Forget knights in shining armor. When it comes to helping me get out of whatever jam I have gotten myself into here on Rusty Metal Farm, I’ll take a northern Maine farmer in Carhartts any day of the week.
Whenever a piece of Rusty Metal Farm equipment breaks down or gets stuck, it often just takes one phone call to a neighboring farmer to solve the problem. If they can’t talk me through it over the phone, they’ll be in my dooryard that day to fix whatever is broken or pull whatever is stuck out of wherever it is bogged down.
Do I take some good-natured ribbing in the process? You bet, but it’s a cheap price to pay for their time and effort. Like the time I called my neighbor Andrew when I noticed several spots of fresh liquid on the floor under my old Farmall International farm tractor.
I was in a panic, lest all the machine’s vital fluids leak out. Andrew came over, silently looked at the three or four quarter size spots, got on his hands and knees to look at the underside of the tractor and then got back up, turned to me and uttered the immortal words, “She’s an old gal, she’s going to leak.”
Andrew was also the one who saved me — and that same tractor — the first time I decided to hook up the giant deck mower and mow my 10-acre field by myself.
How I remember that day. I actually managed to properly connect the hydraulic lines and the power-take-off (the driveshaft that provides power to implements and spins at an ungodly rate of speed in accordance with the tractor’s RPMs) of 8-foot diameter mower — known as a “brush hog” — to the tractor. I also managed to haul a 5-gallon can of diesel fuel up to the top of the large farm tractor and get more of it into the fuel tank than on myself. Then I even managed to locate the grease gun and properly apply lubricant to all the appropriate moving parts of the brush hog.
I was feeling so proud. I was pumped. I was ready. I was in way over my head.
Earlier that week, Andrew had given me sage advice on how to mow a large field.
Some people go around and around in concentric circles, he told me. But I had also remembered being told of a different pattern in which the operator drives up and down the field, creating two squares with right-angle turns. At the time, Andrew nodded and allowed as how that second method was “just like going round and round — only square.”
OK then. I decided to go round and round. Which I did for about two hours before becoming hopelessly mired in an undetected wet spot in the field.
Luckily Andrew was just a phone call away and was soon coming down the road in his large skidder to pull the tractor out.
Other times it was my friend and fourth-generation potato farmer Kris who would come untangle whatever tractor or farm machine mess I had gotten myself into. Or, because I live in fear of tipping a tractor, he’d kindly offer to climb aboard and complete whatever task needed doing over uneven ground.
Keep in mind, due to my tipping fears, any ground that is not as flat as a pancake looks risky to me. Frankly, I think Kris was as happy to do the chores as I was to have them done. This is a farmer who lives and breathes tractors.
When the time came to sell that old Farmall because it had gone far beyond my mechanic skills and needed almost daily tinkering, it was Kris who gave it a new home. Or, as I like to call it, tractor assisted living.
Then there’s my farmer neighbor John and his amazing farm family. When that driveshaft on the brush hog broke — don’t even ask how I managed to do that — it was John who, in the middle of his own harvest, came to take it off the mower. He then took it to a drive-shaft specialist in Houlton — a two-hour drive one-way — and picked it up for me when it was repaired.
On top of that, because he had some harvest downtime due to rain, he re-painted the shaft so it matched the mower and replaced the grease fittings. Then he re-installed it on the mower. For all of that, all he asked in return was reimbursement for the $80 the guys in Houlton charged to fix it.
If it’s not John coming to my aid, it’s his brother James or his son Dustin. Moving snow, troubleshooting balky equipment or just offering good advice and words of support.
More recently, farmers around the country have jumped in to help. When I wrote not long ago about problems I was having with hydraulic lines, I received a number of helpful emails on how best to solve the issue.
Thankfully, over the years I’ve gotten not only better and fixing my farm equipment, but no longer panic at the sight of a loose bolt or small spot of oil on the garage floor.
But, I know if I am stuck, stalled or otherwise sidelined, they are all just a phone call away. Carhartts and all.