Archive for Thursday, May 18, 2006

Monarch of mowing

May 18, 2006

Whether he agrees to it or not, Bill Sanders is the king of Baldwin City mowing.

"Oh, I don't know about being king," said Sanders. "I do a lot of mowing in Baldwin. Most of it is in Baldwin, except for two pieces. OK, I guess on king. I've been called a lot worse."

Sanders has been mowing big and small parts of Baldwin since 1987. One of his clients since the beginning has been Carl Butell of the Baldwin State Bank. Butell agrees with Sanders being called the lawn mowing king.

"Well certainly. Yes," said Butell. "He keeps the grass mowed down on the lot over here."

Butell considers Sanders to be a model contractor, someone the bank doesn't have to be concerned about.

"I would say that," he said. "We don't worry about the grass. It's in good hands and we appreciate it over all these years."

Sanders keeps his hands full. There so much business, he has to turn it down. No one wants to mow lawns anymore, he said. He does.

"I've got 39 accounts, some big, some small," said Sanders. "The biggest is what I call Andy Schrock's lot (Eisenhower Street and U.S. Highway 56). It's his lot. Doc Jones' office (810 High Street) is the smallest down here."

His "fiscal" year usually starts in April and runs through December. But not always.

"I go from April 1 to about mid December," he said and just shook his head when asked how much grass he mows. "A lot of it. Most of them you mow once a week. That's a lot of grass in that period.

"The weather has a lot to do with it," said Sanders. "There have been years when July, August and September have been slim because of no rain. There have been years when I'm mowing in November and December every week when there's a lot of rain."

Then, of course, there are weird years within a year. Such is the case so far in 2006.

"I actually started mowing this year in mid March," he said. "Then it got dry, then we got rain. It's slowed some because we've got the cool weather now."

Twice retired, but still mows

Sanders' life hasn't always been spent on a mower. Far from it. He started his mowing business on the side almost 20 years ago.

"I started in 1987," said Sanders. "I'm actually a retired iron worker out of Local 10 in Kansas City. Then I went to Vinland (Elementary School) as janitor and retired from that in 1998. But, I was still working iron when I started this (mowing).

"I enjoyed Vinland more than anything," he said. "I like to mow, but that was my favorite job over the years. It was a whole lot more fun than iron working."

His iron working, which he did for 29 years, included the high wire work as a structural worker. Those are the welders, etc., at the top of the multi-story buildings. It's not easy, or safe, work.

"Your chances of surviving an iron working job is like a bull rider," said Sanders. "I've seen a lot of people make it through, but I've seen a lot die."

He's also seen a lot of people that just worked iron in the summer. The money beckons.

"I probably worked with 40 or 50 guys that just iron worked for money for college," he said. "They earned it."

The day and equipment

Not too many people work a 12-hour day when they're 68 years old and retired twice. Sanders does.

"Normally, my day starts about 7 o'clock and ends about 7 o'clock. That's a typical day," said Sanders. "Yesterday (which was a Sunday), I didn't start until 2 o'clock and quit about 5. I like to mow downtown when there aren't a lot of people and cars."

Of course, Sanders is armed to the hilt in his war on grass. He's got two mowers, a bevy of weed-eaters, plenty of gas cans and a pickup with trailer to tote it all around with.

"I've got two walk behinds," he said of his mowers. "One's got what's called a bilky and one is called a slide that I stand on."

He's got a Toro with the bilky and a Honda with the slide. He's also got another.

"I do have a John Deere stand-on that my grandson runs," he said.

However, lawn care is more than mowing. In fact, the king puts it in percentages.

"Mowing is 25 percent of the job," Sanders said. "Getting it cleaned up with the weed-eater is 75 percent. If you don't do that, it's an ugly yard."

And, no, the weed-eating isn't the good part.

"No, it's not much fun," he said.

That's not to say he doesn't like the job. Not at all.

"I enjoy it," said Sanders. "I do enjoy it. You'd have to enjoy it to do it. I believe you ought to do what you want to do if you're not compensated for it."

What's also not fun is the business end of it. Yes, he feels the high gas prices.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I've had to raise my prices some. I try to keep my prices down for the elderly."

The king's crown

As well known as Sanders is around town for mowing, he's also known for "the hat."

"They call them railroad hats," he said. "People ask me where I parked my train. I say it doesn't have anything to do with that. It has to do with my uncle on the farm."

No, the blue and white striped hat doesn't have anything to do with the railroad. It's because of his early days.

"How that got started was when I was a little tyke following my uncle around on the farm," Sanders said. "He used a team of horses to plow with. When he broke at noon, he'd use that hat to gather eggs from the hen house and the barn for lunch. He did the same thing in the evening, too."

Won't retire again

He may have retired twice already, but the king has no plans for stepping down from his throne.

"Not until they pull me off the handles," said Sanders. "They'll have to come out and release my grip. I don't plan on retiring and sitting on a couch. That's not my ambition."

Long live the king.

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