Last fall, in a rush of housekeeping to empty a maintenance garage, the school decided to get rid of its three-point-hitch post-hole auger. They had bought a Bobcat several years before, with all its own implements, and the old tractor auger was sitting unused. There was no time for a sale. Did I want it, free?
Wow. Did I want it? A post-hole auger could save me days’ worth of digging! It usually takes me three to four hours to dig a single post hole. It’s true that I don’t own a tractor, but whenever I hire D. or Norm to come out with their tractors they could hitch it up and use it without a problem. Eagerly I said yes, I did want it.
Due to early snow I was not able to deal with the auger in the fall, so one of the maintenance men kindly stashed it out of sight for me. Yesterday the ground had finally thawed and it was time to pick it up.
I vaguely knew the auger would be heavy. Jim in maintenance had mentioned we would need to use a tractor to put it in my truck. Now I began to ponder how I would get it out of my truck on the other end, by myself. I remembered Allen telling me a story of unloading a truck once by driving out from under the load. I wondered if I could chain the auger to something solid and floor the gas. Would the fall break the auger?
I called D. to ask.
D. thought a fall from my truck would certainly do the auger no good. He suggested I could put tires underneath to cushion it. I had no tires. Would hay bales work? Maybe. But probably the easiest solution for me would be to pull the auger off onto my soft manure pile, and he would deal with it when he came out with his tractor in a couple of weeks. In fact, D. said thoughtfully, why didn’t he just run out with his dump truck for twenty minutes and we’d load the auger into that and slide it out gently by lifting the dump box?
I was grateful and relieved. The whole project was beginning to intimidate me, and now it was off my shoulders. D. would know how to do everything. I didn’t give the auger another thought.
Yesterday I spent the morning building a sheep shelter. I was sunburned and slightly foggy with dehydration when D. called with a last-minute change of plans. Something important had suddenly come up; he could not make it after all. Would I be OK?
I drove up to meet Jim at the appointed time. Lucy rode in the passenger seat. My friend Joanne asked where D. was.
“Actually, it turns out he couldn’t come, so — instead of an expert mechanic and heavy equipment operator, I brought Lucy to help!”
Jim loaded the auger carefully. He mentioned that we couldn’t let it lean against the stake rack as the rack would immediately snap off under the weight. Oh. I gulped as Jim lowered the bucket, settling the auger in the truck bed. The truck sank on its axles like a circus elephant sighing to its knees. Oh dear.
Well, onward! Lucy and I drove the auger the mile down to the farm, hugging the shoulder of the highway, our emergency flashers blinking.
I braked at the barn, staring at my manure pile. The pile was certainly big enough to cushion anything. But what would I tie to? An interior barn post? I had an uneasy mental image of hitting the gas and the entire barn collapsing in a scene from a Buster Keaton movie.
Gee, I wish D. were here.
Finally I drove out to Larry’s old manure pile in the back acres. It, too, was cushiony — and there was a handy tree forty feet behind it. The only problem would be to reach the tree. My two rock chains, slung together, only stretched twenty feet. Still: if I uproot the tree, I don’t care. That settled it. I backed the truck to the pile.
I dug out some of DH’s old climbing rope. I use this heavy “trash” rope to lash and tow everything. It is very strong. The only problem is that it stretches. I figured I would allow for this. I tied in to the tree.
And then to the chains running over the manure pile to the truck.
I told Lucy to stand clear, and call to me when the auger started moving. I got in the truck and pressed the gas. The truck inched forward.
For long moments nothing seemed to happen. While I had tried to allow for stretch in the rope, I hadn’t realized my chain would immediately carve down through the manure pile like a cheese slicer.
Finally — “It’s moving!” Lucy screamed. “Oh, wait, it’s stuck!”
One of the “ears” of the three-point hitch had caught in my tailgate. I couldn’t budge it. Finally I pried it up using a steel fence post as a lever.
Once the ear was free, I tried to slide the rest of the auger off the truck. I couldn’t shift it — even sitting on my lever.
I was very aware that between the odd shape of the tool and the slope of the manure pile, I couldn’t predict the roll or drop of the auger. I had a worried memory of my friend Jeremy shutting down a hydraulic log splitter ten years ago and misjudging the balance of the weighted steel. While he was keeping his eye on the dangerous blade, the hinged posts pivoted on their fulcrum, snapped closed to an upright position, and neatly lopped off his index finger.
The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got.
I decided to climb above the weight.
At last I was able to throw the top of the auger free. It pivoted and fell with a heavy clank.
Only later did I stop to think that my huge, gratifying accomplishment was… dumping a large tool into a manure pile.
I don’t think real farmers have days like this.