Lawn Day's Journey

updated 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WHEN IT COMES TO CHEERING UP a convalescing relative, Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old retired security guard from Laurens, Iowa, doesn't let anything stand in his way. After he heard last spring that his 80-year-old brother Henry, in Mount Zion, Wis., had suffered a stroke, he decided to pay a visit. "I figured I'd better go see him now while we're both alive," says Alvin, who hadn't seen his sib since 1987. But driving a car was out. Straight had let his license expire in 1989 because, he says, "I can't see good enough. Before I get halfway through reading a sign, I've gone past it." Mass transit was out too. Henry's place was too remote to be reached by bus. But Straight was nothing if not resourceful. On July 5 he just fired up his Ariens riding mower and hopped aboard for the 325-mile trek. Sticking mostly to back roads and driving on shoulders, Straight planned the trip to be safe, even enjoyable. At speeds approaching 5 mph, he says, "I could see what the crops was lookin' like."

In fact the trip was even slower than Straight had anticipated. Hauling a 10-foot trailer to carry gas, food and camping equipment, his mower broke down after just two days. Hiring a man with a truck, Straight returned home. He bought a 1966 John Deere lawn tractor for less than $400 and began his odyssey once again. During the next six weeks on the road, he replaced his drive belt twice, spent $250 for new parts and fretted over his own chassis as much as his vehicle's. So sore was he from the ride, "When I got here, I could barely make it with two canes." Yet he did make it, on Aug. 16, and Henry, the oldest of six, was "glad," says Alvin, to see his little brother.

Motorists, however, may have less reason to celebrate. Despite the two strokes, heart attack, fractured leg and broken neck that Henry has suffered over the years, "I'm gonna go down in my tractor next year and visit him," he says of Alvin. "I can't drive legally either."

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