Randy Hawse says he often feels like Tarzan in the jungle. Instead of swinging from trees, however, he’s swinging from mowing his accounts during the day to playing his banjo at night. He’s comfortable with the role, though. It’s something he’s been doing for the better part of 40 years.
For 16 of those years, the owner of Randy Hawse Landscaping in Wilmington, North Carolina, played banjo on a riverboat. While he performed, his wife, Regina, worked as the onboard cruise director and DJ. Three years ago, the boat moved on, but no worries for Hawse. His reputation was well-rooted, just like the grass he mows. He quickly picked up a gig with a group called the Folkstone Stringband, and the show goes on several days a week with over 250 gigs last year.
Imagine working days in the southern heat and humidity, then showering, changing clothes and playing at a venue for several hours. There would have to be plenty of enjoyment involved and, for Hawse, there is. He likes operating his Walker Mower nearly as much as he enjoys strumming a tune.
“I started mowing and playing the banjo at about the same time,” Hawse recalls. “Our family moved from West Virginia to North Carolina in 1970, and a few years later, as a teenager, I started mowing neighbors’ yards and learning to play.”
One could say his mowing career took off a little more quickly than his music. After the phone never stopped ringing, his father, a chemist with DuPont, convinced his son to install an answering machine in his bedroom. “That was the beginning of having more work than I could handle,” says Hawse. “In fact, I haven’t done any advertising in more than 30 years.”
He continues, “In 1989, I needed a new mower and visited a nearby dealer. I had $4,000 in cash in my pocket, but for some reason, the dealer didn’t want to sell me a commercial mower. At another dealership, I saw my first Walker Mower and I didn’t care how much it cost. I wanted it.”
Hawse says that 16-HP unit with a 42-inch GHS deck cut down his mowing time from 90 minutes to 20 on one account alone, and he could almost discard his string trimmer and rake. As his business grew, so did his fleet of Walker Mowers. He later purchased two 20-HP models with 48-inch GHS decks, followed by two 26-HP electronic fuel injection (EFI) units, again with 48-inch decks, and many of the implements and accessories that go with them.
Adds Hawse, “I gave a 20-HP unit, along with a 54-inch side-discharge deck, to Dad to mow back on the farm we still owned in West Virginia. He loved the way it steered compared to what he was using, one with a steering wheel.
“For me, operating Walker Mowers is like going to work every day at Disneyland. If you want to go somewhere, all you do is move your little finger and you’re there. In addition to being easy to drive, they’re powerful; leave a manicured, precision cut; and make quick work of picking up pine straw and magnolia leaves.”
Prior to the Great Recession, Hawse grew his company into a full-service landscaping business, offering landscape installation and irrigation, as well as mowing. Since then, mowing takes precedence, although he still offers renovation and irrigation services to 50 or 60 of his current mowing customers. He does it with two full-time employees and one part-time employee who work virtually year-round with him.
Over the years, he’s learned a few valuable lessons. In 2000, he commissioned a fabricator to build a new trailer. One of its unique features is having two spring-loaded ramps, one from the trailer to the ground and the other from the trailer to his dump truck. After pulling up to a site, he easily lowers the rear ramp and drives away with his mower. Returning with a dump box full of grass, he simply backs up the ramp, nudges the other ramp to the dump truck with the mower and up he goes.
After depositing the grass with the power dump, he’s ready to resume mowing. “The outfit beats battling heavy wooden ramps, and using a pitchfork to load debris or handling heavy tarps full of grass,” he remarks, adding that he has run across a few other helpful hints.
“The out-front deck actually helps me control insects like chinch bugs. Notice my white socks. If there are any chinch bugs in the lawn, they fly over the deck and land on my socks where I can easily spot them. They’re very destructive, having one fang that sucks the sap out of the grass and another that excretes waste. Because they’re small, the size of a pin head, their strength is in their numbers. Leave them on the lawn for a month and you’ll be calling a sod truck.
“When working in the sun all day like we are, I advise people to go to their dermatologist twice a year. I’ve had several pre-cancerous cells removed and one spot on my arm that could have been very serious.”
He offers two other suggestions. “Most operators understand how important it is to grease their equipment, but some grease fittings can be hard to reach. I purchased a Lincoln grease gun that attaches to my air compressor. With one hand holding the hose and the other on the trigger, greasing even difficult fittings is made easy.
“Make sure to change the straps on your backpack sprayers. They don’t last forever. Three years ago, one snapped while I was taking the sprayer off the trailer. Somehow my ring finger got tangled up and broke. The doctor put screws in it, and after three surgeries, even today I can’t bend it all the way. The injury didn’t impact operating my Walker Mower since it’s so easy to steer, but I had to relearn how to play parts of the banjo.”
Hawse ends the workday by playing a couple of tunes for the Walker Talk editor and Regina, who adds a bit of irony to the story. “Randy probably hasn’t told you he is backed by a world-renowned banjo string manufacturer located in Michigan. Just goes to show you how mowing lawns with a Walker Mower and playing a banjo is a good fit for him.”
The name of the manufacturer? GHS Strings.