My Life

by wjw on September 20, 2006

So far the day has been spent in another lengthy round of trench warfare with my tractor, Beam.

Veterans of the late, lamented Genie and may remember the tragicomic history of my relationship with this machine. When I first moved to the country I acquired Beam, a Murray tractor with a powerful Tecumseh engine. Though small, it is potentially mighty— I made the point of getting a “garden tractor” as opposed to a riding mower— a tractor with a strong transaxle so that I could carry/haul/shove various sorts of genuine farm equipment, or rather miniaturized versions thereof.

My starry-eyed visions of becoming an agrarian gentleman did not survive prolonged acquaintance with Beam. The tires were easily punctured by common New Mexico weeds. The cutting blades in their deck were prone to breakdown. And all the equipment/accessories I acquired were crap.

I attached an expensive sleeve hitch to the back of Beam so that I could haul around my nearly-as-expensive disk harrow. I was going to follow the county agent’s advice for grooming my weed-strewn property— disk the weeds into the ground for a couple years, then sow with a drought-resistant grass. Unfortunately the disk harrow didn’t disk the weeds at all— it just moved the weeds about a quarter inch to the right and otherwise left them intact.

The sweeper that I acquired keeps shedding parts. The bagger that I replaced the sweeper with sort of works, when it’s not clogged. I never even assembled the seeder, because I never got to the point where I needed to seed anything, and besides I knew the thing was crap anyway.

I eventually hired a local rancher with an Allison-Chalmers to blade the hell out of the property and sow it with drought-resistant grass, except that most of the grass didn’t survive the first winter, let alone the nine-year drought that followed. Somewhere in this period I discovered that, although I have irrigation rights, the irrigation ditch is actually on a lower level than my property, so I’d have to pump the water out if I wanted to use it.

In the end I settled for keeping the weeds short. I could have bought a lawn tractor to do the same thing and saved a lot of money.

The Tecumseh engine keeps going, though. It’s barely given me trouble at all. Kudos to Tecumseh.

About a month ago one of the three blades just stopped turning. I dropped the deck from the tractor and hauled it out, and then spent a couple days trying to find the problem. A couple days of working in impossible heat narrowed it down to the stack or the plate, but I couldn’t tell which, and eventually I realized that there was a dealer with proper tools a short drive away, so I threw the deck into the back of my sporty car and decided it was going to be the dealer’s problem.

Three weeks later I dragged the deck home. In the way of dealers, the guy had performed a lot of work I hadn’t authorized him to do, including replacing the belts and replacing the blades. Replacing the blades was something I would have done next spring on my own, but now I don’t have to. And he didn’t overcharge me, which was something at least.

All was well until last week, when I ran the deck into a stump hidden in high weeds, and one of the blades began to make a clattering sound that I knew all too well. I knew the stump was there, but I was half-blind and distracted with allergic reactions to every single weed in North America, and I forgot. I was grateful for a chance to abandon my work and stand under the shower head for half an hour while the water washed pollen grains from my eyes, nose, and mouth, so I parked Beam in the breezeway and decided to deal with it later.

Later being this morning. So I removed the cotter pins and washers from the adjusting rods and the suspension link and the adjuster plate, and then pulled the cotter pin and washer from the blade control rod. A few whacks of the hammer knocked the front hanger from the axle support, and then I pulled the drive belt loose from the guide rods and the stack pulley.

This dropped the deck to the ground. I pulled it out from beneath the tractor, turned it over, and looked for bright metal where the blade was scraping the deck housing. This was more or less exactly where I thought it would be, so I beat it back into shape with a heavy hammer and made sure that the blade had free play. Then I rolled the deck rightside-up and shoved it under the tractor again.

I hooked the drive belt around the stack pulley, then reattached the suspension link and adjuster rods and adjuster plates and added the washers and threaded the cotter pins through the holes. I reattached the blade control rod and set it in place with a washer and cotter pin. I reattached the front hanger and secured that, and then I jumped up on Beam and started the mighty Tecumseh engine and set the level of the blades and pushed the blade rotation control lever forward, which should have engaged the blades.

Which it did. Sort of. Except that when the blades are engaged it normally makes a mighty buzzing sound, and the whole tractor quakes. And this time there was a mild whoosh and no vibration. But it seemed to cut all right, so I cut a few swaths and then got worried about why it wasn’t behaving properly, and rolled the tractor back into the shade, turned off the motor, and took a look.

The primary drive belt seemed loose to me. I looked at it and realized that while I’d properly slung it around the stack pulley, I hadn’t threaded it inside the guides. I now did this, and the blades now seemed to work more efficiently, except that there still wasn’t the almighty noise and vibration that years of experience had led me to expect.

The allergies were really kicking in by then, so I went into the house and blew my nose many times. It would have been worse except for the Claritin. Thank God for Claritin. It’s the only antihistamine that actually does what it says on the box.

I went back to the tractor and the drive belt still seemed loose. Everything seemed to be working okay, except that it was lackadaisical.

Back in the day, when I was working on a forty-year-old LC Smith & Corona office typewriter, my friend Dick Patten the typewriter repairman kept the beat-up old thing in shape, I guess as an act of charity. But I absorbed from him one important lesson— “always follow the linkage.” So I carefully traced the belt from the stack pulley through its whole circuit, and it seemed okay.

Then I went and got a sand bag from the garage and put it on the seat. This is because the seat has a dead-man switch so that if you ever get out of the seat, the engine will switch off. This is good for safety reasons, but it’s terrible when you want to fix something. So I put the sand bag in place of my butt and started the engine and engaged the blades and followed the linkage through its lackadaisical course. It just wasn’t tight enough, but I couldn’t tell why.

As to why I had a sand bag, it has to do with the disk harrow. At first I thought that there just wasn’t enough weight on the disker, and that’s why it wasn’t cutting and harrowing properly. So I got some sand bags and dropped them on top. After that I realized my problem was because the harrow was crap.

But back to the drive belt. There was an idler wheel, the job of which was to keep the belt tight, but it seemed to be working as it should. Then I realized that there was a whole other linkage devoted to keeping the belt tight, and this moved from the blade rotation control lever down through the blade control rod, which is adjustable. So I pulled the cotter pin and the washer and detached the blade control rod, and then I adjusted it and put it back in place again, and when I engaged the blades there was at once the familiar mighty roar of a big mechanical object eager to chop green growing things into tiny pieces. Huzzah.

So I cut some more swaths, except that the mighty noise kept falling off, and as I looked down I saw that the left side of the deck was plowing a big trench in the ground. I raised the deck, but it didn’t help. So back I went to the shade, and examined everything again, and I found that for some reason one of the cotter pins had broken, and the washer had sprung off into the weeds where I’ll find it in a couple years, and the deck had fallen off the suspension link on the left side and dropped right into the ground.

So I went to where I store my tools and supplies and tossed things around until I found some cotter pins of the right size, and then I took it back to the tractor and lifted the suspension link back into place and secured it with a new cotter pin, and now Beam was okay. I jumped aboard and finished the job, and then I decided to reward myself by going to the Rio Grande Diner and having the huevos rancheros, which are the best I’ve ever had anywhere.

You may ask what this has to do with writing science fiction and fantasy. I ask this myself. Why must I spend hours fucking around with the tractor, I ask, when I could be doing something useful and productive and entertaining and maybe even art?

Cuz it’s an excuse to have huevos rancheros, maybe. Or to waste some time on a blog.

But ultimately I do these things because they need to be done. Even pointless things require doing, and so much of my life must be spend in doing them.

Anonymous September 22, 2006 at 10:36 pm

My Hero! I appreciate all the hard work my darling hubby goes through to keep the yard looking nice.

When we moved into the house, I suggested we get a couple of goats. I notice that a neighbor of ours down the street has done so.

Maybe the neighbor would like to lend them out once in a while?

–Kathy H.

Bruce September 24, 2006 at 3:01 am

Y’know, this is the 21st century. Weren’t we supposed to have robots to do all this crap for us by now?

dubjay September 26, 2006 at 9:27 pm

Bruce, the robots would be made by the same people who made the tractor, and would break down in the same frustrating ways.

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