In the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself dreaming of tractors again. I’ve been doing a lot of shoveling and pitchforking. Moreover, with all the rain and melting snow the barnyard and driveway are a soupy mess and if only I had the strength of ten — or a tractor with a bucket loader — I could spread the twelve-ton pile of crusher run (road mix stones and gravel) that’s waiting near the barn, fixing the problem in an hour. But: no tractor.
Last week I hauled two truckloads of sandy gravel to repair the floor of the stall the pony Punch had occupied. Punch was a restless soul and pawed constantly. In nine months he managed to lower his floor about ten inches. During lambing season one day I found Mary’s newborn twin lambs missing from the stall next door. I realized they’d fallen under the now-excavated wall divider and were bumbling around Punch’s feet, while he stood stock still, blowing out his nose in terror. I’d rescued the lambs and tacked a 2×6 over the gap, but now Punch was gone and I had to bring in gravel for repairs before the ground froze solid for winter.
Thankfully, the necessary gravel was near at hand. Last fall Allen had left a large pile (excavated from the pond) at the edge of the rock peninsula. This spring he’d asked me, frowning, “What’d I leave that for?” I couldn’t remember either, though I suspected the usual problem: we’d run out of time before the job was finished. But a pile of gravel never goes to waste on a farm. I’ve pecked away at it for half a dozen projects.
Bringing in the gravel to repair the floor meant shoveling gravel up into the truck, driving to the barn, off-loading gravel down into buckets, dragging the heavy buckets to the far end of the barn aisle, dumping them, and spreading the gravel. It took two truck-loads of gravel and many hours of shoveling.
Over the years I have perfected my approach to grunt labor. I tape my hands, take my time, and switch off my brain. I can shovel for a long, long time. Slow and steady. Nevertheless I do get tired and sore, and longing thoughts of a tractor or a skid steer do creep in.
If I had a loader I could clean out the run-in and put down new wood chips!
If I had a loader I could turn the manure pile and keep it cooking hot all winter, to be perfect compost by spring!
If I had a loader I could repair the ruts in the driveway!
If I had a loader I could skim off all the rocks in the barn paddock and smooth out the potholes!
Of course all of these projects could be done by hand — and were, before the age of loaders — but working alone I can’t seem to find enough energy and hours in the day. Just tackling the daily to-do list keeps me busy. I spent four hours last weekend mucking the deep bedding out of the sheep stall and carting it out of the barn.
Thus, as I wind duct tape around my hands and look at all the projects waiting, I’ve been dreaming of a tractor with a loader.
“Just buy a new one,” my neighbor Tony advises. “It’s only another car payment.”
I look at him and don’t say the obvious.
The local rental place doesn’t have a real tractor, only a mini item that Lucy glimpsed and said, “Oh, how cute!” It would be useless for my purposes.
Allen and his son jointly own a tractor with a loader. I once talked to Allen about buying out his half-share. They’d have the tractor for the winter, when they’d use it for snow removal; I’d have it ten miles away in the summer, when I’d hire Allen to run it a couple of hours a week on my land. That idea didn’t go anywhere for a number of reasons, not least because I don’t think those two operators could ever imagine not having their equipment at their fingertips, ready at any moment — any more than I could imagine a summer without books on my bedside table or a keyboard to type on.
So I keep dreaming and scheming. Leon and Joyce brought their children out yesterday after school to see Duke and Moxie. While I held the kids up to pat Birch or throw hay in the sheep feeders, Leon and I talked heavy metal. I know if I can someday find the money, Leon will help me find the second-hand tractor.
For now, though, it’s sweat and duct-taped hands.