Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘diesel tractor

Rock Relocation

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When I told Cyndie I was ready to drive the tractor into the back pasture to pick up that rock, she asked if she should move the horses out. I figured they wouldn’t be a problem and suggested she leave them be, without expecting them to be near as chill as they ended up being when the tractor rumbled past them all.

None of them even lifted their heads from chomping away on the grass at their feet. It was a rewarding demonstration of how comfortable they are getting with their environs and our activities around them.

As I was filling the hole with composted manure, the horses took turns approaching the rock and the tractor to see what was going on in their field. I love being able to be in their space and have them so calmly accept our presence.

The labyrinth was the easiest place to put the rock and the easiest spot to set it down was on the outer edge. Without any pre-planning, I grabbed two other available rocks from nearby and placed them on top, reserving the right to switch them out later if we come across ones we like better.

There is something satisfying about this whole process that makes me want to do it right away again. Luckily, there is a known candidate for relocation currently buried on our north loop trail. I know it is there but I don’t have any idea how much of it is buried out of sight.

I’m hoping to find out soon.

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Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2022 at 6:00 am

Weed Control

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We had two primary goals in mind when we plotted a strategy for what we would focus our efforts on yesterday. The first was something I hoped wouldn’t take a lot of time to accomplish. There were two tipped trees with upper branches hung up in surrounding trees. Using knowledge gained by watching the tree professionals who worked for us last spring bring down similar “widow-makers,” I readied our chainsaw and headed into the woods.

With my mind focused solely on the task at hand, I failed to take any pictures of the leaning trees or the keen aftermath of my success in bringing them down. The big poplar near the road took a lot more time than I anticipated. After five successive cuts ultimately eliminating the lower trunk that had been leaning at a 45° angle, the remaining upper portion of branches stood vertical and was still tangled in the branches of surrounding trees.

I needed to go back to the shop to get our pole chainsaw to finish the job. By the time we finished cutting trees, the day was more than half over.

The second goal was to get the hay field mowed, a job that I knew would take more hours than I really wanted to give to the task.

The growth wasn’t excessively tall but there were plenty of weeds maturing and we didn’t want them going to seed. I finally finished around 7:00 p.m. after almost 5 hours out on the tractor. At one point, feeling like it was taking too long, I tried running in a higher gear to speed up progress. The bouncing and jostling were a bit too much and the high gear made backing up hard to manage. All I could do was plod along at a steady pace in the lower gear and keep making passes until the entire field was finally cut.

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Cyndie took pictures as I headed toward the gate upon finishing. For a relatively small field, it sure is bigger than it seems.

The horses were relegated to the unmowed back pasture for the day. They are doing a fair job of grazing the good grass in that pasture but there are enough unwanted weeds in that field that it will need to be mowed soon as well.

In a day or two, they will be allowed back on the grass in the hay field. Then I will spend the better part of a day mowing the back pasture.

As much as I dread doing the mowing, the fields sure look great with all the weeds knocked down. For now, in our minds, mowing is our preferred method over chemical applications for reducing weeds that are toxic to horses. It may not be as effective, but mowing doesn’t leave a weed killer residue in our soil.

I can live with giving two afternoons of my precious time to bouncing along on the diesel tractor a couple of times a summer.

It’s easier than chainsawing widow-makers!

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Full Day

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I didn’t set out to put in such a long day yesterday toiling away on big accomplishments, but circumstance allowed and I achieved much more than I thought possible. Cyndie was occupied in the kitchen canning jam with the help of her mother in the morning so I was on my own working outside. Since I got home from my bike trip I’ve intended to take the chainsaw to the large limb that broke off a big maple tree beside the back pasture.

I was eyeing that task while walking Delilah in that back pasture and pulling weeds that were getting tall. The dew point temperature was high and it was going to be a sweaty day in the great outdoors. Delilah likes being out with me so I picked the weed-pulling for her benefit before it got too hot. While walking the field, I sensed it would be mowable if no additional rain fell during the day.

That left me with two significant projects competing for my attention. I decided to start with the chainsaw on the downed limb. It was one of those cases where the more branches I cut and pulled out, the more branches it looked like remained. By the time I found myself soaked in sweat and exhausted, I had a mess of tree shrapnel, cut logs, and limbs for chipping to clean up. I began to think I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

Time for a lunch break in the air conditioning!

That renewed my energies and I immediately set out to finish and clean up my lumberjack work. Without a moment’s hesitation, I brought out the diesel tractor to take on the pasture mowing project.

Starting very slowly along the fence, I completed the full circumference before kicking up the speed to see if I might be able to cut the entire pasture before rain or darkness stopped me.

I made good progress navigating the Ford New Holland around the corners and recesses. Cutting at a different angle than the last time to improve results, I triumphed within minutes of the dinner hour.

Two large tasks knocked off the to-do list in one day, with credit given to Cyndie for being able to take on the afternoon horse feeding and dog walking that allowed me to mow uninterrupted to the end.

Color me extremely satisfied this morning with such progress achieved in just one day.

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Written by johnwhays

July 9, 2022 at 9:41 am

Concrete Lifted

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I successfully avoided titling this post, “Apron Lifted” but that is what happened yesterday in front of our garage. We have a plan of fixing our driveway this summer and in preparation for that, the first thing that needed to be completed was to solve the sunken concrete apron in front of our garage.

On my side of the garage, the apron has fallen almost three inches. We were warned by the company doing the work to be careful moving our cars back into the garage because the old habit of revving the accelerator to get over the bump will no longer be necessary.

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The company we chose uses polymeric sand to seal the gap between the apron and the main garage slab. This was my first exposure to the material and leaves me intrigued to consider using it in other applications in the future.

The rest of the day for us was almost as productive as it was for the rapid and efficient concrete lifting crew. (They were in and out within about one hour.) I got some power trimming done down by the road at our driveway entrance, we received a visit from the farrier to trim the horses’ hooves, and I pulled out the diesel tractor to mow the back pasture.

It took me longer than one hour but I’m focused on how smoothly the whole mowing project went, all the way from getting the tractor out for the first time in months, finding the ground wasn’t too wet and soft for the weight of the big machine, and finally, finishing all the cutting without incident.

I’m always nervous about operating the heavy equipment around our fences. It will be much easier to wield the power trimmer to clean up the last remains of tall grass that is growing underneath the fence, especially after I remember to turn off the electric jolt pulsing down the wires.

I don’t know why it is so hard for me to remember to shut that off in advance.

When I was all done mowing the back pasture I discovered a bumper crop of dandelion seeds had piled up on the brush cutter behind me.

Better they landed there, I guess than out on the ground. Not that there wasn’t an equal amount blowing around every which way around me as I mowed.

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Snow Cope

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In a day of glorious sunshine yesterday, I labored to move what felt like an endless amount of snow. I succeeded in burying the Grizzly 660 ATV over the edge of the gravel drive around the hayshed. That forced me to get the diesel tractor started, but it wouldn’t be any help unless I could get chains mounted on the tires.

Those chains have been hanging in storage on nails in the back of the shop garage for two years and are so heavy that I can barely lift them. That is one reason I have found every possible reason to avoid using them for so long. Alas, necessity forces muscles to do what it takes and chains quickly became an afterthought while attention moved to dragging the ATV out of the snow and carefully maneuvering the Ford tractor to scoop snow into small mountains without getting it stuck, too.

By the end of the day, I was about halfway done with cleanup. Today I resume clearing snow off the eaves of the house roof and then shoveling away everything that drops onto the deck.

The horses appear to be coping well with the quick transition to deep snow cover and tracks reveal they are making gradual advances on excursions out into the hayfield and back pasture.

The snow up around the overhang is well-trodden so it doesn’t seem all that deep but frozen clumps clinging above hooves provide evidence of the depth they are negotiating out in the fields.

We expect a few more days with highs above freezing and moments of sunshine that will give the horses plenty of opportunities to dry out between their journeys out into the powder.

Coping with all the snow is what we do, even when it requires effort at the limits of available strength at any given moment.

Robustness r us.

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Written by johnwhays

December 12, 2021 at 11:20 am

Midday Sprint

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I did recently swear off mowing grass in November but this is different. This isn’t lawn grass I was mowing yesterday with the garden tractor. On an uncharacteristically warm November day, I brought out the big diesel and pulled the brush cutter across the back pasture to cut down a problematic invasion of Canadian thistle.

We were aware of the toxicity risks for horses, yet it was Cyndie’s recent Master Gardener classes that pointed out how the thistle will spread and degrade the quality of grazing pastures if left unchecked.

But, honestly, it still felt a little too much like mowing grass.

My presence on the big machine riled the horses into a bit of sprinting that Cyndie captured on video.

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I had closed gates to isolate the pasture I was going to mow and that was the first step in raising the curiosity of the horses. When I showed up on the big tractor and started cutting, it was unclear if they were upset to see their grazing options disappearing before their eyes or just worked up over the strange-looking noisy contraption rolling along.

They started racing in and out of the paddocks from the front hayfield.

It is beautiful to watch them sprint in the manner they were bred and raised to do, knowing it is their choice to run and they are free to stop whenever they wish.

Soon after their little spurt of racing, they wandered out into the hayfield and stood for a little nap while the tractor droned on. When I finished in the back pasture, Cyndie opened the gate to the hayfield and I rolled out there to mow the strip along the paddock fences where we had planted acorns. The horses didn’t move a muscle at that point.

They quickly get over the initial alarm about me showing up on machines with engines.

Using the knowledge Cyndie is gaining from her Master Gardener classes, we have a new plan to transplant some yearling oaks next spring and protect them from animals and crowding from surrounding growth for the first few years. Yesterday, she scouted and marked the candidates we hope to use when the winter snow disappears from the ground.

I mowed the grass short and Cyndie dug holes in advance to mark the spots. That alleyway will end up getting a more permanent barrier to keep horses away while future paddock shade is being developed.

Beware the work deemed necessary when you start learning the wealth of valuable details included in Master Gardener lessons.

It will be much more marathon than occasional sprints.

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Prepping Paddock

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My Friday started with a visit to the Pierce County Fair grounds in Ellsworth where I received my first vaccination shot against COVID-19. The county health department does a wiz-bang job processing people through at maximum speed. I was very impressed.

I experienced no noticeable effects from the shot and headed straight to Hudson for an annual eye exam. No problems found, I’m happy to report. Then, it was back home to work on sprucing up the paddocks in preparation for the pending arrival of horses.

First order of business was to push down fence posts that the frost has heaved up. I used the loader on the diesel tractor and succeeded in avoiding making things worse by breaking boards.

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It isn’t easy to see what is happening on the far side of the bucket from my vantage point behind the wheel, but with Cyndie spotting (and taking pictures), she helped keep me from any catastrophes.

Since I didn’t sink or get stuck in mud, we decided to try scooping up some lime screenings from our reserve pile to put a fresh layer down under the overhang.

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After that, I got out the trimmer to knock down some of the old growth and give the new grass beneath a little more sunshine.

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I was hoping to get the automatic waterer back in operation but the shutoff valve is in standing water beneath the unit and out of sight. I had to reach into the freezing cold water and blindly feel around to find it among a tangle of zip-ties and wires.

It took several tries to locate it, almost requiring more joints than I have in my wrist and elbow. Too bad it wouldn’t budge after I finally got my fingers around the handle. Since it has been under water for so long, I’m suspicious that it may be corroded.

It’d sure be nice if I could simply look at it to tell. If I had to guess about what my numb fingers were feeling, I’d say it feels corroded.

There will be time enough to contact the original installer and get his help before the horses arrive. He is going to stop by to quote excavating our old blacktop and preparing a new base for fresh asphalt. The decaying old driveway pavement is now causing increasing drainage problems.

By the end of the day, having succeeded in improving the wooden plank fences without destroying them was enough accomplishment to provide a feeling of satisfaction regardless of what else we achieved. The other paddock enhancements became something of a bonus.

Cleaning the barn and hay shed are next on the list of preparations for the return of horses.

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Written by johnwhays

March 27, 2021 at 6:00 am

Paddocks Reclaimed

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Mission accomplished on Sunday in my effort to reclaim the paddocks from the unchecked growth of grasses and weeds, some of which had risen to over a meter tall since the beginning of this year’s growing season.

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I got in there with the big diesel tractor pulling the brush cutter and successfully avoided destroying any fences while maneuvering in the confined spaces.

Before the cutting started in earnest, Cyndie and I made a pass through, digging up “sour dock” weeds (that’s the local name for Rumex Crispus or some variation thereof) in hope of reducing their propagation.

We used to get sour dock mixed in bales of hay we bought for our horses and they were not fond of it. Ever since, we’ve framed it as an undesirable weed, despite evidence there are some medicinal and edible features to it.

Then it was off to the mowing races.

It’s always a little unnerving to be mowing blindly over such thick and tall growth, not knowing if I might run over a misplaced tool or any variety of wild critters that may have made themselves a home there. As it was, while walking through the higher-than-my-waist jungle of growth I figured I was wandering in a snake pit, much to my discomfort.

Luckily, no snakes were encountered over the entire duration of this project. A lot of toads and a couple of field mice were about the extent of sightings.

At one point in my hunt for stalks of sour dock hiding among the tall grasses, I came upon a bird’s nest with a lone egg in it. With a total absence of any upset flyers winging their way overhead, I concluded this poor egg had been abandoned.

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Now there is a blanket of cuttings covering the ground in the paddocks. That’s enough for hundreds of nests.

I noticed the three hens wandering around in there right after I finished mowing, picking at the wealth of opportunity, but I don’t think they will make a dent in cleaning up all the deadfall.

We’ll simply leave it to dry up and break down where it lays.

Maybe that covering will slow new growth so I won’t have to mow it more than one more time by the end of the summer. I don’t enjoy operating the diesel tractor so close to fences, especially inside the corners.

The paddocks almost look like we have horses again!

That’s so much better an impression than the neglect all that wild growth has been emanating.

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Written by johnwhays

July 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

Simplest Solution

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I don’t know how many times I am going to face this lesson before I comprehend it well enough to no longer be fooled. It’s batteries. Apparently, I know just enough to fall prey to a key misperception. My understanding of electronics is deeper than many others, having attended years of technical school and working in high tech firms with engineers for most of my career, but batteries seem to be a repeating weak point for me.

The problem preventing the diesel tractor from starting which I had come to suspect was related to a missing safety interlock signal turned out to be the most obvious and likely cause of a bad battery.

Sure, the “fully charged” light came on when I connected a charger to the battery. Sure, the instruments on the dash lit up deceivingly bright when I turned the key.

It was all a facade. There was no “oomph” behind that initial twelve volts that allowed my ‘too smart for its own good’ brain to wander off after several much less likely possible component failures.

With essential assistance from Cyndie, who rose to the occasion to provide tenacious problem-solving brainpower and impressive muscle, we extracted the heavy battery from the very difficult to access front end of the tractor.

I’m particularly pleased with our simultaneous insight to use blocks of wood tucked under the unwieldy battery after lifting it just inches at a time in order to get it up where we could finally muscle it clear of the multiple obstructions.

After reversing that process to drop in the new battery, starting the tractor was easy. The afternoon project of chipping branches turned the area beside Cyndie’s new gardens into a lumberjack camp of cut branches, sawed logs, and flying woodchips.

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Turning logs into split firewood and branches into woodchips are two processes I find most rewarding for getting greater value out of the material left over after the initial project of needing to remove trees.

It isn’t necessarily a simple solution, but it is a wonderful achievement of making full use of our resources.

I can only hope that I will now find it easy to recognize future occasions of weak batteries being the simplest solution in my troubleshooting of equipment failing to start.

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Changed Plans

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How many times lately have we heard that plans have changed? More than a few, I dare say. It reaches a point where I’m finding myself less inclined to make any future plans of substance. My 6-month dental checkup and cleaning appointment due in March was rescheduled when the shutdowns started occurring.

I LOVE the feeling after having my teeth professional cleared of plaque and asked for the next earliest appointment. They gave me Tuesday, May 19. Last Thursday, the scheduler called me to cancel that appointment and said they can’t even guess when the next possible chance will be.

Yesterday, I had planned to connect the chipper to the diesel tractor PTO to convert those tree branches to woodchips before the coming rain arrived. The weather allowed the whole day as the precipitation didn’t begin until dusk. The tractor did not cooperate. It was rather depressing.

I am not a tractor mechanic, but I am willing to naively explore possible solutions to problems. My best guess is that one of the multiple safety interlocks is keeping the starter from working. It’s actually happened before. The very first time I tried to start the tractor, I couldn’t get it to work. The seller had just changed the battery and assured me he would pay to have a service person look at it.

That technician arrived and immediately put the tractor on his flatbed truck, but decided to try one last time before hauling to the shop. It fired right up. I asked what he did differently than me and he said he didn’t know. We assumed it was making sure the gears and PTO were properly in the off/neutral position.

Last year, this happened to me again, but I persevered and after multiple tries, it fired up. Problem was forgotten.

Until yesterday. I tried the same thing over and over again so many times I surpassed the “insanity” definition ten times over. I finally broke down and called my next-door neighbor for advice. He knows tractors as a guy who collects them, refurbishes them, and buys and sells them. He even owns the exact same New Holland model as mine, among his many International Harvester collection.

Diagnosing remotely, he worried about the battery, since I admitted I hadn’t ever cleaned the connections. Well, his concern was well placed, as the neglect was evident and cleaning was warranted. But it wasn’t the problem.

I tracked wires and disconnected and reconnected junctions. While rummaging around beneath the belly of the beast, I found how much corrosion resulted from the mess after the valve stem broke on the liquid-filled tire last year. I spent hours tinkering cluelessly, interspersed with the repeated insanity of positioning and repositioning the PTO lever that I think is the problem. Nothing changed.

Eventually, I gave in to a change of plan and moved on to something else to salvage some glimmer of accomplishment for the day. I removed 24 blocks from six pallets that got added as eight rows to our boardwalk in the woods on our main perimeter trail.

That will be valuable since we’ve already received 1.5″ of rain overnight and it’s still falling.

I plan to call a professional to service the tractor.

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