Requiem For Old Red

This is the last post mow photo of Old Red, following his 1,083rd mow. He failed to re-start on 9-7-15.

In the end, the irony of his last mow occurring on Labor Day was poetically fitting. As his neighbor Bill so aptly noted, “He died doing what he loved to do, his hearty roar will be missed…well…he’ll be missed for sure”. Old Red, the 29 year old former self-propelled 2-cycle Toro lawn mower, converted into push mower status during his last 10 years, passed away quietly on Monday afternoon, at approximately 12:30CST. His 2-cycle engine, on it’s 1,083rd career mow and 37th of the 2015 summer, had stalled half way through a grueling Labor Day mow in 90 plus degree heat, with high humidity, and wet, damp grass. Too much turf, perhaps, even for the greatest.

Failing to re-start after several attempts by his owner, Pat Heffling, Old Red slipped into a coma and was later rushed to Middleton Power Center Memorial Hospital some 24 hours later on Tuesday, September 8th, only to be declared DOA by Chief Surgeon of the Service Center, “Tom” (that was the name on his name tag). After a few lackadaisical tugs on Old Red’s starter rope, lack of compression, a blown engine, was the official cause of death, although several conspiracy theories are emerging. More on that later, for now, here are the facts.

Old Red grew up in Sparta, Wisconsin, residing on the Gamble’s showroom floor until he was purchased by Fred and Adeline Heffling, residents of 610 Merrywood Lane, circa 1986. Originally a self-propelled mower, Old Red was operated primarily in Sparta by Adeline, and also under the occasional direction of Fred Heffling, Jr., Fred Heffling, Sr., and Pat Heffling. A sizable back lawn and ample front yard were the training grounds for Old Red, whose slashing, artistic cuts became legendary.

Later in the 90’s, Old Red became a free agent and was picked up by Fred Heffling, living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Old Red toiled exclusively there for several years under the direction of Heffling. “Freddy P.”, as he was referred to in the mowing community, employed Old Red exclusively and then on a part-time basis as a back-up for his extensive, award winning, landscaping and lawn grooming operation on Birch Crest Lane.

The turning point in Old Red’s career came when Fred’s brother Pat needed a simple mower for he and his his wife Cyndi’s property at the now legendary residence at 6950 Apprentice Place, Middleton. Per Fred’s insistence, Old Red made the move from Eau Claire to Middleton in 2006. No cash was exchanged, no mowers to be named later. It was a groundbreaking, or ground mowing deal, depending how you looked at it, that set the tone for lawn mower transactions in the years that followed.

With little or no front yard to mow of at 6950 Apprentice Place, Old Red instead focused on a 30 yard stretch of backyard that became his signature mowing ground. Now the featured mower, Old Red began racking up season after season of record breaking mowing numbers. Despite an aging engine and lack of available replacement parts inventory, Old Red, undaunted, rolled on year after year. His career was not without a few bumps in the yard, however; there was the memorable surgery that took away his self-propelled status, several broken axles, flat tires, and the never-ending battle with a noisy muffler. Off season trade rumors and Craig’s List postings, year after year, predicting his retirement, marred an otherwise cordial relationship with his owner.

The trade rumors and retirement stories never materialized, however, instead his mowing status reached epic proportions. He shattered the all-time mowing mark, an event covered globally and featuring Erin Andrews curbside for his record breaking mow. He ascended to the Big Lawn In The Sky as the all-time mowing leader, officially being credited with 1,083 total mows. He was on his way to a single season mowing total mark in 2015, the grass fueled by a mild summer of moderate temps, and muggy, humid, grass growing nirvana in early August and September. Averaging nearly 2 mows a week, the grueling service may have been the final blade that broke Old Red’s chassis. There are other theories, however.

Foremost among them being the Garage Sale Kidnapping staged by neighbors on July 28th, 2015, while his owners, Pat and Cyndi Heffling, were vacationing in Las Vegas. Photos of Old Red being offered up at a neighbor’s garage sale went viral, sending shock alarms throughout the mowing community. As luck would have it, it was just a silly ruse that went awry, a cruel trick intended to amuse his general driver, Pat. Instead, the ploy enraged Old Red, who voiced his disgust with his owner while the ruse subsequently sent Old Red on a five day drinking binge to calm his nerves. Whether or not the “false kidnapping” can be attributed to Old Red’s demise is open to question, but the trauma endured by Old Red may have been a contributing factor.

Suicide? Pundits who followed Old Red throughout his career noted his off-the-cuff remarks about taking straight gasoline on several occasions, a sure fire way to end his life. Old Red’s tank was found 3/4 full with the proper mix of 2-cycle oil to gas ratio levels that kept him in shape for 29 years, but some cynics insist that it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Old Red siphoning a shot of snowblower straight gas to end it all.

Overworked? In his pursuit of the all-time mowing record, critics point to the strain the record may have caused in the long run over the years. His owner was been criticized on a regular basis for “pushing” Old Red too hard. Could the Labor Day mow have actually been intended as a fatal, “last mow”? Over the years Old Red and Heffling unabashedly aired their differences. Evidence suggests otherwise, however, as Heffling was forced to finish the Labor Day job with a Great States two wheel rotary blade mower, Old School, with impending rain showers in the forecast. Side note: the showers never materialized.

A rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Old Red worked hard, played hard. After resting in the garage through November and December, hurling good-natured insults at the Simplicity snowblower, Old Red wintered for the remainder of the off season in Costa Rica at the Hard rock Hotel and Casino, eschewing workout regimens for three months of drunken debauchery, January through March. Although he often appeared out of shape going into every mowing season, Old Red credited this routine for prolonging his career. A long list of casino markers with outstanding debts in the six figures may also have contributed to this theory.

Nevertheless, when the grass grows beyond four inches this week at 6950 Apprentice Place, it won’t be Old Red belching out of the garage to take care of business. The grass clippings flying from his exit chute will be replaced by the infamous grass catching bag, and his signature loud rumble and constant roar will be finely tuned out with the introduction of a new, red, 22″ 2015 Toro mower wheeling onto the turf in his place instead.

Despite the controversy surrounding his death, Old Red will be treasured for his longevity, durability and off the grass shenanigans. He is, after all, the all-time mowing leader.

The color of the new mower may be the same, but the heart and soul of Old Red will never be duplicated.

Long live Old Red. Lawn mowing will never be the same, in fact, it will be much quieter.

And For What

This the last known photo of Old Red, being rushed to Middleton Power Center on Tuesday, September 8th, 2015.

Scotty Greene, Lawn Mowing Weekly, contributed to this report.

Please send all sympathy cards and large monetary contributions to:

Old Red Memorial Fund
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
Costa Rica

Old Red has requested to be cremated, his metal shavings to be scattered over the lawn of Bill S. and Kathy S., his favorite neighbors.

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