A landscape contractor’s view on propane mowers

November 5, 2013 By    

The landscape industry wasn’t ready for propane mowers five years ago. So says Jerry Schill Jr., president and CEO of Schill Grounds Management.

“The dealers heard about them, saw them and liked them, but they scared the [heck] out of them,” says Schill, whose landscape contracting business is based in North Ridgeville, Ohio. “There weren’t enough people in the marketplace interested in the product to invest in it.”

Schill also says a number of manufacturers were still doing research and development on propane mowers just five years ago. The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) was invested in propane mowers a few years ago too, he adds, but Schill wasn’t ready to commit then because this area required further development.

“There were horror stories on getting parts and conversion kits fast enough,” he says. “My fleet managers weren’t tuned in with all of that stuff. Neither were the local dealers. They were counting on outsider sources.”

But the marketplace has changed considerably in the last couple of years, Schill says. That’s why he made a major investment this year in his mowers, converting about 40 percent of his 80-mower fleet to propane. Ultimately, Schill’s goal is to convert his entire fleet to propane by 2015.

“Our goal is to buy and replace our mowing equipment on a regular rotation,” he says. “We typically keep our mowers for four years. We replaced more this year than we needed to. As we cycle out the older equipment, we will convert.”

Schill Grounds Management specifically turned to John Deere’s zero-turn mowers, and it plans to stick with John Deere because of its commitment to sustainability and its willingness to help his business transition to propane mowers.

Superior Energy Systems, based in Columbia Station, Ohio, has also helped Schill Grounds Management transition to propane mowers. For starters, Superior is doing the conversions for Schill with EnviroGard kits.

“We certainly had never done this before, and neither had Superior,” Schill says. “There were some hurdles we had to get past.”

In addition to converting mowers, Superior supplies Schill with propane cylinders for its mowers about every other day. Eventually, Schill’s plan is for Superior to put tanks and dispensers on site to simplify filling. For the time being, Schill estimates Superior is rotating out about 72 tanks over two days for his company.

“The nice thing about working with Superior is they’ve gone down this road with us,” Schill says. “It hasn’t been problem free by any means. Our dealers are learning things, too. We’re all learning this process. The cool part about it is everybody’s in a room trying to figure it out. We believe it’s the right thing to do for the environment and the economy right here in the state.”

Schill also says any problems he’s encountered with his propane mowers are no different than his gasoline-powered ones. Still, he points out that his company hasn’t been operating propane mowers all that long. And he’s looking forward to seeing how propane mowers perform against traditional gas mowers over a longer stretch.

“A lot of people say you can double the life of the oil and cut back on your maintenance [with propane mowers],” Schill says. “We have not honestly done it that long to substantiate those facts. But what we are seeing is we’re checking the oil at 100 hours and we are seeing much cleaner oil, and we are seeing air cleaners that are in much cleaner shape.”

In addition to mowers, Schill Grounds Management is exploring converting pickup trucks to propane.

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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