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They mow acres of grass – a yard at a time

By Staff | May 4, 2009

Prime the fuel line, pull up the handle, pull the cord…sput…sput…sput.

Pull up the handle, pull the cord…sput…sput.

Stand up, mumble a few words, wipe the sweat from your brow then repeat the process.

If the mower doesn’t start at this point, it’s time to call Jim Jahnke.

James ‘Jim’ Jahnke has been professionally in the lawn care and landscaping business, in this area, since the Spring of 1981.

He got his first taste of landscaping at the age of 15 when he worked at the Elmore Nursery. For five years he was employed by the Coupangers at the Elmore business. Then he worked about 11 years at another landscaping firm before deciding it was time to start his own business.

“I started with one mowing job the first year I was in business,” says Jahnke. “It was pretty slim-pickings for my wife Judy and I back then. In fact, I remember making only $144 for a month’s work.”

Jahnke said he recalls running one ad when he began his service in 1981 and that was the last time he ever advertised.

“Now we get our jobs mostly through word of mouth,” says Jahnke who has acquired a lot of satisfied repeat customers over the years.

Currently, the service area Jahnke’s crew covers includes Fairmont, Winnebago, Mankato, Blue Earth and several of the smaller communities within this radius.

In the past, it was not uncommon for Jahnke’s work crew to consist of his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and other relatives. Presently, Josh Dulas, Chad Halverson and Steve Willette are his principal employees.

Doing custom lawn work and landscaping demands not only the ability to perform strenuous physical work such as lifting, stooping, kneeling and a lot of walking, but it also requires knowledge of the basic operation, skill and ability to safely operate equipment.

Another requisite is a landscaping license. Each year, Jahnke must renew this licensure through the State of Minnesota at a cost to him of $425. He also carries liability insurance and possesses a sales tax identification number.

“The State of Minnesota gives only one warning to those people not legally licensed,” says Jahnke. “Then they can go through your records and fine you for each job you have done.”

He also says people legally don’t have to pay you for lawn mowing or landscaping if you don’t have proof of this licensure or certificate of insurance.

Another thing Jahnke has learned through the years is you get what you pay for.

“When I began my business, I bought my first mowers from Menards and J.C. Penney,” says Jahnke. The cost was right, but the mowers didn’t last.

It wasn’t long before he learned where to buy good equipment.

“I buy my West German-made hedge clippers from a company in Georgia,” says Jahnke who has used his personal pair for the past 25 years.

He purchases spades from Ohio. This is one of only two places in the United States to sell the brand he prefers using.

Lawn care requires more equipment than just mowers. Currently, his crew has at its disposal two apple orchard ladders purchased through a New York firm, 15 walk-behind self-propelled bagging mowers, a 50-inch deck riding mower, chain saws, weed eaters and power blowers.

Jahnke needs this assortment of equipment in order to do the different tasks his clients request. Not only does his crew mow lawns, but they also clean eave troughs, spade-up gardens, put in landscaping rock and edgers, as well as plant and trim trees and shrubbery.

“We have even cleaned-out houses,” says Jahnke of his diverse services.

In other words, his crew gets a lot of jobs other people don’t want to do because of the hard, manual labor which many of the chores require.

One job he does not do and will not do is custom spraying. This job, he says, also requires a special license.

“The hardest job I ever took on,” recalls Jahnke, “was putting in 186 trees and bushes and 500 feet of edging at a place in Minnetonka. We had 40 ton of rock, as well as a load of sod to lay. What made it so tough was we had to use a pickax to chop through the existing surface. Then, because we couldn’t use a tractor because of the lay of the land, we had to scoop and haul everything by hand.”

But Jahnke does have jobs he particularly likes such as trimming and doing landscaping work.

“Mowing is a good job too,” he adds. “If I’ve got the help, I don’t mind the snow removal jobs either, but I’d rather do mowing and tree trimming. Mowing isn’t like snow removal, because you generally have a little more time to get to it.”

He tries to set-up a schedule with his regular clients. This allows him some leeway so he can do other ‘odd jobs’ as well. His dream job would be to get a State of Minnesota job once a month.

“Most of the people I have worked for are real good,” says Jahnke. He even trimmed trees for the late Chuck Pasek, who hosted “Bandwagon” on KEYC-TV for many years. Currently, he does a lot of work for Seneca and BEVCOMM. The farthest away Jahnke’s crew has worked was in Minnetonka, but they have also worked as far west as Jackson and Rock Rapids, south into Algona and east to Owatonna.

“I also have a number of jobs we do for people who have homes here but live in another state,” says Jahnke. “I generally help maintain their yards by keeping them mowed or remove the snow from their sidewalks.”

Some lawn care tips Jahnke passes along are to mow only when the grass needs it and not to cut grass below three inches.

He says if he had a motto for his business it would probably be “we’ll do every job, start to finish, whatever you want us to do.”

While on a job, Jahnke says he has gotten involved in all kinds of things. While trimming bushes once, he was asked if he could stop his work and change a flat tire. These little extras have undoubtedly aided him in his business.

When Jim isn’t out on a job, he enjoys going to stock car races. He and his wife have gone to Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and throughout Minnesota to watch them. The couple also likes to go to flea markets, particularly the large ones held in Fort Dodge or Rochester.

Jahnke’s favorite hobby is spending time with his family, particularly his grandchildren.

After 28 years in the business, Jahnke has no intention of retiring in the near future nor in changing his work or fashion style.

“My family gives me a rough time about my clothes,” grins Jahnke. “I basically wear the same style of clothes I did when I first got into the business at age 15. I like wearing my leather jacket, boots, blue jeans and having my shirt-sleeves rolled-up.”

Jahnke knows lawns are more than just dirt and grass. They are often extensions of a person’s home. These lawns are also extensions of himself.

“When I’m done, I want it to look good,” he says.