Middle Tennessee's mower drivin’ man

Aug 26, 2016

Edgar Elliott
Credit S.L. Alligood

WATERTOWN, Tenn. (WMOT)  --  Edgar Elliott of Watertown, Tennessee was a man, always on the go, even if he moved slowly…very slowly. 

You see Elliott, 85, owned one mode of transportation: a yellow riding mower.  In good, and sometimes bad, weather the Michigan native and retired machinist who moved to Wilson County almost 30 years ago, drove his mower two miles into Watertown.

Sometimes he made the trip every day.

In town just about everyone knew his friendly smile and most called him by his first name. His reputation as the “man on the mower” promoted him to iconic status, said Dave McKinley, one of many who called Elliott friend.

“We all know him from riding on his Cub Cadet mower. We’d see him riding about town and he’d put a smile on your face. Sometimes on my worst days I would see him and he would cause me to smile,” the long-haul trucker said.

Wilson County Sheriff’s Deputy Joey Patton and a lifelong resident of Watertown called Edgar a fixture in the community.

“You saw the yellow mower. You knew who it was. He would be behind Three Forks feeding stray cats. Or would be in the Dollar General.  He was just a fixture of town. If you’d ever been to Watertown you’ve probably seen Edgar running up and down the road.”

Almost two weeks ago, someone took notice that Elliott hadn’t made his rounds in a couple of days, to the Three Forks grocery store, to the Dollar General and the various downtown shops where he usually checked in. At his secluded home off Neal Road his six dogs were found eager to be fed, but neither Edgar or his mower could be found. A search party was formed.

Don Vaden, a retired truck driver, was part of several dozen concerned friends who tramped through creeks and pastures looking for the mower riding man.

Credit S.L. Alligood

“I started as soon as I heard he was missing, which was about 2 o’clock Tuesday when I heard that he was missing. I heard it from my cousin’s wife. She told me she had seen something, seen a posting on Facebook about it. I said I’ll see you. I’m going to go find the man.”

The search turned up nothing and the sun was beginning to tilt low in the sky when Vaden and two others came to a drive that hadn’t been checked.  Vaden, a man with the grizzled look of someone who’s seen a thing or two in his many years crisscrossing the country in an 18-wheeler, remembered the moment clearly.

“I told the other guys to hang back. I told them I’d go to the top of the hill to see what I could see,” Vaden said. He had a hunch that proved correct.

“I found him just before dark.”

Edgar Elliott had driven his mower down the lane.  The lawn mower, the Cub Cadet that Watertown citizens had given him a year ago, replacing one he had worn out, flipped over and Watertown’s man on the mower was lost….but not forgotten.

Last Saturday, the town remembered Elliott in a way the older man would have appreciated. A convoy of nearly 50 riding lawn mowers, four-wheelers, a few golf carts and one man on a bicycle followed retraced Elliott’s route to his home.  

The event began with a prayer for Elliott and a call for “riders, start your engines.”

The line of slow-moving lawn mowers, led by a police cruiser with its emergency lights twirling, made their way to busy Highway 70, where the sight of so many mowers rumbling along on the shoulder of the road, slowed automobile traffic as curious drivers wondered what was happening.

It was just a town paying tribute to a unique friend in a unique way. Tomorrow (Aug. 27) at 5 p.m., friends of Ellliott will gather again for a memorial service at the Depot Junction Café in downtown Watertown.