The green grass grows all around ... and that means homeowners are pulling lawn mowers out of hibernation with fingers crossed and a plea to the god of small engines to give them just one more season, please. But when prayers don't work, thank goodness for the small-engine repair shop. One that's been chugging along for years is Fuller's Saw Shop on Versailles Road.
Grassroots movement: It's late afternoon before shop owner Scott Fuller has the time to sit down and talk. "Am I getting backed up? Oh yeah. I can go through my tickets and tell you what day the sun was shining." Nighttime temperatures consistently in the 50s, Fuller says, make the grass really take off. A lawn mower, even the ride-on kind, can suddenly seem no match against the green monster underfoot. A flock of sheep becomes tempting.
Fuller's almanac: Unfortunately, zoning rules put a damper on many livestock dreams, so that leaves most of us dependent on motorized grass eaters. For Fuller, that's a good thing. And right now, it's a lot of a good thing: Mowers are lined up out back and fill the front room, awaiting attention.
"We try to educate people to get them repaired in winter. We do a mailer to our regulars," he says. But it's hard to change habits, so winters are a little slow compared with March and April, when his season "busts wide open."
After the spring surge, Fuller hopes for pennies from heaven in the form of regular rainfall, because nothing slows down business like a summer drought. "Last year was good, but the four to five years before that were rough," he says. "When it dries up, it literally dries up."
Tears shed in the tool shed: In a sharpening and repair business, you get to observe people's various attitudes toward tools: "Some people, you give them an anvil and they'd break it. Others will be a stickler for maintenance," Fuller says. And some customers grow deeply attached to their lawnmowers. "I had a little old lady who had a Lawn-Boy, it must have been from the late 1950s. I worked on it for her for years. I'd weld, I'd rig, I'd do whatever I could to keep it operating. I thought the woman was going to cry when I told her I couldn't fix it anymore. She just loved that mower."
Some disassembly required: Fuller has been in the repair business all his adult life. But even as a young boy, he felt a need to get to the bottom of things: "I was always a tinkerer," he says. "I had a little fire truck, and I just had to figure out how that bell rang." He then moved on to bigger projects: "I took apart Dad's brand-new lawnmower. Dad wasn't too happy about that."
The hole-in-the-wall gang: "My dad was originally in home improvement," Fuller says. "He started me working with him at the age of 8." Then his father, Bill Fuller, was in a bad car accident and had to switch gears.
Bill Fuller went in on "a little bitty hole-in-the-wall on National Avenue," says Fuller. "I worked in there, Jerry's Saw Shop, with Jerry Workman after school and on weekends. I learned sharpening, tool dressing, and then I told Dad what I'd learned. ... And I took a small-engine course at Tates Creek High School." After graduation, he started working full-time.
A wider swath: Fuller says it didn't take him long to realize the little saw shop wouldn't be enough to support him and his father, too. "We started doing mowers and moved to a bigger hole-in-the-wall, an old two-bay service station on East Third Street."
They changed the name to Fuller's Saw Shop. Dad ordered a custom-painted sign — "My mother raised Cain; she thought it was too expensive" — and they acquired their first authorized dealership, in Briggs and Stratton engines.
More dealerships followed. In 1989, it was on to "a pretty good-sized building on Thompson and Manchester." About 1990, his wife, Meg, started working in the office. Then in 1993, his father bought the current property on Versailles Road, next door to Day's Motel. An old house came with it. "We tore it down, and me and dad built this place, pretty much from scratch."
Cutting a finer edge: Fuller's father worked with him until he died in 2001. "He was adamant about getting in here." Dad stuck to sharpening — saws, scissors, axes, shovels — and sharpening human-powered tools is still part of their business.
In the shop were a couple of old-fashioned reel mowers, which have attracted a new generation of followers with their carbon footprint-shrinking ability. Fuller admires the way they cut: "They shear the grass instead of whacking it like a samurai sword."
Iron flamingos in the fire: But power lawn mowers and lawn equipment are about 80 percent of his work, he says. What else does he fix? Generators, compressors, pumps, roofing equipment, chainsaws — and the odd job: "Right now, I've got an iron flamingo statue with a broken leg to weld. I've had people bring me a door to cut off. Why me? I don't know."
His wife's turf: In his business, Fuller doesn't let the grass grow under his feet. "I'm still going to school; I'm still learning," he says. "It takes a lot of dedication."
But what about on his home turf? Is he out there with a trimmer when the workday's done? "I have been ordered by my wife not to mow the grass. My wife loves to mow, and that tickles me to death."