J&L Lawn Care hanging up their hoses after 50 years

Jim and Lynn Coffin are shown with all the equipment they needed to do most any lawn care job. They started J&L Lawn Care in Elgin 50 years ago and are now retired. (Jack Swanson photos)


J&L Lawn Care hanging up their hoses after 50 years


By Jack Swanson



Lynn Coffin has never met a dandelion she didn’t want to spray.

That’s according to Lynn’s husband and co-worker/partner Jim.

They have retired from their business J&L Lawn Care after 50 years in the family-owned enterprise.

“When we started out, neither one of us knew anything about lawn care, we were just after the dandelions and then we went after the broadleaf weeds. We just didn’t like them in our lawn. So we started out doing our lawn when we lived in Elgin and then my mother’s lawn. The neighbors liked what we were doing and asked us to do their lawns, and then another, and then another. So it just snowballed,” Jim related.

Jim was a farm mechanics instructor at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar when the business got started. He retired from there after 40 years of teaching. He devoted nights and weekends to the lawn care business while Lynn took care of some of the jobs during the day, if she could work it around raising their four children.

“We started out doing jobs in Elgin. Then I went to West Union and I started going door to door when I saw a problem. I would just haul my little tractor around on a trailer that Jim built,” Lynn said.

It wasn’t long before they were traveling to several different nearby towns including Postville, Elkader, Ossian, St. Olaf, Wadena, Calmar, Wadena and Fort Atkinson to name a few.

“At our peak we did 950 homes in the fall,”  Jim said. “I don’t know how we did it with just Lynn and me.” 

Jim was also teaching a special John Deere program through the school for the last eight years he was there and Lynn did lots of volunteering, helping with the cheerleading program at Valley High School along with the volunteer aide program, helping match up volunteers with teachers, which won her the Governor’s Volunteer Award.

The two said they are both nature lovers and think that has something to do with their affinity for working with lawns. They said it wasn’t long before they started making a name for themselves in the lawn care business.

Eventually they were required to be licensed by the State and get a permit. Then they took a test every year to renew that permit.

Wind speed and temperatures are both big factors when applying herbicides. Too much wind can cause disasters when the herbicide is blown onto a neighboring yard of property. If the temperature isn’t right, the herbicide could be useless.

Jim said he gained some experience through growing up on a farm and hands-on experience as a mechanic working for Falb Implement for a short time.

Lynn mowed her family’s yard in St. Louis and the story that Jim related was she would get down on all fours on the lawn in the middle of mowing and to try and eyeball the level of the grass to make sure it was all even.

“I take a lot of pride in it. I like to drive through the towns where we’ve worked and see how nice the lawns look. If I do spot something that doesn’t look right, I will call and suggest we put on a little fertilizer,” Lynn said.

Jim said Lynn would handle most of the orders. “She was more one on one, and then she’d tell me what I had to do,” Jim said.

The Coffins said the job can be enjoyable but not everything’s rosy. “It can be stressful, keeping everything right, following the wind and doing everything according to what’s on the label,” Lynn said.

They agreed that sometimes people can become apprehensive about the chemical aspect. “We tell them we will treat your lawn like we treat our own. We’re not going to kill the flowers,” Lynn said.

They also have to schedule around rain and around outside family events, pointing out that rain will wash away all of their work and that they wouldn’t want to see someone’s children, or pets, running around in the grass just after they sprayed it. That’s why they always called the day before their visit to let people know.

They also upgraded over the years from the one small garden tractor to having two pickups, which both hauled garden tractors, and the larger pickup has a tank to hold 300 gallons of chemical and 300 feet of hose.

Over the years the Coffins discovered that hand spraying and walking the yards or areas to be covered is actually less time consuming and more accurate than using a tractor.

“You have to be in good shape,” Lynn said with a grin.

“For most people it’s too much work. Now, there’s really nothing left out there to replace us,” Jim pointed out.

“It’s all been positive for us,” Lynn remarked, expressing sadness at letting it go and saying how she enjoyed the physical aspect of the spraying, meeting the customers and developing a rapport with them. Several customers have commented that wouldn’t recognize Lynn without her rubber boots on that she uses when she sprays.

Since Jim has some health issues and they want to travel, they decided it was time to retire.

“We appreciate all of your business throughout the years and it has been a pleasure to serve you and get to know you,” the couple said in a letter they sent out to their customers.




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