Geoff Gobbett in his workshop. photo: Felix Constantinescu

Geoff Gobbett in his workshop. photo: Felix Constantinescu

Just ask for the ‘Lawnmower Man’

Geoff Gobbett teaches small engine mechanics

Roxana Constantinescu

Photos by Felix Constantinescu

The loud shop noises filled the cold January air as I approached the back of the high school, ready to interview Mr. Geoff Gobbett and his Grade 10 Small Engine Mechanics class, who kindly allowed me to visit them one chilly Monday afternoon.

The program started at the onset of 2020 as an introduction to all things mechanical. Students interested in this subject can dip their toes in the water and see if their passions and interests hold, in which case they can enrol in automotive mechanics for grades eleven and twelve. While I was visiting, the students in the older grades were working on changing the throttle position sensor on a customer’s car, and had repaired the muffler just that morning.

The Grade 10 students — Lex, Aiden, Ben, and Nick — are taught by Mr. Gobbett to fix old and broken lawnmowers, although on occasion they’ve dabbled in fixing ride-ons and have even tried their hands at snowblowers.

Their detailed and thorough approach to learning amazed me. Some engines, dubbed ‘training motors,’ are used simply for assembly and disassembly. Mr. Gobbett teaches his students to take apart the lawnmowers then put them back together again. Sometimes they start, other times they don’t. Eventually they get trashed, but practice motors are essential to the first component of the class—becoming intimately familiar with all their parts. Students take apart the lawnmowers, diagram every part, and reassemble them. Their knowledge is then tested; hopefully the lawnmowers start, or at the very least spark or puff.

All of that learning translates to fixing lawnmowers which they later sell to the community. Depending on how many students partake in the class, typically they work on two to three motors at a time.

At the beginning of the year, all the students work on the engines together with Mr. Gobbett. The more they learn, the more independent they become. Late in January, Mr. Gobbett can delegate jobs such as cleaning the carburetor or sharpening and balancing the blade, and the boys know how to perform these tasks without help or supervision. Of course, problems always crop up here and there, but Mr. Gobbett steps in, when necessary, to keep the operation moving.

The hardest project they worked on, they remembered fondly, was attempting to fix a snowblower one of them purchased for $100 from a gentleman who assured him that after an hour of TLC the machine would start without a problem. No such thing occurred. The class tried various ways of fixing it, from putting in a new carburetor to changing the fuel lines, to no avail. Finally they discovered the problem — the snowblower had no compression. They didn’t lose heart, however, for everything can be scrapped for parts, which is what they ended up doing with said snowblower.

They also reasoned that the lessons learned from this failed project were worth every penny of the $100 invested. Even parts from busted lawnmowers can be used to fix nearly perfect machines missing only one or two components, which are then sold to customers from all over the Kootenay Boundary.

The class’ enthusiasm grows with every donation they receive. Sometimes the boys embark on a short field trip with Mr. Gobbett and his trailer and go pick up the donated lawnmowers. Each new engine provides an avenue for learning while also strengthening their friendships. While some boys have gone into the class already knowing each other, new relationships are created between the students as they meet daily to tackle fixing lawnmowers together.

The students’ love for mechanics extends into their home lives as well. Not only do they work on lawnmowers at home, but some of them tinker with cars and other machines as well. One student told me he and his friend even raced ride-ons last summer! Many of the students plan to pursue mechanics in the future.


Just one example of the many old and broken lawnmowers the students try to repair to its former glory. photo: Felix Constantinescu

Just one example of the many old and broken lawnmowers the students try to repair to its former glory. photo: Felix Constantinescu

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