String trimmers remind us of advancements

Published 9:39 am Friday, April 27, 2018

String trimmers remind us of  advancements

At breakfast on Wednesday this week I enjoyed a good conversation with Billy Downs, and was once again reminded of the remarkable advancements made over the past century.
We all long for the “good old days” occasionally, but we learn those days were often not as good as we remember. Especially considering the advancements in manufacturing and technology.
Mr. Downs wanted to buy a classified ad in the newspaper to help sell both his weed trimmer and leaf blower. Both are in excellent condition and not very old.
No, no, Mr. Downs hasn’t stopped taking care of his lawn. He mowed and trimmed everything this week. After all, he’s only 85, and his birthday doesn’t come until December this year.
He just doesn’t need these old tools any longer because he has upgraded to all-battery power equipment. We talked a little about the changes he has seen in his lifetime regarding yard tools – and they’ve been monumental if you think about it.
The string trimmer was invented in 1971 and was a crude tool by today’s standards. George Ballas from Ruston, La., got the idea going through a car wash and watching the rotating brushes. It had always bothered him that certain places in his yard were just impossible to reach with the mower.
Ballas attached fishing line to a tin can and used a lawn edger motor to make the prototype. It worked reasonably well and he took it around to tool makers and manufacturers. No one was interested, so he began to manufacture his invention himself. He called it the Weed Eater and sales the first year were over a half million dollars.
Six years later, and with some refinements, Weed Eater sales were $80 millon. A year later, Ballas sold his company to Emerson Electric Company.
He died in 2011 at age 81, a very wealthy man thanks to his invention.
Since Ballas first attached fishing line to a tin can, the garden tool business has boomed. Folks these days have a little more time for yard work and Americans live in houses with an increasing amount of yard and flower bed space. String trimmers have never been more popular.
The company was already a mult-million dollar outfit when the gas powered trimmers were introduced, and homeowners everywhere rejoiced to be rid of the cumbersome extension cords.
Now, battery powered lawn equipment is taking over the market. Lithium powered tools have been available for several years, but are all the rage now because prices have fallen as quality has improved.
The best thing, Mr. Downs has found out, is how lightweight his new trimmer and blower are, and the fact that no longer does he have to pull a string to start the machines.
Yes, the good old days were good, I’m sure. But, when a fellow can trim his yard with no gas mixing, string pulling, or loud ringing in his ears, the good old days don’t seem so good.
I suppose in a few years Mr. Downs will be needing a classified ad to sell his ancient battery powered yard tools because his new robot grass trimming machine has taken their place.
What a day that will be, and surely it’s coming.

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