June is go-time for Fredericton 'ride-jockey,' tattoo artist, lawn mower guy

John Godin says he has always been mechanically inclined. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC - image credit)
John Godin says he has always been mechanically inclined. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC - image credit)

No Mow May is over for another year, and in backyards everywhere, lawn mowers are conking out in the middle of thick, tall grass and dandelions.

"It's like a hayfield," said John Godin, one of Fredericton's veteran lawn mower repair guys.

Godin has been fixing lawn mowers — and various other machinery — for so long now, some of his customers are third generation.

His business card boasts a litany of services and mower problems he can deal with: carburetor rebuilding and adjusting, bad winter gas, ignition problems, wobbly wheels, pull cords, primer bulbs, seized/broken cables, blade sharpening, bent shafts, running rough.

"Some things are fixable easy and some, not so much," said Godin, whose yard is filled with mowers waiting to be repaired or ready for resale.

Ironically, Godin's own lawn is a bit shaggy in places.

Jeanne Armstrong/CBC
Jeanne Armstrong/CBC

That's because most of his mowing is done by customers doing test drives, and so far, he said, it's been a slow spring.

No Mow May began a few years ago as an ecological initiative to help pollinating insects early in the season by leaving flowers on lawns to feed them.

At the time, it was "no big deal," said Godin. Maybe 10 people in Fredericton were doing it.

Now, he and other repair shops are noticing a big drop in May business.

Godin figures people are enjoying the excuse to avoid yard work.

"They sit there thinking, 'Oh, we're going to whoop her up for a month — watch the playoffs or whatever.'"

He doesn't mind much.

"Bees are a necessary thing," he said. "I've got peach trees … and without them it just wouldn't bring any fruit."

But he could do with fewer dandelions. Their fluff has been flying like snow, he said, to the point he was worried his new granddaughter might inhale it.

Godin had a few calls last week from people who'd given up on No Mow May a bit early. With the arrival of June, business is really picking up.

"One guy said, I'm clear to my knees and the thing won't start," he said.

They thought it was seized. It wasn't. You just had to dig out a garbage can full of grass. - John Godin

Grass buildup behind the mower blade is one common problem.

"I've had them so packed … they couldn't pull the handle."

"They thought it was seized. It wasn't. You just had to dig out a garbage can full of grass."

But Godin estimated about 80 per cent of the mower-engine problems he sees are related to use of cheaper grades of gasoline that are blended with more ethanol.

"Anything carbureted should have supreme gas in it," he said.

"The good stuff" is only $2 more per jug.

Ethanol is a kind of alcohol, added to gas to boost octane and it burns cleaner and more completely than gas or diesel, according to Natural Resources Canada. In Canada, it's mainly made from fermented wheat and corn.

Godin doesn't think much of ethanol in lawn mowers. And he refers to it as "corn oil."

"Corn oil is good for one thing,che said, "and that's frying Dippy Dogs down at the Exhibition."

Marc Fournier, a customer service employee at Yard Gear in Hanwell, generally agreed with Godin's advice on lawn mower fuel.

Supreme gas is less prone to water condensation or buildup of gunk on the carburetor or in fuel lines from fuel stagnating in between uses of the engine, he said.

As far as electric mowers go, Godin doesn't work on them, but he did offer a tip to avoid the common problem of batteries dying.

Take it inside for the winter," he said.

Otherwise, a new battery costs just about as much as a whole new mower.

Jeanne Armstrong/CBC
Jeanne Armstrong/CBC

Godin said he's always been mechanically inclined.

He worked for the city water department for 36 years.

Before that, he did a stint with the Bill Lynch travelling carnival, where he learned about things such as welding and centrifugal force.

"I learned more there than I learned anywhere," he said.

"I looked for old guys that worked there that had all their fingers. That was the guy you hung around with."

Crush injuries can happen easily, he explained, during the frantic work of setting rides up and tearing them down.

Godin was a full-time "ride jockey," for a couple of years. And he continued to do repair work for decades afterward. He was one of only a few people across the country who knew how to set up bumper cars, he said.

He even built his own ride, together with his eldest son — which looks like a mini version of a Scrambler.

They took it on the road for a few years, he said, operating it at fairs. When his kids were young, they went along, too, running games and rides.

Jeanne Armstrong/CBC
Jeanne Armstrong/CBC

He also did tattoos at fairs and at his home.

"She's been wild," he said, of his colourful career.

But alongside everything else, lawn mower repair has been a mainstay.

"It's just something to keep me out of trouble," said Godin.

"As my grandfather used to say, 'You young fellas keep busy. … keep you out of Dorchester,'" he said, referring to the prison.