Of Leaves and Men  

Jackson Gillman © Autumn, 2003

I’ve heard of leafblowers.  I’ll bet you have too, even from blocks away.  I’ve thought of them as an extravagant gadget for people who don’t know the joys of raking.  I used to consider raking a pleasurable fall pastime but as I get older, unless I’m making a game of it with my children with aerial payoffs in the end, I now admit I find it more of a time-consuming chore. 

I’d never heard of a leafsucker though, until my brother-in-law rented one for the weekend; not to suck leaves but to examine its potential to inspire a new tool for the cranberry bogs.  An amazing gearhead, Keith creates lots of original machines for his cranberry farm.  Anyway, when he was done with it, he dropped it off so I could try it on our leaf-covered lawns before it had to be returned the next morning.  I normally wouldn't go in for such gizmos but I figured, what-the-hell, not having to rake will save a lot of time and energy. 

He shows me how it works.  Starts right up.  But it’s as loud as a jet engine with the throttle all the way up, and when it’s up – whoah, the suction on this baby!  Don’t let any article of your clothing near it or you’ll wind up in the bag. The zipper on the bag, however, is irrevocably jammed partway open.  So to prevent the leaves from just flying through, clever Keith just stuffed in a few burlap cranberry bags to plug up the hole.  After he leaves me with the rig, I improve on the system using clothespins to keep the burlap in place and it works like a charm -- for a 1/2 minute till leaves clog up the front end and have to be cleared, after stopping the machine first, of course.  Any significant amount of leaves clogs the thing up again, and the same procedure repeats itself several times until I finally make about two swipes across the lawn and it seems to lose suction.  Why? -- it isn't clogged.  No -- it's full already?!  Sure doesn't take long.  Got to empty it.  The zipper won't go either direction though, so I guess I'll have to paw the leaves out. 

You know what it's like to empty a vacuum-cleaner bag when it's the last one you have left, and the only way to keep vacuuming is to empty the one already there?  You sort of pinch the detritus through the hole, little by little, all the while not trying to breath in the fetid dust.  Well, that's what it was like, except it required a lot more muscle and YUCK - what the hell did the last person suck up with this contraption -- asbestos?  

Well, it's empty now.  There must have been a lot of leaves in this before I started, and those extra burlap bags took up some space, too. So I further refine the system and use just one bag pinned in place.  Start ‘er up again. Oops, too many leaves.  Or maybe a stick got in there? Stop it, clean out the clog, start again, and so it goes…  Damn, the neighbors just drove in and are watching.  I know if I were watching somebody farting around with this misappropriate use of technology, I'd think they were nuts, not to mention lazy and stupid.  Well, I'll just go slower so it doesn't clog as often and show them how efficient this can be.  Hey, where'd the suction go?  It can't be full again already -- I've hardly done three passes.  It is.  I've got to tease out the contents again.  No, I've got a better idea.  Take out the burlap bag, start it up, and blow it out its arse onto a tarp!  Yep, it works like a charm, if I continually kick the bag and keep the contents churning, like a mini cement dust and leaf mixer. Yeah, this works a lot better than if the zipper had worked, as long as I keep up the bag-kicking jig.  And it’s a lot more exercise than raking.  Am I having fun yet? 

I don't know, but this is getting a bit more efficient with each creative jerryrigging.   Reposition the burlap bag now without even stopping the machine; just cut the throttle so the exhaust can actually help plaster the bag in place.  No, too much…too little.  I'll get the hang of this.  Okay, off again. It’s a neat sound to hear the scrunch of the dry leaves getting whisked and compacted.  But now all I can hear is the din of the engine – clogged again.  Maybe I don’t have to stop it to clean it out.  Hmm, I can figure out a system that’s safe.  Well, maybe not.  The thought of a news headline – “Lazy ass bastard loses hands in leafsucker” gives me pause.  At least I wouldn’t have to rake anymore. There, a couple more swipes.  Full again! Okay, just blow it out the back…

Stop and start it all again.  Hey, that's the chorus to a great Jonathan Edwards song.  That's what I need -- a good work song, but who’d be able to hear it?  This machine is a lot heavier than a lawn mower to push.  Man, I'm tired. Who the hell thought up this labor-creating device?  I don’t want to sing, I want to kvetch. It's getting dark. I've done one quarter of the front lawn.  After all this effort, I’m resolved to get at least half of it done.  I'll rig a flashlight so I don't keep clogging it up with sticks.  Suck one up and you have to stop, drop and roll it up to unclog, and yank it up again.  I could have had this entire front lawn raked up by now with half the expenditure of calories, not to mention the waste of gasoline.  This is exactly why we get bamboozled into absurd wars. John Henry could have beaten this machine with a toy rake when he was knee-high to this leafsucker.  I still haven't finished half the front lawn but I surrender.  Not in defeat mind you.  I just can't see a damn thing unless I rig some floodlights, and really get the neighbors laughing.  Or get them ticked off at me for keeping them up past bedtime.

My son, Avery (at 2 1/2), was caught by a passing photographer lying down on
a leaf raking job and ended up on the front page of the local paper. (photo by Elsa Allen)

I am trying to imagine who would find this contraption useful.  Aha! Someone with a huge plantation-like lawn who only wants to scarf up an errant leaf here and there to keep it spotless.  They certainly wouldn’t push it over all that acreage though; probably tow the screaming machine with their Hummer.

The machine had to be returned to the rental place the next morning or there'd be an additional fee on top of the $90.  I'm sure they never ask a customer how it worked for them.  They know the answer.  They've yet to have a repeat customer for this bogus bronco.  I told them though. 

The leafsucker name is apt, not for the machine, but for any sucker who rents this loud, ungainly, obnoxious, fume-belching, worthless windbag which really does suck.They were shown the permanently stuck zipper and it was agreed that the machine was not usable in that condition.  Even if we hadn't gotten our money back, the experience though was worth it.  After this, it'll be such a pleasure to gather the leaves with the perfect, simple instrument – a rake!  It works like a charm.


Yes, some people have the proper attitude towards these crispy seasonal gems...
(photo by Elsa Allen)


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