Turf Magazine - August, 2014

SOUTH FEATURES

Landscaping Horror Stories

By Steve Rak II

I had an employee call in once because his goat died. Another time we hired three college students and asked them to meet us at the job sites where we had 100 yards of mulch to spread. They showed up in a Pontiac Trans Am, and by our morning break something strange had happened. Like Houdini they and the Trans Am disappeared. They just vanished.

Then there was the time I was mowing with a 52-inch walk-behind and noticed that the bottom of the mower was in flames. By the time I ran to a house to have them call the fire department (there were no cell phones in those days kids) the mower and an adjoining tree were engulfed in flames. We later had a funeral for the mower, but that's another story.

Did you ever back up your truck and forget there was a trailer attached, crammed with mowers and other landscape gear? Say in a Taco Bell drivethru? Talk about some disgruntled drivers behind us. Their mood didn't get any better when they found out we couldn't make the turn and had to back our way out.

Have you ever been riding along on a walk-behind with a Velkee and hit a stump? It's kind of like gymnastics when you almost fly right over the front of the mower.

Speaking of mowers, have you ever lost one in a lake? Sure you have, but have you ever had to have the customer pull it out with their backhoe? My friend, who also happens to own a company, had an employee lose a mower in an in-ground pool at one of his wealthy client's mansion-not sure how that one ended, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't good.

And there was the time a new employee showed up on his first day of work sick as a dog with the flu. It was one of those 90-degree days and he didn't bring any water. When we took a break I looked over at him and he was drinking my water!

We also tried hiring temps at one point and this one guy shows up in red sweatpants drunk as a skunk-we sent him home without pay.

I broke my leg once in April (don't ask, but yes it was on the job) and didn't get back to work until November; how do you think that year worked out for us?

Then there was the time I cut off the tip of my finger on the cheese grater spinning flywheel thing they used to have on the mowers under the pull start. My finger kind of looked like ground beef.

Have you ever been weedwacking and walked right into one of those window air-conditioner units? That's good for a few stitches in the forehead.

One time I was mowing a common area at a large HOA and these punk kids started throwing eggs at me from their front porch. Cell phones at the time were of the large brief case-type bag variety and we kept one in the truck. Of course the kids didn't think that the landscaper would have access to a phone. Generally we wouldn't use the phone because it cost like a million bucks per minute in those days, but I called the police anyway. I then parked my mower across the street and watched the fun unfold as the police pulled in the driveway at the same exact time the dad was coming home from work.

We used to work out of an old barn and there were bats that lived there. For some reason in the mornings when we came to work there would be dead bats lying around in front of the barn. We would have to scoop them up with a shovel and throw them into the field so we wouldn't run them over with our trucks. The barn also had a leaky roof so when it rained outside it rained inside. Our trucks got washed for free.

I hope you have enjoyed some of my stories from my days in the field. I figured it's mid-summer now and time for some comic relief. Now get back to work and don't lose your mower in the lake.

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.