Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘tractor

Messy Calamity

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I had been told about just this type of disaster, but filed it away as something that happens to other people, not me. Saturday, I joined the dubious club of tractor owners who’ve experienced a catastrophic failure of the valve stem on a large rear tractor tire filled with corrosive calcium chloride.

It actually started calmly enough. I stepped in the garage to do some organizing and discovered a small puddle under the deforming sidewall of the tire. Now, this was an issue I’d been hoping to address before it reached this point, so I did have a plan.

First, I wanted to remove the weights bolted to each rear tire. Next, I hoped to jack it up enough to take pressure off the tire and rotate it so the valve was at the 12 o’clock position. Then I would try adding air.

The only other time I had tried to add air, the pressure of fluid was greater than the compressed air I was trying to add, and escaping fluid corroded the air chuck fitting something awful.

Worried that the tire needed air, I asked around for advice. I was repeatedly told it looked fine, so I kept pushing the issue for some future day.

Well, that day arrived and I needed to take action on the plan I had contemplated. I grabbed a big wrench and a hammer and started turning those bolts on the weights. It didn’t take long to realize they were just spinning because there was a nut on the other side that needed to be held.

That required getting Cyndie for help, because I couldn’t reach both at the same time.

Then, calamity.

As I reached behind the wheel to put a wrench on the nut, the valve stem let loose from the rusting hub and the gallons of calcium chloride began spraying out all over everything. At first, there was no putting a bucket under it, because it was shooting everywhere.

All my brain could come up with was profanity. I paced around in a total useless panic because I had no idea what to do while that yucky fluid was quickly making a mess of everything.

Eventually, I noticed the spray had turned to a flow and it might be possible to catch it in a bucket. Then it struck me. I could put my finger over the hole and stop the leak while we figured out a plan.

We tried, and failed a few times to plug the corroded hole. A foam ear plug worked for a while, but for some reason it got sucked inside. I had already jacked it up a little to keep the weight from pushing fluid out, which made sounds of pulling air in, but that didn’t stop the flow.

For some reason, there was a pulse to the continued escape of fluid.

In the end, we used a tampon to slow the leak to a manageable drip, while I lifted it as far as my inadequate equipment allowed to put blocks under the axle. I’ve removed all the components of the 3-point hitch, and detached the loader bucket from the arms in preparation of whatever happens next.

That will be determined in a call this morning to the service department of the local implement dealer.

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Written by johnwhays

November 26, 2018 at 7:00 am

Crucial Assistance

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We couldn’t have gotten as far as we did yesterday without the generous support of my sister, Mary and her eminently capable husband, Tim. They showed up ready for action and made all the difference with the sawing and chipping.

Before they arrived, I succeeded in knocking down 4 of the 5 smaller trees, but the next step would have been a bit much for me, on my own.

For all the preparation I did, there was one important thing I neglected. The blade on my chainsaw wasn’t very sharp. Compounding that oversight, the spare blade back in my shop was labeled: “needs sharpening.”

Luckily, Tim brought his saw. Combining my ladder, his reach, and a few occasions with the pole saw, some of the many limbs of the 60-foot tree were felled without breaking the fence, although it did bend a couple times.

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We agreed on the time to stop working on individual limbs and take a crack at bringing the whole thing down, but there was still a lot of wood standing.

We tossed a rope up –using the technique of a weighted line I learned from my brother, Elliott– and I played anchor while Tim did the sawing. It was laughable to think my puny size was going to control what that tree would do. I felt it shift when it pinched Tim’s saw, but there it stood.

At this point, Tim talked me into moving the truck and tractor, just in case. We tried muscling that rope a few times, and then Tim called for the tractor. I backed up to put enough pressure that he could get the saw out and then stretched that rope to its limit. With classic cracking, the top of that old dead tree came over at a little bit of an angle.

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We got two-for-one, as it grabbed a wayward branch of the scrubby box elder tree next to it and snapped that as well.

The four of us worked diligently to process the results, but only put an initial dent in the ground work remaining.

Today’s chores will be much less dramatic. I’ll start by sharpening my saw blade. There will be a lot of logging cleanup action, but nothing as daunting as felling that big tree yesterday. Volunteers still welcome.

We couldn’t have done it without you, Mary & Tim. Thank you for coming over to play!

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Written by johnwhays

December 2, 2017 at 9:06 am

Prepping Machines

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It seems like it should be simple to just cut down a couple of trees and grind the branches into chips, but there are a lot of little steps to setting up and actually executing the tasks.

After work yesterday, I set about prepping some of the equipment, in hopes of priming this morning’s start on this weekend’s logging project. The chipper attachment was stored a couple levels deep in the shop garage. I needed to do some rearranging before I could get access to it.

The back-blade was still on the big tractor, so the first order of business was to find somewhere out-of-the-way to park that.

Except, that wasn’t actually the first order of business. I decided to move the Grizzly out, to make room for fueling up the New Holland, and in so doing, ended up driving the ATV down to the barn to hook up its trailer.

After that, I was finally ready to back Big Blue out of the garage and get rid of the back-blade.

Once that was done, I hooked up the chipper to the 3-point hitch and parked the rig in the barn.

Next, I started collecting equipment I would want to haul to the work site in the ATV trailer.

Chainsaw. Check.

Chain oil, mixed gas, wedge, face shield, leg protectors, ropes, come-along, chains, pole saw, log holder, hand saw, ax, spare ear muffs/hearing protection, ladder, rake, branch pruner… and if I can find it, a kitchen sink.

Still, there will end up being a need for some item that I forgot to bring. Honestly, one goal of bringing so much down there is so that we won’t need it. I’m not above using a little reverse psychology with the universe.

My hope is to have tedious setup tasks taken care of in advance to get full benefit of volunteer help for cutting limbs of felled sections of trees, feeding branches into the chipper, and cutting trunks into logs. If we are really productive, there will be the added chores of driving loads of woodchips away and dumping them, or hauling logs up to the woodshed.

Most importantly, I’m looking forward to the opportunity for hearty fellowship in the great outdoors and an outcome of safe and healthy success for all bodies involved, particularly the discs of my lower back.

I don’t want to get too greedy, but some time for good-natured banter around a fire with people’s favorite beverage after a day’s physical workout would be a fine outcome, too.

I’m just sayin’.

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Written by johnwhays

December 1, 2017 at 7:00 am

Avoiding Failure

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We are wet today, but before the precipitation arrived yesterday, I had a chance to dig the back-blade out of the depths of the shop garage and play around in scraping the paddocks. The blade was parked all the way in the back of the garage because I haven’t used it since the first couple of years here to clear snow.

It dawned on me that I should be making better use of the equipment we have, instead of just storing it. I’m not strongly skilled with the blade, so I haven’t been inclined to hook it up and do anything with it. I must have felt adventurous yesterday, because I didn’t really have a master plan about what I was hoping to achieve.

Things went so surprisingly well, rearranging equipment so I could get at the blade in the first place, and managing all the 3-point hitch connections so I could then maneuver around obstacles to get out of the garage, it inspired my further earth-grading experimentations.

Starting with the gravel driveway around the barn, I made a few practice pulls, dragging the surface to pull settled material back uphill. That went well enough, I felt confident to try doing some of the same inside the paddock fence.

I was on a roll. As long as that was progressing nicely, I temporarily changed focus and worked on pressing down on fence posts with the loader bucket to push them back to the level they originally were, before the freeze/thaw cycles pushed them six or eight inches up.

That’s a delicate process of working in increments across a series of many posts.

All along the way there are opportunities for epic failure. On this day, I succeeding in avoiding all of them.

The fence is still standing, with all boards attached, and looking like its old self again. The paddock is also in pretty good shape now. I even took an extra step and scooped some new lyme screenings onto the round high spot we are building in the large paddock.

Before I could get everything smoothed out, the rain started, so it looks a little like a project half-finished, but I’m okay with that.

We have received a steady rain for about 20 hours. Steady is good, because we don’t get it all at once and suffer all the problems of instant rivers of runoff, but the freshly moved lyme screenings are like wet cement. If the horses walk on it now, it will make a big mess.

If they will stay off it until it dries, it can get almost as hard as concrete.

I wonder if they will pick up on my momentum of avoiding failure…

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Part Way

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I made it part way through doing a thorough job of re-leveling the gazebo frame when my patience for the project ran out and I resorted to doing a less-than-perfect, but good enough wrap up to call it done. Funny how the perspective changes when the limited hours in a day are slipping away and the cost/benefit assessment provides a justification for aborting a plan.

Only time will tell whether or not it was a worthy choice. In the short-term, we are well satisfied with our progress. The shaded platform is ready for use.

With that done, we did turn our attention to using the loader bucket to remove a significant portion of the oldest composting manure. These were piles that had gone cold due to no longer actively composting. Interestingly, of the three piles we tended to, two of them retained a lot of moisture and one was surprisingly dry.

The dry one proved to be suitable for rodent housing and it appeared we disturbed a momma mouse in the process of giving birth. While Cyndie was at the pile discovering that, I had driven off with a full bucket and spotted a large mouse scrambling to and fro on the mechanisms of the loader arms.

It was a little like trying to drive a car with a bee flying around you. It was pure luck that I didn’t bash into the side of the barn while backing up as I focused on trying to get the dang critter to jump off the bucket and not run up toward my position.

He skittered over to an opening at the end of one of the loader arms, so I lifted the bucket high to slide the mouse out, but I don’t know if it is actually open all the way through. I never saw where he came out, or maybe he’s still in there.

It’s the kind of mini-drama that we are growing accustomed to, and as a result, we tend to just shrug these encounters off and carry on with the task at hand.

All manner of creatures can be found taking advantage of the spaces we create. They probably see our occasional intrusions on their luxurious accommodations in a similar way we look at hazardous weather. It happens. You clean up after it and get on with life.

Mowing the fields dislodges a lot of crawling and slithering things. Last time out, the prevalent sighting was a leaping creature. Several large, long-legged frogs were disturbed by the big wheels and high RPM roar of the tractor. I’m pleased to be able to say I didn’t witness any unfortunate encounters with the whirring blades of the brush cutter.

There are still plenty of other compost piles for the rodents to take up residence. Better there than in our house. Inside, they have to deal with a storm called Pequenita. When that happens, we have to deal with watching where we place our feet in the morning.

It’s such a glamorous life we lead.

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Written by johnwhays

August 5, 2017 at 9:39 am

Mud Happens

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It’s that time of year. One good reason we want woodchips for our trails is the mudfest we are faced with in low areas and avenues where ground water makes its way down to these lower areas.

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There is a trick to getting the woodchips, though. You need to get to the piles of branches without getting stuck in the mud!

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The ground looked innocuous enough, subtly covered with turf. Beneath that facade of grass hid a soft soup of mushy mud that pulled the tractor tires ever-deeper with each attempt to move either forward or back.

Ultimately, Cyndie and I outsmarted the soft soil with precisely placed scraps of wood fence posts behind the tires while I manipulated the loader bucket to push the tractor backwards.

I think it’s going to take a long time to replace the divots along that stretch. It’s going to need to wait until the mud gets a lot less soupy for real repairs to take hold.

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Written by johnwhays

April 9, 2017 at 9:16 am

Alternate Path

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For a very long time, I’ve wanted to clean up branches and trees that have fallen on the old rusty barbed wire fence along our north property line. Doing so could provide an alternate, straighter route for our perimeter trail. Instead of passing in front of the woodshed to get to a trail head that leads down the hill away from the yard, the new path would follow the fence line behind the woodshed, and be a continuation of a trail that currently runs behind the shop garage.

We’ll need to take out a nice thicket of raspberry bushes and ultimately move sections of a downed tree that is so large, previous owners cut it up, but left the pieces in place. The sections were too large to move.

Beyond those two issues, there were only a small number of saplings to be snipped, which is probably one big reason I felt inspired to open up this pathway in the first place. It was already almost there.

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Yesterday, I started the effort, thinking it might be quick and easy, once I got out the chainsaw. It was, and it wasn’t. There were a few branches that moved easily after being cut, but there remained a surprising number of the larger limbs that were held firmly in the frozen ground.

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Since we have a wealth of branches to be run through the chipper in that area, I’m planning to bring the tractor back there anyway, so I figure the hydraulic power of the loader might be the solution to moving the heavy sections of that tree trunk.

The question I haven’t answered is whether I will have better luck while the ground is still frozen, or should wait until after the thaw.

Today may involve a test of the frozen option.

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Written by johnwhays

March 12, 2017 at 9:27 am

Next Phase

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dscn5840ePicking up where the tree trimmers left off, I pulled the tractor out of the garage yesterday and we started the process of turning the piles of branches into wood chips. With the temperatures pushing into warmth much more typical for May or June, the timing was perfect for having fresh ground cover over the now muddy path leading down toward the barn from the driveway.

I quickly relearned how much physical effort is involved in the process of repeatedly feeding the chipping monster. The variety of branches that came out of our trees made for a constant struggle to detangle, reorient, and guide into the chute.

The smallest ends of branches will catch and get hung up on the corners, which interrupts flow, and the big limbs tend to bounce and torque when first struck by the powerful spinning blades. My body and hands frequently get smacked by the kick-back of the bigger branches.

After a prolonged session of working to make a pile of branches disappear into a wonderful mound of precious wood chips, I feel like I’ve been a few rounds in a boxing match.

dscn5836eCyndie helped to bring branches from farther and farther, and worked to cut junctions that “Y” off too wide to fit the bottom of the narrowing chute. We parked the tractor on the solid pavement of the driveway to be out of the mud that is quickly becoming the prevailing footing during this unbelievable February melt down.

We took a little break for lunch and then when I came out for a few more rounds of battle, it was T-shirt weather. It is just plain sad to be living through the end of cold and snowy winters like the ones I enjoyed as a kid. I fear for the precious trees I have been focused on caring for these last few days, as they react to the warmth and prepare to sprout new buds.

If they sprout leaves too early, they risk an ugly death from freezing when a hint of real winter returns for a last gasp reminder of cold that usually happens this time of year.

When I turned the key to restart the tractor, nothing happened. Well, not nothing. The indicator lights lit up, but there was no hint of sound from the starter. I have experienced this before. It was how I was first introduced to this tractor. No matter what I did, I could not get it to start.

That first time, I ended up needing to have a service person come out. He accidentally figured out the safety interlock of the PTO lever wasn’t getting met. After chasing a different possibility for a time, I came around to the same conclusion. It was the PTO lever again.

I got the engine started, repositioned the tractor to a new spot and was ready to go. I picked a big old dead oak branch to start and quickly busted the shear pin of the chipper.

I took the hint and called it a day for chipping.

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Written by johnwhays

February 19, 2017 at 9:35 am

Straightening Posts

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dscn5368eWith my trusty companion, Delilah, tagging along, I lugged tools across the pasture to finally deal with a corner post that had been bugging me for months because of its ever-increasing lean.

Starting with chains and a come-along, I quickly discovered that the angle I was dealing with was compound.

I would need to pull from both directions. There was a problem with that, though. There wasn’t anything to pull against in the second direction.

While Delilah and I surveyed the situation, the neighbors suddenly showed great interest in our presence.

dscn5365eThe cows came running up to the fence around their pasture and stared at us expectantly. I think maybe that leaning post was bugging them, too.

dscn5369eSince I couldn’t pull in that second direction, I decided to push. I got the tractor.

It worked pretty slick, although it required a lot of climbing on and off to check the progress. Delilah wasn’t offering any assistance at that point, and I couldn’t see if it was straight from the tractor seat.

Once I had it where I wanted it, there was a long process of trying to pack the soil around the posts to a point that would hold them in place after I released the supporting pressure. In fact, just to be sure, I left the come-along and chains in place overnight, even though I had put the tractor back in the garage.

A little insurance while the soil dries out and settles for the long haul, which I hope lasts for a very long time. Of course, that part about dry soil won’t last long at all. It is supposed to rain again this afternoon and tonight.

I wonder if I packed the soil firmly enough.

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Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2016 at 6:00 am

Weeds Begone

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It took twice as long as I expected to finish cutting down the 4 acres we call our hay-field yesterday, but I was trying to do a very thorough job of removing the primary invader, Queen Anne’s Lace from sight. The biennial crop is the most visible evidence that we aren’t growing high quality grass hay out there yet.IMG_iP1562e

There is some grass there, and it has become obvious to us from the regular mowing we have done around the labyrinth and along the fence lines, that doing so will help the grasses and hurt the weeds.

Right now, we are thinking about just keeping this mowed short for a full year. We may have some additives applied to the soil, and add desireable grass seed over the top, before getting back to baling it again the year after.

The project was almost over before I had even completed the first pass along the fence line. For no apparent reason the shear bolt suddenly gave out and the blades stopped cutting.

We had waited the entire summer to have this field cut, and when it didn’t happen any other way, we decided to finally just chop it down ourselves. This interruption had me wondering if maybe we were making the wrong decision, but I had a replacement bolt and it was an easy fix, so I didn’t let that problem stop me for long.

When it became clear that it was going to take all afternoon to complete the task, Cyndie was kind enough to bring me lunch in the field. It felt just like farming!

When I got to the last little strip to be mowed, I wanted to include Cyndie in the moment of achievement. She was serving the horses their evening feed at the barn, so I whistled to get her attention as I was lining the tractor up for the final cut.

IMG_iP1565eCHShe heard the second of my shrill chirrups, and was looking to ascertain whether I was in need of her assistance while I was backing into position. I was intending to point out that it would be the last pass and I just wanted her to share in the joy of accomplishment, when the blades of the mower started clattering on a rock I hadn’t noticed.

The sound of mower blades hitting obstacles always tends to create a panic response. I stomped on the clutch and lifted the mower. My big moment of victory was dashed by a dose of humble pie. In a comical turn, now she did think something was wrong.

She hollered something to me, but I couldn’t hear her words over the rat-tat-tat of the diesel engine idling. After several fruitless tries, we walked toward each other until I heard she was asking if I had my camera with me so she could capture the moment.

We laughed over the fact I hadn’t hit a single thing all day, but just as I was hoping to get her attention, …clank. I had already mowed over that rock without incident in the other direction. Backing across it on the slope was a different story.

She took the pictures of my final successful pass.

IMG_iP1576eCHIMG_iP1585eCH.

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Did you see that bird she captured in the last shot? It looks as happy as me over having our field freshly cut.

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Written by johnwhays

August 6, 2016 at 9:13 am