by Carl Jarvis
Long before many of you were able to do more than wet your diapers and hunt for your lost Binky, my neighbor Earl and I invented the Amazing Blind Mowing Machine.
The year was 1967 and I had been totally blind for just over 2 years. I had devised a tedious method of mowing my lawn, involving a couple of long stakes with heavy twine tied between them, driving them into the ground at each side of the lawn, then walking out three strides and backing up to the twine again, moving over a short distance and doing it again. Over and over, each time I reached the opposite edge I'd move the stakes up three paces and repeat the trip. It got the job done, but it took two and a half hours to mow what I used to mow in just an hour.
My neighbor Earl was a backyard inventor, having several patents on some clever and useful gadgets. Watching me got his creative juices running in high gear. "There must be an easier way for you to mow that grass," he mused one day as I was wiping the sweat from my brow. "Do you mind if I try designing something?" I said I didn't mind, as long as I was involved in the design. And so we thought and thought and figured and figured and scratched our heads and scratched other places, too. Finally it was designed, drawn up, materials purchased, and the finished product was hauled into my yard and set in place.
There it stood, the Amazing Blind Mowing Machine. A long rail ran the length of my lawn, topped with a metal runner. On the runner was attached a pulley. From the pulley ran a length of heavy fishing line. The line was attached to a device that I strapped to me. It was about 18 inches wide and had a peg at either side. The fishing line was wound between the pegs. After I mowed one length of my yard I would wind the fishing line up one turn, reposition myself and trundle back down the lawn just barely overlapping my first cut. And to keep me on target, each peg was attached to a buzzer. If I veered just a bit to the right, "Buzz, buzz, buzz!" And if I went too far to the left, "Rasp, rasp, rasp." So down the yard I went, rasping and buzzing away. It worked, but it drove me crazy. I would have junked the whole thing then and there, except old Earl stood tall and proud, smiling his big, happy grin. So I thanked him and put cotton in my ears.
But that was only the beginning. One fine morning a few days after our trial run, a knock came at my door. There stood a young woman and a young man. "We're from the Seattle Post Intelligencer," she proudly announced. "We're here to see your Amazing Blind Mowing Machine in action."
Earl must have been watching out his side window, because he came bustling over eager to explain just how he came up with this wonderful invention and how it had made life so much easier for me. The next morning, there I was. Fortunately not on page one, but on the first page of B section. As if that weren't bad enough, my phone began ringing off the hook. The story had made the AP Wire Service. Calls came in from Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Kansas and several from local towns. "When are you going into production?" they all clamored. "Boy, how's it work? Can we have it shipped by next April?"
But good things happen to good people. We sold our house and moved several miles away from Earl. I packed up the Amazing Blind Mowing Machine, promising Earl that I'd be setting it up first thing. Then I stacked it in the garage and forgot it ever existed. New address, new phone number and the calls quit coming in.
But I can't help wondering. Did someone in the National Federation of the Blind hang onto that old AP press release and decide that if it worked for a lawn mower, it just might be adapted to a car?