April 07, 2020
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When all that can go wrong does on the farm

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
The fates were not smiling on Rusty Metal Farm recently when pretty much everything went wrong on a Monday.

It’s no secret that I love Rusty Metal Farm. But every so often there are those rare days when enough goes wrong around here that if someone came up the driveway and offered to buy the place, I’d simply hand them the keys and drive off on my tractor.

Assuming it started.

If you live on a small farm or homestead, you know exactly what kind of day I’m talking about. The kind where by noon all you want to do is crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head. Which, of course, is not an option given that on every homestead there are chores to be done and critters to be fed.

It was one of those days recently. I don’t know if it was because it was a Monday, the full moon, the major snowstorm we had gotten or if someone had put a hex out on me. Regardless of the reason, it was a day when whatever could go wrong did go wrong.

My most recent day of debacles began right off. Every day in the winter the first thing I do is trudge down to my cellar and fire up the woodstove. I’ve done it so many times, I can do it while half asleep, which is a good thing since I usually am. Also, that’s a bit dicey because it does involve a hatchet, matches and large chunks of firewood.

It’s more of a daily gamble because I do so without that all-important first cup of morning coffee.

The only thing that wakes me up faster than that coffee is dropping that large chunk of firewood on my toe, which is exactly what I did that morning. I impressed even myself with the quality and quantity of the ensuing cussing.

Fire kindled and burning away, I limped back upstairs and managed to get the coffee brewing with little trouble, save for the coffee grounds spilled onto the floor. Then it was time to let tiny farm dog Chiclet out, feed the chickens and grab the morning paper off the deck.

Easy-peasy. Except for the mornings when the aforementioned snowstorm leaves a four-foot drift in front of the door and on the deck. Chiclet took one look at that, looked at me and bolted back to the couch and under her fluffy blanket, her morning calls of nature put on indefinite hold.

It took a while, but I was able to shovel myself out and off the deck. That’s when I noticed the massive snowdrift in front of my dumpster. Monday is trash day, and there was no way the sanitation guys were going to be able to access that dumpster.

But, hey, I have a tractor and, truth be told, any excuse to fire it up and play around with it is welcomed. So after getting the animals fed, convincing Chiclet to go outside for a bit and then having my morning coffee, I bundled up and headed for the tractor.

My plan was to use its front bucket to dig the snow away from the dumpster. The plan came to a silent halt when I turned the key in the tractor and nothing happened. Don’t ask me how, but the battery had died.

It’s happened before. It’s not fun, but I know how to deal with it. One of the most useful things in my late husband’s shop is an ancient battery charger. How ancient? I’m pretty sure Benjamin Franklin used it in his early days of experimenting with electricity.

But as old as it is, it gets the job done. All I have to do is attach the jumper cable clamp things to the tractor’s battery terminals, plug the charger into the wall outlet, turn it on and set the time for the desired charge duration.

Sounds easy, right? Because my tractor is a so-called compact tractor, everything that makes it run is jampacked into the small space under the hood. It also means to access one part, you often need to remove another part.

In this case, it meant removing the air filter to get to the battery. It’s not a difficult procedure, but I still managed to skin my knuckles in the process.

Sixty minutes, one bandage and three cups of coffee later, I was back out in the shop and disconnecting the charger from the tractor, putting the air filter back in and climbing aboard to fire her up.

Turned the key — and nothing. Apparently the battery was so dead there was no bringing it back to life. I sat there awhile, one hand still holding the key in the ignition, my head resting on the steering wheel and questioning my life choices.

I figured I’d be battery shopping that day. So I climbed back down and went to pull the charger’s plug out of the wall so I could put the thing away.

Now I know, at some point in my life someone told me to never pull a plug by the cord, always grab it by the head. So I pulled it by the cord and was left standing there with the cord in one hand — copper wires sticking out its end — and the plug still securely in the socket.

I know when it’s time to call it quits and that was a sure sign it was time to raise the white flag of surrender, shut lights off in the shop, close the door and retreat.

As for the tractor? Turned out the battery is just fine. This was discovered when my friend Pete fired it up with no problems several days later. See, when I was trying to start it, I must have neglected to put it in neutral, in which this tractor must be for the engine to turn over.

Fortunately, Pete figured it out and then proceeded to do an expert job at moving any and all snow that was in my way. And all without even mentioning that, when I was charging the battery, he had asked me if I was sure it was in neutral. I fear my response at the time was rather shrewish. And, sure, he had it in the correct gear when he started it.

But in my defense, this was on a Friday and the curse of the Monday was long gone.

 


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