Monday, June 27, 2011

Tractor Thoughts

Monday, June 27, 2011

7 AM has already slipped past me. I should be at the nursery by now but it was a rough night with charlie horses in both legs and expletives in abundance until almost midnight. This morning is foggier than yesterday but the sun is burning through as it rises above Peacham Pond and I know we will have a great day.

This summer has presented us with challenges almost every day. We are still picking up after the major flooding of May 26th-27th and the rain just continues as if we need more. I dumped the rain gauges yesterday and was not surprised or pleased with the latest measurements. I have two ground mounted gauges so that if a wandering critter or curious kid moves one upside down, I still have a chance of knowing what the accumulation was. Yesterday both gauges registered about 3.5 inches in the three days since I had dumped them. It has rained some part of almost every day or night for weeks and now I am hearing stories from loggers who cannot get into the woods either for fear of getting stuck. My friend Richard up at Water Tower Horse Farm (beautiful Tennessee Walking Horses) can only think about getting his first cutting of hay as the fields are too wet to put any equipment on. Sadly, he is not alone and I have no idea how farmers are going to feed stock with no feed this winter.

Yesterday Alex helped me pull the John Deere 320 Utility tractor out of the shed. We had pushed it in there last fall when I brought it home from the nursery, left it to sit for a few weeks and then couldn't get it started. I installed the battery, checked the fluids and heard it crank over with a strange noise. We pulled it up the hill to the yard and called my friend Mike.

Everyone needs a friend like Mike. I value him dearly because they don't make many people like him anymore. During a bunch of the year Mike is driving a cement truck or supervising a cement processing facility. Some days I think he spends the balance of his time fixing what I have broken. If he packs up and heads to Montana as I have heard him threaten before, I am in very big trouble.

I have no idea where Mike has learned everything he knows. He probably attended the School of Hard Knocks at some point, spent several years on a Navy submarine and owned his own tractor-trailer for several years of trans-American freight transport. He can still remember how to get into the freight depots of the major US cities and he can troubleshoot about anything mechanical with a skill that is mind boggling. He likes old things and I guess I am included in his list.

I found Mike standing in front of a log splitter, listening to music from his headset and splitting next year's wood. He makes no bones about not liking this job but he is a guy with a back-up plan for everything and firewood is the backup for his regular furnace. I explained my dilemma and Mike issued a half smile that arrived with a non verbal look that said "Yep, George has done it again!" We both knew I had just ruined his day but helping out is how he is built and he flipped the switch on the splitter and headed to his shop to pick up some tools.

Mike has a trouble shooting format that makes sense. He works from system to system, verifying operation and then working down to the problem area. When we got to the point where he had the tractor firing on one of two cylinders, he told me to chain it up for the trip down to his house where a complete shop would make the needed repair easier. As I pulled the old John Deere up the hill from our house, Mike messed with me a little, applying the brake to the JD and watching the little blue New Holland struggle and puff with 30 something inadequate horsepower. Even though I was wearing ear protection I could hear Mike laughing as I looked around and saw his big smile as my tractor wheels turned ruts in the dirt road but went nowhere.

Within minutes of arriving, the necessary tools were laid out and the value cover was off: two bent push rods which I was assured is a common problem. As I looked at all the parts I thought this was a major affair but quickly the rocker arm assembly was off and we were in the shop with me learning how to straighten some S-curves in the rods that shouldn't have been there.

The bigger problem came when only three of four valves was working. One was stuck tight. I learned a trick of pulling the appropriate spark plug and threading a piece of rope through the plug hole and into the engine and then hand cranking the engine to pop the valve. I was kind of glad no one was watching me feed rope into a gas engine but don't ever laugh at an experienced repairman. Learn the lessons well as books don't include lessons like these.

Within an hour the engine was putt-putting away in 2-banger John Deere fashion and Mike and I were both smiling. It's a sound that cannot be described unless you have experienced it before.
Engines like this one were built so the common farmer could trouble shoot and repair them in the field and keep farm chores going not matter what other challenges were faced. For me, it's hard to describe all I learned in a couple hours. Today I'll change the oil and grease everything up and before nightfall the back field will be cut clean. Right now Mike is someplace in Vermont driving or unloading or washing a cement mixer. And without any doubt on my part, I know he has shared with someone today the latest "You won't believe what George did yesterday" story. I don't care because it was a special time for me and I'm really lucky to have a friend who knows so much and is willing to share his knowledge with me. You could probably use a "Mike" too.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where a great day has just begun. Drive out to Vermont Flower Farm and visit with Gail a bit. She is just like Mike except that she knows flowers. Oh yes, thanks again Mike!

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1 comment:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

You are blessed having a Mike in your neighborhood. Where I used to live I had Eugene next door. I didn't have to worry about getting the tiller going or plowing the drive during winter. Wonderful to have such a person in ones life.