Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tractor time

The weeds were getting out of control around the houses.  We had about 10 acres that needed some serious help.  I have broken three weed eaters this year already (no one wants to lend me another, go figure) so I figured I would try something else.  I looked into one of those weed power mower things like a D. R. Trimmer.  Someone told me that they can jump all over like a rototiller if you hit lots of stuff.  I weigh in at a whopping 160#.  Rototilling 10 acres seems virtually impossible not to mention I am not a masochist.  So that was out.  I went in to the rental place on Tuesday and grilled him also about my weed issue/problem.  He showed me a trimmer and then we talked tractors with mowers on the back.  The five foot mower was bigger than the four foot mower so being a guy he tried to get me to rent it.  I would have gone with the bigger mower (being a guy) but I needed a 3/4 ton pickup to pull it.  I don't have one, so I settled for the smaller one to go with my smaller pickup.  Price wise not too bad, around $220 for 8 hours of run time in a 24 hour time period.  I had Annmarie bring the pickup in to Pendleton on Friday morning and we changed rigs.   I was coming back from work and had the Prius.
We swapped rigs and I pulled the trailer out to the farm.  I had already told Annmarie that I was going to live on the tractor until dark.  I managed to get the tractor off the trailer without incident.  I have rented a couple of small backhoes in the past and I got my five minute lesson at the rental place before leaving.  I had never used the PTO drive on a tractor before (it spins around and powers the equipment you are towing behind the tractor) and kept killing the tractor when the mower bogged down in the weeds.  I kept lifting the mower but the cut was not very neat.  It took me an hour to figure out that I needed to increase the throttle and let the tractor run (not idle like I thought) at a higher RPM.  The gas pedal is not really a gas pedal, it just makes the tractor move forward.  It mowed much nicer with the RPM up around 1600 (a small detail the rental guy failed to mention).
Did I mention that it is dirty and loud?  I did have my ear muffs on to keep the noise down.  The nice thing about the ear muffs is you can put your ear bud headphones from the ipod player in and listen to music even on a loud piece of equipment.  So I messed around for about 3 hours up by the house cutting down the dead cheatgrass.  I finally moved down to the orchard pasture and got those weeds.  I had a heck of a time getting past the thistles growing on top of the culvert.  I tried to push past the thistles with the bucket on the front of the tractor and could not get through.  I had to turn the tractor around, lift the mower in the air and back up over the thistles and beat them down with the mower!!  Now the mower was doing some work, the grass and weeds were about 4 feet tall here.  The irrigation ditch water got diverted out of the ditch (in an attempt to dry out the far end of the ditch so it can be repaired) so I had to avoid the water so as not to sink the tractor, luckily it was a four wheel drive tractor and I managed to not get it stuck (it was close a couple of times).  To get to the other side of the creek I needed to get in to the field via our yard.  The only problem with that is there was no gate.  I cut the fence and pushed over one of the poles.  As I was removing the pole from the ground by hand Annmarie told me that the tractor would have gone between the posts and I could have just cut the wire.  I wanted a bigger opening, I really did.  I will eventually have to install said gate at some time in the not too distant future.
This was the money shot here.  The thistles were eight feet tall and just thick in places and I had some type of milkweed hollow thing that had formed its own forest over 10 feet tall along the back fence.  I had to push the weeds over with the bucket and just creep along with the tractor and keep raising and lowering the mower so as to not kill the tractor motor.  Good thing I had practiced up on the rest of the property first.  I literally could not see anything but weeds once I got in there with the tractor.  The grass was over five feet tall!  I kept after it till dark (Annmarie badgered me into coming in for dinner.  It was very good, grilled burgers and corn on the cob with potatoes.  So I had a 30 minute reprieve).  At Dusk, I saw the deer try to come down off the hillside into the orchard to lay down.  They didn't care for the tractor.  I couldn't get it all finished before it got dark.
So I went inside, got all cleaned up and set the alarm for 0500.  I am not a morning person, but I wanted to get everything done and the clock was ticking.  I had until 1030 Saturday morning to show up with a full gas tank and a clean tractor at the rental place.  So I got up, ate breakfast and jumped on the tractor.  I braved it and drove through the creek a couple of times and started getting right alongside the creek, I stopped after I got stuck and had to rock the tractor out (thank goodness for four wheel drive).  I was five minutes from finishing.  I had two little patches of grass to mow, when all of sudden the tractor died and smoke started coming out of the hood.  I couldn't start it.  I looked down at the temperature gauge (they had told me it had one) and it was maxed out.  I lifted the hood and the water overflow lid was off.  I filled it from my cooler and then went inside to let it cool off.  After 45 minutes, I went out and filled the radiator and the tractor started right up.  I finished and then drove the tractor straight to the trailer, hooked it all up with chains and then hosed it off.
I filled it up on the way back,  it only took around 3.5 gallons of diesel.  It ran for 7 hours (per the rental place, it seemed longer to me).  Pretty good fuel usage.  I mentioned to the rental guy that the water had gotten low.  "Ya, they heat up pretty fast" was his sage advice.  Too bad no one mentioned that when I rented the tractor.  As soon as I dropped off the tractor, I went to the local John Deere tractor supply place and got a quote on a BRAND NEW TRACTOR!!!!
So next year we are going to buy a tractor and some implements to maintain the farm.  Did I mention that one of the implements is going to be a post hole digger?
Will post some before and after pictures later.