back missing a leg off of the mower deck. A trip to my neighbor's welding shop and she was fitted with a prosthetic leg. Although she hobbles a bit, she still gets around.

Now we get to this year. Her tenth year. I made the fatal mistake of mentioning to my neighbor how much I liked the Koehler 24 HP motor. On our first ride this year, we were about 3/4 done with mowing when all at once she lost half of her power. We limped home, completing our mission but her vital signs weren't good.

I checked the obvious. I cleaned out the air filter and checked the gas filter. Still, her power was cut in half. Unfortunately I didn't have any time to diagnose her problem further before leaving on a two week trip to Texas.

Upon my return, the grass was out of control an I still had a sick puppy on my hands. I had to get the her fixed and fast!  I decided to check the spark plugs. They appeared to be fine, but you never know for sure just by looking at them visually. I started her up and pulled one of the wires off of one of the plugs and to my amazement the tractor didn't die. I ran exactly the same as before. Eureka! It must be a bad plug.

Wrong diagnosis. The problem wasn't the plug. There was no spark coming from the end of the wire. So...it must be the wire, right? Maybe it was the wire, maybe it was the coil. Either way, it didn't matter since it was one single part. I found this out after spending close to an hour taking the housing apart to get at the wire!

After spending hours hunting down the problem, I placed an order through the Sears Internet On-Line Parts Department. Part #24-584-11 (Ignition module). I ordered two of them since I figured the second one was likely to fail too. I was assured (via the automated email response sent to me) that the part would be on its way within 24 hrs.

Two days passed. Still no confirmation that it had shipped. By now the grass is taller than the Sears Tower (Oops, it's not called the Sears Tower any more. Probably out of shame for closing their parts departments across the nation. It's now called the Willis Tower...or is it The Big Willie?)

I call their "hot-line" and get a canned response that I need not worry, the part is on its way. Two more days passed and the grass is now tall enough to be seen by the International Space Station.

One week passes and finally UPS arrives with the part. Two hours later, Sears calls me to inform me the part is on its way. Yea, right.

With two new ignition modules in place, I fire her up and we're back to full RPM! Off we go to cut down a forest! The grass is so thick and tall, I am forced to go s-l-o-w-l-y through the green mass. About half-way through, the belt breaks. I must now go through the ritual of taking off the mower deck. I have done this so many times by now, I can do it with my eyes closed which really doesn't matter anyway. The frickin' cotter pins that hold the armature can't be seen since they are placed in the most inconveniently locations imaginable.
 
After replacing the belt and reinstalling the deck, we are on our way again. About 7/8's of the way through, I run out of gas and leave the tractor parked in the field overnight.

The next day, I fill up the tractor and try to start it up. I crank and crank and crank, but she's not even coughing. Dead as a doornail. I check the fuel line and no gas is getting through. I now have the option of either sucking gas through the gas line with my mouth or cutting the wire ties that strategically hold the fuel line above the gas tank level preventing the fuel to gravity feed into the carburetor.

I cut the wire ties and the fuel now begins to flow. Who was the moron who designed this thing anyway?

For the next week I mow without incident. Life is good.

Did I mention how much it has been raining this year? The grass is growing at a phenomenal rate. It needs to be mowed every week or sooner. Waiting 8 or more days means you pay the price: The mower deck clogs at every turn, mowing is slow.

As usual, Jo and I went to the MREA (Midwest Renewable Energy Association) Fair. Bad move. No...not the fair...it was great as usual, but the grass now is 9 days past cutting. I will have to pay dearly for this faux paux.

Cutting ever so slowly under humid conditions, the mower deck is still clogging constantly. The grass is so wet from recent rains it is nearly impossible to cut. I get about 5/8's of the way done and something doesn't sound right. I look back and the swath I have just tried to mow and it is not mowed. The damn belt broke again! This is a new record! Twice in one year the mower belt has met its demise. I drive the garden tractor back to the house and my plans are to take off the mower deck the next day and replace the belt. (At least experience has taught me to keep a spare belt on hand at all times since I can no longer to go Sears to buy the belt.)

The next day, I awake to another morning of monsoonal thunderstorms. Inches of rain are falling again. Looks like 3/8's of the lawn won't get cut until next week.

It's now June 21st. The first day of summer and time to put on the new belt and mow not only the 3/8's of the lawn that didn't get mowed last week, but now it's time to mow the rest of the lawn again too.

I lower the deck, replace the belt and oh, by the way, I replace the blades as well. I decided that instead of trying to sharpen them again, I will give my honey a treat and give her a fresh new set of blades. I also give the underside of the mower deck a good cleaning. Gosh she sure looks pretty.

I decide to start this week's mowing session by cutting down the 3/8's of the lawn that didn't get cut last week. The mower is working just dandy! No clogs, blades whirring. Life is good.

Suddenly the engine dies.

I try starting her back up and ... she's purring like a kitten. Hmmm... I release my foot off of the clutch and she dies again. Hmmm... I keep my foot on the clutch and engage the mower deck and she dies again. Hmmm....

It's acting as if the seat switch is bad. But that can't be happening since I already bypassed the seat switch a few years ago. I double check my bypass wiring job and everything checks out with an ohm meter. Huh.

After reviewing the schematic to the tractor, it appears that something else is triggering the safety feature on the tractor that shuts off the tractor any time someone appears to be doing something stupid.

As it ends up, having just a seat switch isn't enough. The engineers who designed this safety-first mower, also installed a relay in-line with the seat switch. The relay also has gone bad. So...now I have bypassed the relay as well.

For those of you who wonder what I'm up to these days, I think this journal entry pretty much sums it up. So far, I have had one week without mower troubles this year. I'm now trying for week #2!

—Alan Stankevitz

Cliff Swallow
A Cliff Swallow gathers mud for its nest near Hokah, Minnesota.