I Used To Feel This Way About Houses

My lawn mower has been broken for six months. This is mostly a non-issue on the farm (despite my previous posts about things that happen out here when you don’t have a lawn mower) because 1.) I now have a tractor with a brush hog, and 2.) two years ago I hired a professional to mow my lawn every summer, which is one of the concessions I’ve made to “doing it myself” that allows me to maintain my job, the rest of the farm, and what’s left of my goddamn sanity.

It was a great decision. Even though there have always been people (like my grandmother) willing to help mow…


And now, even though I have a tractor and a professional, there are still some spaces on the farm that aren’t quite big enough for the brush-hog (or could use a finer cut) and aren’t a part of my regular-mowing schedule. Also, my grandpa gave me this mower, and if there’s a thing I learned from my grandpa it’s that you don’t let a piece of equipment sit around broken…


And also how to rock a blazer and penny loafers. (Yeah. That’s how they used to dress me. I think my face says it all.)

So, what happened with the mower is that last summer I drove it through some high grass in the pasture that the donkeys had been snubbing for a few weeks, and then there was the unfortunate noise that indicates something just effing broke. After that, even though the PTO was on and you could hear it running, the blades on the mower weren’t turning.

Right about the time this happened my neighbor (have I mentioned lately how much I love my neighbors? because they are the best) gave me a crash course on belts and mowers, and even though we couldn’t see the thing, we determined that the belt that controls the blade either broke or jumped off the pulleys.

And so it sat in my barn for six months. Broken.

Totally unacceptable, you guys. I put “fix mower” on my bigass chalkboard of things to do this year because while it would be useful to have it fixed for the few little things I could use it for, it’s more important to me that I’m respecting, maintaining, and fixing all the equipment that makes it possible to keep this farm going.

So. First. I drank some sangria.


(Okay, first of all, it was Sunday, and I’d already busted my ass all day on other projects SO HOLD YOUR JUDGING. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m a better mechanic when I’ve been drinking.)

So, sangria first, and then I took the mower apart at the expense of two of my knuckles.


Nugs helped, as usual.

And, honestly, I didn’t even know if I was taking the right parts of the mower apart. I just started unscrewing bolts, hoping it would make sense at some part. Then I found that, indeed, there was a belt that had jumped off some pulleys, but since I have almost no working knowledge of belts and pulleys, I had no idea how to put it back on.


So I started turning pulleys around and messing with the belt and learned:

  • Three of them were attached to blades, and the rest weren’t
  • The belt definitely wasn’t meant to stretch around the outside of all the pulleys

Not enough to get everything working again. So then I started googling things, and learned:

  • Belt configurations on mowers are crazy
  • There’s something called an “idler” pulley (not connected to a blade)
  • There’s also something called a tensioner (used to keep tension on a belt, obv, and not connected to a blade)

Still, not quite enough knowledge to “do” anything with, so I made my last-resort phone-a-friend and called my dad.

My dad is, without a doubt, the smartest dude I know about any subject ever on the planet. And because we have the exact same temperament this actually was a small point of contention between the two of us since I was the age of five and thought I should be in charge of everything, ever. WONDER WHERE I GOT THAT FROM.

imageYeah. No resemblance at all.

There were a lot of years there where I wouldn’t call my dad for help out of principle (or, more accurately, ego) but this farm has taught me that I’m going to have to learn a lot of stuff about a lot of things, one hard lesson at a time. And sometimes those lessons require me calling my dad (who knows everything there is to know about pulleys, of course) while he’s all “could you just let me finish my sentence about the damn V-pulleys?!” and I’m all, “Will you listen to me? I have no idea what the fuck a V-pully is, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t one on this mower!”

And, eventually, I shut up and learned some things like:

  • There are no damn V-pulleys on this mower (ha), there is a “double-V pulley” though
  • When you have a V-pulley, the tensioners will always be on the “flat” side of the belt, for a double-V, all the pulleys basically look the same
  • The pulleys connected to the blades should have a lot of contact with the belt, since that’s what drives them

Then my neighbors walked over and saw that I was having issues with the mower and between the fact that I live next to a smart guy who fixes up WWII jeeps in his spare time, and ALL OF THE THINGS I just learned about pulleys…


Yeah. Fixed.

It seems like such a small thing, especially after you look at the difference between completely-effing-broken and fixed, but… But. This is how I used to feel about houses. There’s a point where you just have no context. You’ve never had to go through the mental exercise of figuring out how belts fit on pulleys, or how tiles stick on walls, or how sinks drain, or any of the other thousands of things that go on inside a house, and that shit is overwhelming.

It’s really easy to believe you’ll never understand it. Certainly never be able to understand it well enough to fix it.

And I’ll tell you what, the only thing that got me from “I don’t know a damn thing about pulleys” to “holy shit, I just fixed this thing” was the pervasive belief that there isn’t a thing out there that I can’t fix, or understand, or deconstruct and put back together again. It’s a belief born from years of almost-not-believing in myself and then pulling through at the exact minute I’m ready to give up. It’s a belief born from understanding that this shit is not that hard. It feels hard–like anything else that we don’t know about or haven’t done before– but it’s really just another lesson teaching us how to be stronger, how to be smarter, how to be more self-sufficient.

So, even though these days there isn’t a thing on a house I don’t feel equipped to fix, there are still plenty of times I feel at a loss. And if there’s anything I could share with everyone out there going through “a thing they don’t think they can do” it’s this… it’s the acknowledgement of the feeling of “I can’t” and the realization of– even though it won’t be easy– you sure as shit can.

That’s what dealing with belts and pulleys taught me last weekend anyway.

25 Responses

  1. Ioved this post! when we got our house inspected I was feeling so overwhelmed and lost that at the end I just asked the inspector “if I was your daughter would you let me buy this house”… and his answer was yes so I bought it and just started figuring shit out. Now, 4 years later, I’ve got more power tools then places to put them and even learned some basic pipe rebuilding through youtube videos. huzzah!

  2. It is amazing what one can accomplish with the right PMA, patience, some project knowledge ( dad & neighbor ) and a bit of elixir to help keep us settled. If you can’t google the knowledge you need to complete the task….ask a friend that has the product experience – one who has learned before you. Kewl of your dad to teach you the ropes…errr belts & pulleys and their uses on the mower deck, they can be a wee bit intimidating at first and yes, dads can fix anything 😉 Thanks for sharing…

  3. Kit – I SO enjoy ALL of your posts. This one though, man-oh-man, sure hit home for me. I think I’d like that on a t-shirt: “You sure as shit can”.

  4. There is no moment prouder than when you finally manage to get that damn belt back on the pulleys. ^_^ I did mine on my old mower several times.

  5. This is an absolutely wonderful blog. I’ve gone through the same thing myself with woodworking. Twenty-five years ago I couldn’t bang two boards together. Now I’m working on an elaborate home theater with doors and drawers, etc. But it started small, and as you pointed out, success breeds success. The more you do, the more you think you can do. You captured the feeling exactly with this sentence: “It’s a belief born from years of almost-not-believing in myself and then pulling through at the exact minute I’m ready to give up.”

  6. I love your “just dig in” attitude! That is how you learn! There have been many things that I have just tried without having any prior knowledge. Sometimes everything went great, sometimes I got in over my head. But that is how you learn!

  7. Is that a sky diver in the photo of your grandmother mowing your property? Cool!!! PS I love and have always loved your blog — one of the best out there IMHO!!!!

    1. It is! I forgot that was in that picture, it’s the only one I have of the mower in action. And thank you!

  8. Love this post! Totally speaks to me. “Almost not beleiving in myself then pulling through the exact minute I’m about to give up” is like the motto for 90% of my diy projects. Also, I recently learned about idler pulleys when my clothes dryer went out on me and I replaced that part after YouTubeing my problem. I was quite proud of myself telling people, oh yeah I just replaced the idler pully, HA! Like I’m an expert or something

  9. Really look forward to your posts. You are the BEST on the web. As a dad of 5, 3 girls, I always told my girls that “I could fix anything but a broken heart”. They all remember it to this day. Oldest is 37, youngest 31. You would be a GREAT daughter to have. I know your dad is super proud of your adventures. Maybe not all of them but surely most of them. I look forward to your next post.

    1. Ha. Yes actually it’s someone with one of those contraptions with a parachutes and a large fan… I forgot that was in this picture!

  10. Glad to see you got it fixed and enjoyed some sangreia as well. As an FYI for future reference, if you have a belt drive washer or a dryer then they also have a belt, a “idler” pulley and a tensioner.

  11. The best way to tackle any project is to just start! (And BTW, my Dad is still trying to teach me (my husband more than me) the lesson of respect your equipment. This weekend is sharpen the mower blades day.)

  12. I identified with this post 100%! I flip houses and I remember on my first house I was terrified. I knew NOTHING. Now I just can’t imagine why people think anything is that difficult. It can ALL be fixed. ALL OF IT. It’s just a matter of googling it or phoning a friend!

    1. And sometimes having the plumbing spraying water all over the place because you forgot to turn off the main water valve, but yeah. If you take the courage to try, you learn, from both the successes and mistakes! 🙂

  13. I don’t know who or how many people read your posts but I wish every female over the age of 6 could. You are one of the most inspiring people I don’t know personally. 🙂 I hope you are still posting into your old age and inspiring people along the way.
    Thank you for the taking the time to share.

  14. I love your post. Don’t let your ego get in the way of picking your dad’s brain of everything he knows, while you still can. I have recently needed to learn to weld so I can fix things on the farm. My Dad was a welder for all of his working life after one tour in the Marine Corps. Yes I failed to learn welding from him, and now I can no longer do so and had to pay someone to take a class. I’m no whiz in the kitchen and hated being in the kitchen as a child, but sometimes my mom made me help her, and I’m glad. Thanks to her I can now use a pressure cooker and make my own piec rust and bread. I would still rather be outside, but I have used those skills many times to feed the family.

    You CAN fix anything. Sometimes on your own and sometimes with the advice and help of others. Either way, you fixed it. You got this shit. You don’t need to pay some, ahem, “professional” gobs of labor money when all you really need to do is buy parts. It’s not about the money though. It’s about it being the self-reliant farmer’s way, the way my farming family has been doing for generations. By being stubborn and wanting to do it myself I’m maintaining the tradition of my farmer/homesteader ancestors. 🙂

  15. My FIL has a saying about broken things that we can fix, IE, ALL THE THINGS: it didn’t grow that way.

    Meaning, we can fix it. Once I realized he had the perfect way of looking at broken stuff, it took away just enough of the mystery for me to tackle (some) thangs.

    You’re a badass and you just keep on proving it. one fix at a time.

  16. Love the post. My father-in-law used to say “just cause it’s hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”

  17. Something ties in a house, a home and family like no other when it comes to getting things like tractors & lawn mower machines sorted out. . . my heartfelt cheers to you and your pops.. ^_^ Thanks for sharing this.

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