Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old Equipment

I was talking to a farmer friend earlier this week and we were commenting on all the new, shiny equipment we've been seeing moving up and down the roads lately. With cash grain prices at record highs, a lot of farmers with grain in their portfolio have taken the opportunity to update and in some cases upgrade their equipment. When I asked him when he expected to be upgrading his ancient fleet and associated implements of husbandry so he could start doing things right he laughed out loud. His comment was that he'd been doing it wrong for so long that he wasn't sure he'd know how to get anything done if he had to do it the right way with the proper tools and equipment for the job.

I understand his thought completely. At this point, a new tractor, at least to me, is one who's vintage is later than mine. More than once I've overheard people say,"He sure has made a nice farm out of that. And he sure must like antique farm equipment." Well, no not so much actually. But at least in part, running old, depreciated stuff is what has allowed us to go out and "make nice farms". Maybe in my next life I'll get to run new equipment. I sure hope so, but if not I'll have lots of practice from this life at fixing old stuff.

Running old equipment comes with a price, and that price is unanticipated break downs. There is literally always something waiting in the wings. To be fair, some of what's waiting could happen with a new tractor. About a week after replacing the starter on our aging Kubota loader tractor I had a flat tire. The tire was starting to wear pretty badly but it still had considerable life in it, so I elected to put a tube in it rather than replace the tire with a new one. At some point between reinstalling the tire and today, one of the wheel lugs (not the nut, the entire lug) snapped off and fell out. When this happens it throws the entire wheel out of balance and the lug nuts loosen themselves off over time. Often the first clue that something is amiss is when the tire falls off completely because all the lug nuts are gone. Fortunately I caught it during the wobbly phase, so it ought to be a quick fix in the morning. Next in line tomorrow afternoon is replacing a gearbox bearing on one of the rotary cutters.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Weather Delight ?

I'm not sure if it's a family thing, a regional thing or a Canadian thing but it seems I've had the bug most of my life regardless of where it comes from. Don't tell Melissa, but as long as we're prepared ahead of time, the worse the weather is, especially in the winter, the better I like it, at least up to a point.

The first time I had this thought I was seven years old, and I was holding on to my grandfathers hand very tightly during one of our winter blizzards. We were heading to the barn to check on the cows and the wind was gusting hard enough that without a secure handhold it was literally lifting me off my feet and blowing me away. When we got to the barn I pulled back my hood to find grandpa smiling and laughing which exactly matched my mood. After chores were done, we lollygagged our way back to the house with grandpa holding both my arms and letting the wind catch under my coat. At times when the wind caught me right I was completely horizontal and I thought it was great !

Melissa thinks I can handle a lot of cold weather and compared to her I can, but I'm not even in the same league as grandpa or dad. In addition to not wearing anything more than a light jacket or a vest even in the dead of an Ontario winter, neither one ever wore gloves or mitts. Many times I have stood quietly and miserably freezing when I was wearing two layers for each one of theirs.

I'm a big fan of squeaky snow and frozen earth on calm, clear, cold winter nights. This far south, these sorts of nights are rare as hen's teeth, but every couple of years we'll get one and when we do it's my turn to be a kid again !

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Beginnings

Back in the 1840's, when his health gave way, my 4x great grandfather sold our farm to my 3x great grandfather. In his turn, he sold it to my great-great grandfather who passed it on to his son when it was time. When my great grandfather's tenure was up, it passed along to my grandfather who used it kindly for two full generations. My mom and dad bought the place in 1980 and raised my brother and I in the old house. When dad died unexpectedly, mom sold the land to me. Six years later, my first wife and I got a divorce. Because of that, after several generations and 174 years, our tenure as stewards on that piece of land came to an abrupt end (though my mother still owns the house and a little land around it).

As you might imagine, I didn't need much help after it sold to feel extremely guilty about how it all turned out. The man who bought my farm was interested in it primarily for the new house we had built on it a couple of years previously. Other than using it as a buffer between him and other neighbours, he had absolutely no interest in the land and he's done nothing at all to keep it up in my absence. To be fair to him, he has no history in the place, and I take some solace that at my request, he rented the cropland to a distant cousin who (obviously) knows me and knows the land's history. But the man who bought it does know what it looked like when he got it from me, and I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you that it tears me up inside every time I visit to watch them let good land grow up in scrub because they don't/won't/can't do anything about it. I fantasize at times about buying it back and making it mine again, but in truth it'd be more trouble and expense than it's worth at this point.

If I shut my eyes about halfway and only look at certain angles I can see the farm as it was when I was a boy, and again as it was when I worked it as a man. But each visit up there marks more changes, and it takes more work on my part to remember it as it was. When mom dies or moves away, whichever comes first, somebody else will make their memories in the house where I and generations of my family grew up and I think I can finally say that I'm okay with that. As much as I would have liked to believe differently when I first sold it, I knew when it passed out of my hands that my farming days on that land were done. Just as I was taught to do, I left it better than I found it and from here on, it's somebody else's worry.

Melissa and I have put a lot of effort, time and tears into building out our Lynnville farm the past couple of years. If all goes as planned, the last group of horses will move there from College Grove tomorrow morning, and our new farming legacy will finally be fully ready to begin. I don't know our new land's history and I don't know how long our tenure will last or how it'll turn out when our time is up. But I can tell you that it feels right in my bones and I like to imagine that from somewhere on the other side I'm getting a smile, a wink and a nod from those who have gone before me.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Using What You Got

It seems to me that those who were born in the first years of the twentieth century were cut from different and much tougher cloth than those who came after. Most of them didn't have great gobs of formal education but they learned one lesson very well. They were experts in making using what they had.

I remember in particular a patch of fence on the back side of grandpa's farm....way off the road and in the woods where nobody could see it. Among the errant strands of wire stood the remains of a very old steel coil mattress, wired in place and doing it's last duty keeping our cows off our neighbours farm. It's been standing there since grandpa wired it into the fence in the early 1930's; before that it served a few seasons as his first horse drawn harrow....this after spending untold years before as his bed, and maybe it was somebody else's bed before it was his ! When I checked on my last trip home it was still there and still standing, solidly ready to perform it's duty, though there haven't been any cows on that farm for the past couple of years.

When I got up old enough to begin being a really useful helper, I acquired my first piece of farm equipment. It was a stone sled (known locally as a boat), made out of cedar poles and old planks. It was technology so old and so obsolete that almost nobody else I knew had one even back then. I moved so much stuff on it over the course of several years that I completely wore out the sliders. Wood, brush, wire, you name it. It was so useful and so easy to load that I'm actually thinking about building one to use behind our current tractor. I pulled it behind a tough old Case tractor that started when you cranked it at the front and you engaged the clutch by hand rather than by foot. The old tractor had all kinds of power but it was incredibly slow...high gear was about 4 mph and all the rest were in increments below that.

One of my great grandfathers was a blacksmith, and in addition to shoeing horses he made and sold a lot of useful tools and knives. One of his tools that graces my toolbox downstairs and that I still use regularly is a drawknife, fashioned (I think) from an old wagon (or possibly car) spring. They were originally made to shave shingles and shakes but they work a treat to shave lumber of any kind for nearly any purpose. The old drawknife also keeps a sharp edge for an incredibly long time.

I'm not very good at using what I have compared to the old timers, but the more I think about the stuff we used to use when I was a kid the more inspired I become as we work to outfit our new farm appropriately. While I don't forsee patching my fence with a set of hundred year old bed springs any time soon, I think I might start getting a bit more creative in other areas, so if you're ever walking in my woods, consider this fair warning.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Status Update

It's been awhile since I've composed anything for this blog and I'm perpetually tired and short of time in equal measure so I thought I'd compress today's post a bit.

Jason's condition:

Overall condition : Fair
Mental Condition: Situation Normal, whatever that means. It reassures Melissa, anyway.
Condition of Back: BAD and very sore. Too much overenthusiastic fencerow cleaning.
Condition of Hair: Thinning and graying at roughly the same speed.
Overall Body Condition: Uh....well, if I was a beef I guess I'd be "finished".
Ready for Retirement: Today? Oh yah !

Farm Condition

Condition of Horses: Excellent
Condition of New Farm: Dry but fair.
Condition of Weather: Hot, dry.
Condition of my new cross fence to separate the last two groups: Non-existent but thinking about it.
Condition of Plumbing - Got a pinhole leak in a water line at the road but it's under control, more or less.
Condition of Tractor(s): Tempermental and petulant. I rebuilt the starter in the big tractor a couple of weeks ago and it's working, albeit reluctantly. I'm going to order a new one just to be on the safe side. Come to think of it, tempermental and petulant are pretty good words to describe my conditon, especially lately ! :)