Researching Maintenance

Donate them to a museum * I have a Pennsylvania-brand power mower with a Briggs & Stratton 2 hp gas engine. I believe it is an antique. Do you have any information on this company or know of any way to get an owners manual for the mower?-Via the internet

* I have been gifted a Land Rally riding mower with an 11 hp Briggs & Stratton engine. Can you tell me who to call to get an owners manual for this?-Via the internet

I could not find any information about the specific brands mentioned here. Perhaps some of our readers are familiar with these machines and could provide some feedback.

These questions bring up an interesting issue: Can you obtain an owner's manual for older equipment if the manufacturer is no longer in existence? I am not aware of any official repository for such information, so the answer is likely to be no (unless the company was bought by another manufacturer still doing business). However, finding information about the mower is different than finding it for the mower's engine. Both of these mowers use Briggs and Stratton engines, which provides an avenue for obtaining information.

Dan Braun, a representative of Briggs and Stratton, states that his company generally maintains records and literature for their engines, even older models. Thus, if you need maintenance information or an owner's manual for the engine, you might be able to get it. Their website ( even has a page where you can enter the model number imprinted on the engine to obtain more information about it on-line. However, Briggs and Stratton does not keep manuals for all the mowers for which it supplies engines.

Other manufacturers gave similar positive responses. Ronald Rewolinski of Tecumseh told me that his company maintains many service manuals going back 20 years or more. Contact the nearest servicing dealer and tell them what you need. They would then place an order for the manual.

Dale Ten Pas, a member the Service and Technical Publications department of Kohler Engines, says: "We.maintain an extensive historical file. If someone needs information for an old engine, we would usually be able to provide it. We normally retain just one or two file copies of a particular manual, so we would not be able to provide the original printed copy, but we would be able to provide a photocopy."

Many other engine manufacturers undoubtedly maintain such records, as do mower manufacturers, so your best bet is to contact the company. If the company no longer exists, you're probably out of luck.

Nice flowers-how do I get some? Having seen your Research Update on the All-America Selection winners [bedding plant varieties], I was wondering how to find them. I am a superintendent and am always looking for new flowers to try on my course.-Iowa

According to Nona Koivula, executive director of All-America Selections (AAS), it often takes a few years for new varieties to become widely available. This chiefly is because growers often are reluctant to try new cultivars at the expense of tried-and-true types. Eventually, as some growers experience success with them, new varieties gain greater acceptance and you'll start seeing nurseries selling them more frequently.

On their is creating a Retail Locator where visitors can look up the nearest registered retailer that carries AAS winners. At this writing, the Locator was under construction, but Koivula says it should be open soon.

The AAS site also will include a Consumer Seed Source list. Though primarily tailored for the gardening market, this will provide another avenue for obtaining these varieties, but in seed form.

In the meantime, Koivula notes that anyone wishing to plant larger quantities of these varieties can special order them in advance from growers.

Try the linen department I am trying to find something called burlap leaf sheets. Who carries them?-Hawaii

Burlap leaf sheets are just that-sheets of burlap. Karen Bare, a horticulture specialist with Gempler's, notes that frequent uses for burlap sheets include wrapping root balls for transplant and serving as weed mats. However, people use them in many different ways.

Gempler's is the only horticultural supplier I located that sells burlap "leaf sheets," as such. However, quite a few nursery supply houses sell similar products, though they often call them "squares" or some other generic name. Further, numerous burlap suppliers that don't necessarily cater to the horticulture trade offer burlap material in just about any dimension you could want. You just want to be sure that the fabric hasn't been treated with some substance (to prevent biodegradation) that could harm plants.

A South Florida butterfly known as the Schaus swallowtail has undergone catastrophic decline in the last few decades.

In 1984, University of Florida entomologist Tom Emmel counted just 70 of the butterflies. Emmel traced the decline to two insecticides targeted at mosquitoes, which are serious pests in South Florida.

Restrictions on use of the insecticides resulted in an increase in butterfly numbers, until 1992, when Hurricane Andrew nearly wiped out the population. Afterwards, Emmel counted just 17 adults in the wild.

Fortunately, a captive breeding program at the University of Florida served as a source for reinforcing the wild population, which now has recovered to more than 1,000 butterflies. However, degradation of habitat remains a primary obstacle to recovery of the Schaus swallowtail. In South Florida, undeveloped land is becoming hard to find. Emmel, searching for ways to increase habitat for the swallowtail, has found some unexpected partners: golf courses, which own the largest tracts of open land in the region.

Two courses-Sombrero Country Club (on Marathon Key) and Cheeca Lodge (on Islamorada Key)-are working with Emmel to establish "tropical hardwood hammock" habitat (the preferred haunt of the swallowtail) in their roughs. Pentas and fire bushes will provide nectar sources for the adult butterflies, while wild lime trees will provide food for the caterpillars.

The U.S. Golf Association is funding part of the project as part of its Wildlife Links program, administered in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Wildlife Links seeks to establish habitat on courses around the country.

Mike Kenna, research director for the USGA's Green Section, says: "We strongly believe there's a good compromise between having a golf course and protecting a lot of the wildlife habitat that's out there. Existing golf courses have a lot of open space, and if something can be done for the Schaus or other species, why not do it?"

What makes this project so critical for the swallowtail is that it helps link up isolated populations of the butterfly. Without habitat "corridors" through which the butterflies can move, isolated pockets of the swallowtails could suffer from lack of genetic diversity. Additionally, if individual pockets of the insect are wiped out, neighboring populations could not easily repopulate the site. The wild population of Schaus swallowtail now includes between 1,000 and 1,200 butterflies distributed among 13 sites. The habitat created on the golf courses, as well as similar changes taking place on public land, should help connect these isolated populations, increasing the chances of survival for this endangered species. Already, there are signs of success. Swallowtail eggs have been spotted on some of the lime trees planted for this project.

U.S. cities spend more than $135 million annually to repair what is believed to be tree-related damage to infrastructure. Cracked and raised sidewalks constitute a major portion of this. But are trees really to blame? That's been the assumption, which is why efforts to reduce sidewalk failures focus on sidewalk-friendly species, root barriers and other tactics. However, a group of Ohio researchers has questioned this assumption and come up with some surprising information.

The investigators evaluated hundreds of sidewalks in Cincinnati, Ohio, for signs of failure. Rated by standard criteria used by the Cincinnati public works department, blocks were considered to have failed if they were cracked, broken or offset more than 3/8 inch. The researchers noted the presence or absence of adjacent trees, the age of the sidewalks (from city records) and whether the underlying soils were rated as having slight, moderate or severe limitations for construction purposes.

The investigators found that the percentage of sidewalk blocks cracked or raised was higher for blocks without trees adjacent to them, regardless of age of the sidewalk. They also found that on newer sidewalks, some blocks were raised, but none by adjacent trees.

As for soil type, they discovered that soils with moderate to severe limitations for construction were associated with greater rates of sidewalk failure than soils with only slight limitations.

Based on these results, trees are minor contributors to sidewalk failures. The soil's suitability for sidewalk construction seems to have a bearing on failure rates.

Although some trees were associated with damage, all such instances occurred with sidewalks that were more than 20 years old. Cincinnati constructs sidewalks to specifications that should yield an average of 20 to 25 years of life. Thus, these sidewalks, from an engineering standpoint, did not fail prematurely. It is tempting to conclude that the sidewalks could've lasted even longer in the absence of trees, but the older sidewalks in this study without adjacent trees had even higher failure rates.

These findings should force us to reconsider the assumption that trees are a primary cause of sidewalk failure. This only prevents investigation into other causes of sidewalk failures.

Jim Cortese of Cortese Tree Specialists Inc. (Knoxville, Tenn.) responded to the Researching Maintenance piece about removing paint from tree trunks by sharing his own remedy. Noting that he has used this technique with success on several occasions, Cortese provides the following description:

1. Take a knife or wire brush and lightly go over the painted or stained area, removing as much stain as possible without cutting into the cambium. This may not get all of the paint, especially that imbedded in deeper crevasses.

2. Put 2 or 3 inches of soil in a bucket (use as much as you need to cover the area) and add water to make a mud poultice. Paint this liberally over the tree trunk.

3. Let the mud poultice dry on the bark.

4. Let the mud wash off naturally by rain or rinse it off with a hose. It's not necessary to remove all of it. According to Cortese, "the mud poultice simply stains the trunk a natural color and blends in the vandalized part with the rest of the trunk."

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