October 24, 2011

I Broke It!

West Tennessee dirt only pretends to be dirt.  It's actually clay.  Interesting bit of trivia:  a certain kind of Southern wasp mixes it with bug spit to make adobe nests that you have to chisel off.  While ducking & covering because the wasps understandably don't like what you're doing.  You have to duck & cover because unless your aim is dead-eye accurate, you can't spray the nest to kill the bugs.  They create tunnels in that clay and the spray just won't get in there.  It won't soak in, either.  We call those stinging creatures "dirt daubers", by the way. And I wonder how they keep their jaws from getting glued shut from the mouthsful of clay??

But I digress, never a good sign at the beginning of a post.  My excuse is that I'm bone-tired, but I'm also as happy as if I'd eaten a whole box of chocolates without gaining a gram.  I got all of the new ground broke today!  (Well, the first through fourth passes - it's gonna take at least four more.)

New ground is ground that hasn't ever been worked, or was worked long enough ago for Mother Nature to pack it tight.  The ground I was going to break hadn't been worked since the farm was part of a huge plantation before the Civil War.

I had to cut through about 6" of pasture grass sod, then (hopefully) a few inches into the hard-pack.  It's hard to tell from this pic, but the top part has been disked twice and the bottom part (where the grass is green), hasn't.  That's how thick the grass is.

Breaking ground  is done with a huge, heavy iron implement attached to the back of a tractor called "disks".  The disks are round, um, disk-shaped steel blades stood on end.  There are several rows of them and they're angled funny to make the disks bite in.

Disks are understandably made to cut through dirt, but we don't have dirt.  We have clay that, after last summer's drought, you have to take a pick to in order to dig a hole.  (See yesterday's post.)

So yesterday when the guys hooked up the disks (it's one piece of equipment but it's called disks - go figure) they added several hundred pounds of oak tree on top, to make the disks get a bite.  They used the "bucket tractor" and chain to lift hunks of oak tree trunk onto the disks.

I call it the bucket tractor because, well, it has a bucket on the front.  It doesn't look like a bucket so I don't know why it's called that - it looks more like a wide-open mouth with bottom teeth sticking out instead of up.  That tractor also has the backhoe on the back (OK, yep, that's why it's called a "back" hoe, because it's on the back).  The backhoe looks like a much smaller mouth with messed up teeth, and it hangs off what looks like a spider's leg. To operate the backhoe you sit on a teeny seat facing the rear and use six or seven levers to dig big, big holes, sometimes where you don't want them, or to knock things over (like your wife - but that's another story).

Anyway, before I started disking this morning I walked down to where the guys were (still) working on the water line.  I had to make sure work was well underway before I took off out of sight.  To my guys out of sight means out of mind, at least if the one out of sight is the boss.

Just a side note here.  I'm the boss because everybody knows women are bossy.  (Have you ever heard somebody call a man "bossy"?)  And I'm swimming in a sea of testosterone that sometimes makes my eyes water.  It's a survival mechanism for me here on Lancaster Farms.  If I don't act like the boss, 1. I'll get steamrollered and 2. work won't progress to suit me.  Everybody's heard that old saying "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"  Thank heavens it's true and my guys know that!

When I arrived at what has now become The Water Line Project, one of Dad's friends had come by and they were - yep - standing around jawin'.  Doug was leaning on his shovel, Dad and Mike and Jeff were leaning on other things.  The conversation died when I walked up, so they must've been planning something and leaving me out of it. (It's not paranoia if someone really is plotting behind your back, y'know - especially if you're the boss.)

I joined the group, trying to pull Dad aside to ask him a couple of questions about the disking process because I hadn't done it before.  I know how to run the tractor, I have loads of common sense but I'm also smart enough to know how dangerous tractor work is and I wanted to make sure I was being safe about it.

After about fifteen minutes I was getting impatient.  Time was passing and I was chomping at the bit to get on the tractor and get to disking.  I always seem to be impatient around the guys because I'm the kind of person who, given a task, will work at it until a) I drop or b) the task is done.  The guys, however, like to take it slow.  Neither way is necessarily right or wrong, it's not that black-and-white.  There are times (meaning always) when my approach is better, and times (meaning never) when theirs is better.

After another ten minutes or so of conversation, during which I tricked them into telling me what they had been plotting, I finally got Dad away.  But not all the way up to Little Mama, which is my nickname for the tractor with the disks attached.  (Just FYI, Little Mama is an all-purpose tractor which means it doesn't have anything like a bucket or a backhoe permanently attached.)

No, Dad wanted to discuss future plans for the old water line (again).  The one that's been in the ground for 35 years, predates county water service and leaks like a sieve.  That line (actually, its replacement), will end at a hose bib for irrigation this first couple of years, until we can get real irrigation put in.  In a couple of years we're going to have approximately a mile of soaker hoses for sale, so check back if you need some.  I'm not kidding, either.  

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, my Dad has a penchant for repetition.  Sometime during the last century when my Dad was a boy, his Dad coined the phrase "beating a dead horse" because my Dad will talk a subject to death and beyond.  (OK, Dad isn't really that old, he's only 85.  I'm just picking on him because the whole beat-a-dead-horse thing drives me batty.)  We agreed (again) that the old line would, in fact, be replaced and would, in fact, terminate right here in a hose bib.  Not an inch further; the line would stop here.  But because we didn't drive a stake, the whole conversation will have to happen again when it's actually time to run that new water line...

Anyway, with that settled (again), we headed up to Little Mama.  I told Dad the few things I knew about the job I was about to undertake, and he said I pretty much had it right.  When we arrived at the tractor, though, I couldn't get on it and go;  Dad had to explain how the tractor operates.  Now, you'll read me griping about my Dad being a control freak (gee, maybe that's where I get it from), but that old goat knows about things like disking. And he wants me to not get hurt, that terrifies him  (Dad, it terrifies me, too.)

So, with ill-concealed impatience I nodded my head as he pointed out the throttle lever, the clutch pedal, the brake pedals, the gear shifters, the steering wheel, the...etc.  He made sure I had my work gloves and was wearing steel-toed boots.  Then he let me actually get on the tractor.  And then he gave me a little test - if something happens, what's the first thing you do?  (I stomped on the clutch pedal - that disengages both the PTO and the drive wheels. Gimme a hard one, Dad.)  OK, what's the second thing you do?  Well, that's where I messed up.  I reached for the key to turn off the tractor.  Damn!  I forgot that tractors don't turn off via the key; you have to choke them to death - literally.

After I had demonstrated stomping on the clutch and yanking on the choke a few times, I reached for the key thinking "Woo hoo!  It's time to go!"

Nope.  Dad hit me with a surprise - that tractor has a seat belt, and he insisted that I use it.  (Can you see the steam starting to come out of my ears yet?)  So then we find out that the seat belt is (embarassingly) not long enough to go around me.  Then we figured out it was adjustable, and spent another five minutes trying to figure out how to adjust it.  The belts were double-looped through a thingie and had a lock-bar widget to keep them from slipping.  Ye Gods!  If you read yesterday's post, you'll know that this hobby farmer's motto is "You can't get there from here."

Enough said.  We got it fixed, I put it on, got the go-ahead from Dad and reached for the key.  No key.  Aaargh!  Dad patted all of his pockets and thank goodness he found it.  He wouldn't have to walk back up to the house and try to find it.  NOW I could go!

But not quite yet.  Jeff came along, (leaving his work area and leading me to be suspicious about what he was up to).  He asked if I had the ear plugs.  Double damn!  I'd forgotten them.

I undid the seat belt, climbed down, and stomped off to the house.  Which turned out to be a good thing, because I'd also forgotten something to drink.

When I got back to Little Mama, Dad had headed back down to supervise the trenching for the water pipe. I was all by myself!  I could get on the tractor and get started!  Without the seat belt!  Hallelujah!!!

So I did.  And I hadn't had those disks in the ground for five minutes before Dad and Jeff had to come see.  Jeff stopped at the barn, watched for a few seconds, and then (hopefully) went back to work.  Dad, however, had to come talk about exactly what ground was going to be broken.  Again.

We went over it twice, making sure it was crystal clear to both of us that 1) his little grafted pecan trees wouldn't be damaged, and 2) there was no way in hell I would be able to get it all done today because I couldn't seem to get started.

Oh, and, since I finally remembered to start carrying the camera with me I had to give it to Dad and ask him to take some pictures.  We spent another five minutes discussing angles, distances, etcetera.  I finally  cranked up the tractor, vowing "I'm not stopping again until I have to pee or this tractor catches on fire!!"

I kept my vow.  Because the Coke fell over when I accidentally popped the clutch, I didn't have to pee for the rest of the day.  It took me seven hours to break up that ground, and it was an exhausting but exhilarating seven hours.

I parked the disks with the rest of the implements and unhooked it, then took off on the tractor to check on The Water Line Project.  Because the day wasn't over yet - plenty of daylight left.  When I got there, they had actually dug another ten feet of ditch.  Ten feet?!  In seven hours?!  I knew I shouldn't have left them alone, dammit.  And Jeff wasn't there, just Dad and Doug.  I didn't even stop, I needed Jeff because the tractor had developed a low tire and he has the air compressor...

There was more drama today, and a little more work got done, but I had accomplished my task.  It felt terrific.  It was terrific not only because I love running any tractor doing anything, but also because I finally felt like a farmer.  We would actually be able to (try to) grow crops next spring.  It was actually going to happen - I had taken my first tiny step towards being a hobby farmer.

This post was entered into The Chicken Chick's Clever Chicks Blog Hop #204.  Love Chickens?  Visit her site!

No comments:

Post a Comment