Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘diesel tractor

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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Second Cut

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It’s done now. Yesterday the neighbors rolled up some round bales out of the last cutting of our fields. After a long, wet summer, the harvest was finally completed over the opening weekend of November.

I’ll admit I had my doubts it would ever happen. The weather hasn’t offered much of a break for hay growers this year, so we are pleased to have our renters finally enjoying some last-minute success.

While they were doing that, we were preparing the diesel tractor for winter duty by reattaching weights to the rear wheels. That is not an easy task, as there are two weights for each wheel and each single weight is almost more than I can lift.

That’s probably part of what made it difficult. Since I am able to lift them, even though just barely, I decided to try doing as much of it as possible by hand. When I reached my limit, I coerced Cyndie to help me do battle. After a lot of grunting, huffing, and puffing, we got the weights secured in place with bolts.

It was a heroic effort that we had neglected to take before winter last year, which left the diesel tractor mostly useless during some of the late-season heavy snows. This year we intend to be better prepared.

Just maybe, it will result in us ultimately not needing to use the big tractor. Better safe than sorry.

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Written by johnwhays

November 4, 2019 at 7:00 am

Flat Fix

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I found out how to get the tractor with a flat, fluid-filled tire out of the garage… Yesterday afternoon, I got a call at work from the guy I had contacted to solve my tire problem. He asked me if I still needed the repair done.

After assuring him I did, and that I was anxiously awaiting his opportunity to show up, he told me he was standing outside my garage, wondering how to get in.

From my workplace, an hour away, I was able to direct him to the button for the garage door opener. I then contacted Cyndie, who was busy on another phone call inside our house. She later told me that Delilah was barking incessantly at the strange truck in the driveway, but Cyndie needed to finish her call.

She was eventually able to get out there and move the ATV out of the way, so the guy could work on the tractor. He didn’t want to make a big mess in the garage, so, he opted to make just a little mess and simply drove the tractor on that flat tire to get it outside.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh, probably because I know next to nothing about large tractor tires.

I wish I had been there to watch him work, so I could learn more about what’s involved. Even though I left work as soon as possible after finding out he was ready to do the fix, by the time I pulled up the driveway, he had already finished all the work, parked the tractor back in the garage, closed the door, and was in his truck writing up the invoice.

If the timing is right, I may have another chance to witness the process. He didn’t have enough of the non-corrosive fluid to change out the caustic calcium chloride in the other rear tire, so he will need to return later this week, if circumstance allows. He told me it depends on whether the local farmers get back into their fields to finish combining the corn that is still standing.

Tractors that develop tire problems during harvest get the highest priority attention, and automatically move jobs like mine down the list to be dealt with later.

If I get lucky, maybe he will show up on Friday, when I’m at home. I’d like to see how he breaks the seal, pulls out the old tube, and then gets the new one in and filled with both fluid and a little air.

This is a long way from changing a flat on a bicycle, that’s for sure.

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Old Wood

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Yesterday was mostly consumed with diesel tractor maintenance, complimented with a brief session of lawn mowing, but there was still time for a stroll through the woods when Julian and Allison stopped by to visit. We came upon an interesting fungal conk growing on the bark of one of our old trees.

This tree suffered significant damage in a tornado that passed over this property two years before we arrived. The top broke off, and I expect the gaping wound that resulted is where the fungus made its way in. Plenty of new growth has sprouted in the years since, but this tree is probably on borrowed time.

It has been here so long that it grew around an old barbed wire fence that was probably put up before the tree had sprouted from the ground.

That can’t be all that good for the tree, either.

In the morning yesterday, while following Delilah on her first walk of the day, I noticed a newly toppled-over dead tree much further into our woods, looking to the left from this tree with the barbed wire and conks.

It is the second one to fall in about a week. I’m wondering if, in the absence of any obvious wind events, maybe the dry spell we are in has contributed to the falling timber.

I’m overdue to be putting in hours as a lumberjack around here. Maybe the old wood is just trying to get my attention.

At least the diesel engine has fresh oil, a clean air filter, and the tractor has new grease in all the fittings. The wood chipper accessory is going to get called to duty relatively soon, I believe.

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Written by johnwhays

August 20, 2018 at 6:00 am