Friday, November 07, 2008

A Good Memory of My Dad

Farmer Frank has been having some mechanical issues with his equipment. It's the drizzles when your main tractor or, as with him, both his front line tractors go down, particularly if it is the "it's parked until you spend the big bucks" to get it fixed. The window of opportunity for prepping ground for planting, planting itself, or whatever needs to be done isn't always a big one. Bills starting in six or seven figures make the situation far less palatable.

But, when yer a teenager, the perspective is geared more towards avoiding the inevitable butt-chewing that a screwup brings. I certainly let my mind wander and Murphy bit me more than once. I was on the receiving end of some major vitriol from my father - and it was usually deserved.

Dad's "sweeps," or sweep plow as it's known in other areas, were made by Noble in Canada. They were 3x6' - "three sixes" with an 18' cut. Imagine a large "V" shaped blade, sharpened on the outer perimeter, parallel to the ground. The implement can be set for varying depths, and the v blade rides under the soil, cutting the roots of the weeds without disturbing the all important cover.

That's important in the "we need ground cover to avoid the dirt erosion in the Dirty Thirties" sort of way. Bare ground blows which ever way the wind takes it. Ground with old wheat straw and dead weeds on top does not.

But, one of the drawbacks of the sweep plow is that it can produce huge clods over time, and rain doesn't soak into the ground as well. So, most sweeps have rotary harrow attached. They are a bunch of spiked wheels that break up the clods, and there are lots of them on an axle set at an angle to the travel of the implement. We had a separate harrow for a while. We'd have to fold three transport wheels down (with a handy pipe latched to the frame), and pull the "wings" forward to move. There were a couple braces attached to a pinned sleeve on the main tube, so you could set the angle of the harrows more or less aggressively. When we got to the next field, we'd pull the pin, pull forward to set the angle, pick the transport wheels up, and go to work.

Well, one of the pins holding one of the braces to the sleeve fell out while I was working, and I pulled the thing for about a half mile before I saw it. It was "sprung" after that, and Dad chewed me out but good. He'd bought me an old pickup a few months earlier, and if I ever, ever screwed up a piece of equipment like that again, he'd sell it to pay for the repairs.

So, fast forward a month or so. I'd been super diligent and nothing untowards had happened. We had a Case 930 with clamp on dual wheels. Most tractors made for duals have long axles that will accept wheel centers with built in weights. These duals were held on by four huge clamps that attached to the rims and had long threaded bolts to keep them tight. The mechanics at the Case dealer warned him that the axles were not designed for the extra stress, and that the axles would probably break.

I was working some wheat stubble that had some pretty good combine ruts from a wet harvest. Dad called them "buffalo wallows." At any rate, we had to slow down and pick our way across the ruts, and maybe even go over them a couple times to try to smooth it out. The tractor fell into one deep rut unexpectedly - whammo!

That isn't all that unusual. It may look like a smooth ride as you drive by on the road and see the farmer in his seat, but I guarantee you it is a bouncing, rough ride all day long. This was one more shock of many. However, I started noticing a "screek, screek, screek" noise. It came at every half revolution of the left wheel. I got out, and the seals were still sealed. No oil leaking or any other apparent damage.

I kept on running it. As the afternoon wore on, it seemed to get a bit worse. I got done with the field, and moved to the next one. Road gear just made the noise faster. I was working on top of a terrace when all at once the tractor started to dip a bit with the noise. It dipped and rose a couple times before I could get it clutched to a stop, and the axle finally broke - for that is what the problem was. The shock had cracked the axle, and rotation gradually wore the thing in two. The inner tire held the tractor up under the fender, so the tractor was tilted over pretty good, but it was in no danger of falling over.

Well, crap - of course I'm sure I said worse. It was all done and beyond my meager abilities, and Dad had gone to the local big city for most of the day. I walked to my soon to be sold pickup and drove it home. Dad found me on the back porch steps with the keys in my hand.

I told him what had happened, then bawling, I handed him the keys so he could sell the truck. He had a funny look on his face as he gave them back and hugged me. He told me he had been expecting that to happen, and that it wasn't my fault. He was just tickled I wasn't hurt, and that the axle had lasted as long as it had.

I was all of fourteen.


Earl said...

Great Dads are just like that - leave you all that responsibility and you came through like a champ, I bet he was glad you were standing up by taking it on yourself.

threecollie said...

Oh, Jeffro, you could have been telling a story about our beloved boy! I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading your tale. He has come to me so many times with his eyes downcast, sure that some catastrophe is his fault (sometimes they were) and will put us out of business.
Thanks for sharing...and looks like you sure grew up good.

Yer Hunee said...

Jeffro, another great story that brought tears to my eyes......lov ya Baybeeee!!!!! Thank you for sharing such heartfelt and wonderful stories!!!!!