Suds And Elbow Grease

Now that all the athletic fields, golf courses and turf areas are ready for winter, it’s time to think about the most expensive tools--the equipment that make our jobs more efficient. I know many of you haven’t finished with leaf cleanup yet, but the turf is going into dormancy. So it’s a good time to get started before some of you are shoveling snow.

The Walk Around

Walk around the equipment, and notice anything that is out of order. Is the fuel tank hanging by bailing wire, is the throttle cable broken, or does the machine look like it’s fallen off the trailer a few times? Check everything from the straps on the backpack blower to the shaft of the weed eater. Do a visual check of all hydraulic hoses and lines. If there are any in question, take note and replace during the actual maintenance. Remember, this is the image you wish to portray to the owner or the public that finances this equipment. Mowing equipment is expensive, so preventative maintenance will extend the life of each machine. Also, talk to the operators to see if they have experienced any problems with the machines throughout the season.

Bath Day

Get out the hose and soap and give each machine a good bath. Take all the protective shields off to get to those hard-to-reach places forgotten during the season. Take special care not to run water into any of the electrical components, such as the alternator. This may result in a short or failure of the electrical system. Get under the equipment--often overlooked during the season. Grass will accumulate on the frame and hydraulic lines, and rot the steel when it gets wet. Make sure to clean the mowing deck, using a putty knife to scrape off old, clumpy grass. A pressure washer is a great tool for cleaning, but remember it has a higher pressure than a hose, so the water may be forced into areas where it can do damage to the bearings and any greased area.

Once the machines are thoroughly cleaned, it’s time to examine the internal systems:

· Locate all the lubrication sites, or grease fittings. Check with the manufacturers for these sites when in doubt, and be sure to use the type of grease recommended. Usually, a multipurpose grease will satisfy the needs of most manufacturers.

· Check any linkage or lever controls for proper movement. If they are loose or sloppy, replace or readjust to proper specifications.

· Check all safety switches. If a switch is broken, someone could be seriously injured, resulting in a legal issue.

· Inspect all the belts and hoses, consulting the list you made earlier for the worn hydraulic hoses. When in doubt, change hydraulic hoses because when they rupture, they create a mess and environmental hazards. Unfortunately, hoses seem to break at the most inopportune times and places--at a playground or a soccer field. The first mess is the gallons of fluid spilled, and the second is the dead grass.

· Change the fan and deck belts, if needed

· Look over the radiator hoses, and change if necessary.

· Change the oil, air, hydraulic, fuel and water filters (on some machines). When draining these filters, take notice of any metal, a tell-tale sign of something starting to go wrong in the engine or hydraulic system. If the problem is caught early enough, you may be able to rectify it at a reasonable cost.

· When putting the new filters on, mark with permanent marker the date and hours of the machine on each unit, which will help in keeping track of necessary maintenance.

· Remember not all oil and hydraulic oils are the same, so check with the manufacturers for the specific type for each machine.

· If some of the equipment is gasoline-driven, a tuneup may be in order. Change the spark plugs, ignition wires and points (if so equipped).

· Some engines require that the valves be adjusted at periodic engine hours. Once again, check the manufacturers’ recommendations.

The Grand Finale

Now that you have repaired the equipment, changed the fluids and filters and replaced the hoses and spark plugs, it’s time to record the maintenance procedures in a log book. You will be amazed when you review the log book and discover how long it’s been since certain repairs were completed.

Get out the touch-up paint and wax, and give that workhorse the shine it had originally. Keeping the equipment looking and running well tells the owners, board members, commissioners and citizens that you appreciate their support in doing your job.

Sean McHugh, CGCS, is chief superintendent of Golf Turf for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail at