Getting equipment ready for use in the spring starts now, says Mike Stewart, Jr., president of Stewcare, a lawn care and snow removal company that has operated in Delaware, Ohio, for 36 years.
“Here in Central Ohio, we’re not cutting until April 15, maybe a few days prior, but generally our Grasshopper mowers are not out into the lawns until the middle of April,” Stewart says. “The most critical thing is not to go out to our shop on April 14 and have a machine not start when we know we should have had it fixed and ready in the winter.”
Since the company started more than three decades ago, Stewart, and his father, Mike, Sr., have identified two main strategies to protect equipment over the winter to ensure a quick start to the spring season.
“Battery tenders on your batteries is a critical thing, especially if you’re not in a climate controlled building, if you’re in a barn that goes below freezing,” Stewart says. “The batteries, they’ll drain, and in the spring you’ll have a dead battery. That’s one of the most critical things is to keep the batteries on a battery tenders.”
Engine winterization is the other key strategy for successful equipment use come springtime.
“In all of our gasoline pull-start engines, we’ll make sure to put some fuel stabilizer in the fuel tank, let it work itself into the fuel lines, so the fuel won’t tarnish over time,” Stewart says.
In Honeoye Falls, in upstate New York, Josh Schmieder is president of Josh Lawn Care & Landscaping. The company is entering its 11th season of lawn care in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region.
“For spring, basically we have a pretty extensive program," he says. "We have a full-time mechanic, and a couple of our team leaders will stay on part-time, and we go through very single piece of equipment we have. Every Bobcat, every truck, gets pulled into the shop where it’s cleaned and fixed. Every piece of hand tool, all of our trucks and trailers, and all of our equipment gets inventoried. Bearings on our trailers, all lighting and all wiring on the trialers are gone over. We grease every fitting. We replace all of our brakes, oil, even if it’s not quite ready to be replaced we do it anyway.
"Even if brakes have another two months on them we’ll replace them in the winter because we don’t want to have a truck down in the spring. Anything we can do in the winter, we do it. Wiring, if things are looking worn or corroded, we replace all the wiring. If there’s a chance that it will need to be repaired in the first three-to-six months of our season, if there’s a chance, we do it now.”
Just as Steward does, Schmieder sees value in engine winterization and fuel prep this time of year.
“For our mowers, and for our machines that don’t get run over the winter, we pull them inside. We put fuel stabilizer and anti-gel in our diesel tanks. This keeps our gas from gelling up or going bad over the winter. We do the regular maintenance, and then we’ll put a fuel stabilizer, or anti-gel if it is for the diesel, so it can start right up.”
The weather has an impact on how Schmieder plans his spring equipment preparations.
“Last year we worked until the second week of December. This year we had snow a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Winter came early. Within the first two weeks after we’re done for the season, we like to do have everything winterized,” Schmieder says.
Josh Lawn Care & Landscaping runs about 10 to 12 trucks on the roads, dozens of pieces of equipment, Bobcats, excavators, mowers and hundreds of hand tools. “To go over every piece one-by-one is pretty time consuming,” Schmieder says. “But to prepare for spring, everything that can be done now so that it doesn’t tie up a crew in the spring, we try to do now. The cost of replacing a tire on a wheelbarrow, the cost of doing that now versus the cost of losing a day, you waste a little money now rather than what you’d lose in the spring losing a day.”
Schmieder says all of this work in the winter is geared toward saving his most precious commodity in the mowing season: time.
“They don’t make an unlimited amount of time. We can’t manufacture more time for summer. We have a limited amount of hours in the summer so we’ve got to make sure we’re as productive as possible over the summer months,” Schmieder says. “Spring always comes way too soon.”