How to Fix Stuff on a Farm

Fixing stuff on the farm

It has come to my attention that one of the main responsibilities of farming is putting things back together, sometimes known colloquially as fixing stuff, which leads to the other main responsibility of farming–finding stuff to fix stuff. 

Finding stuff is a satisfying pastime, best enjoyed in the company of others. There’s no greater pleasure than shouting across a scrapyard, “Hey, I think I found something!” Over the years, my wife’s poppaw Lowry and I have spent many pleasant hours wandering the local scrapyard in search of the perfect piece of scrap. The chance to work in outdoor environs like a well-organized junk heap with birds chirping, heavy machinery roaring, and jagged metal gleaming is what draws many people to farming.

What also draws people to farming is a love of the land, and there’s nothing like landing a quarter-inch wrench from the disaster area that is my tool shed. Sometimes I forget to lock my tool shed, and I’m pretty sure that’s when my wife sneaks in there to play with my wrenches and forgets to put them back in their correct place, which is why she often finds my pocket wrench in the washing machine. 

Once you find the tools and materials needed to put something back in working order, then you just need to remember how you took the thing apart. Truth be told, it’s very simple to fix things, so to give the repair a sporting chance at failure, it’s best to reference only mental notes from taking the thing apart. Writing down the order in which the thing was disassembled is considered cheating–unless, that is, the written notes are promptly lost, in which case they become fair game for the process of fixing stuff by way of finding stuff. 

The final step after reassembly is to apply duct tape, JB Weld, or bailing twine. Then you can either call your neighbor to brag about your ingenuity and successful farm repair or, more likely, ask to borrow his equipment since your thing still isn’t working. 

A Glimpse into a Farmer’s Soul

There is nothing more intimate than climbing in another man’s work truck. It’s a glimpse into his soul. If only George W. Bush, instead of gazing into Putin’s eyes, would have gotten into Vladimir’s work truck, he would have known Putin was a dirty, no-good dictator, who couldn’t be trusted. As it is, we invaded Iraq instead of Russia, and consequently the current leader of the free world thinks injecting bleach is a good idea. Not that I haven’t thought the same once or twice, but that’s when I was really depressed because cattle prices plummeted, which, to be fair, occurred during the Obama administration. 

But enough politics, back to work trucks. I love a king cab, the filthier the better. It’s always revealing to see what’s left of the stimulants another man needed to stay awake and well-nourished on the farm: Mountain Dew bottles, crushed Red Bull cans, orange nab crumbs, honey bun wrappers. My truck is littered with M&M wrappers and Diet Coke bottles. My wife’s poppaw Lowry is eighty-four, and whenever he rides with me, he says I need to stop drinking that “dope.” Dope is what old timers here in the foothills call Coke. Unfortunately, many farmers have graduated to more hardcore substances. Sun Drop is a major problem now. Shelby, NC, is kidney stone capital of the world. 

But last year, I got into a farmer’s work truck and noticed something unusual. Instead of your normal farming essentials, like a tin of Skoal and a dip bottle, this farmer, James DeWalt, had a copy of Plato’s Republic sitting on the dash. I did a double take. “Why do you have Plato?” I asked.  

“To read,” he said, “the new combine has GPS-guided steering. You just gotta do the first round to set up the field boundary, and then the combine takes over and drives itself.”

“So you read Plato while combining?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to catch up on the classics now that I have all this leisure time riding around the field. I read Aristotle during corn harvest. ”

To be honest, I was really impressed. Who woulda thought Jim DeWalt was a man of such refined reading tastes? But that’s what a work truck can reveal. Personally, I always thought technology was making humans dumber. Take me, for example: I only know three phone numbers by heart–one is my own cell phone, one is the number to my childhood house (now inhabited by complete strangers), and one is 911. It’s sad that I don’t even know my wife’s number. She’s just speed dial number one. Thankfully, I don’t text much, so I can still write in complete sentences, but the calculator app has also destroyed  my ability to do longform division. 

working on combine

But if new technology can increase my reading time, I’m all for it because old technology has not. Several years ago, I spent $400 on on an old combine, an Allis Chalmers All Crop Harvester, but it breaks down every fourth round so I have little leisure time to enjoy anything while harvesting grain. But when I realized that for $400,000 I could have bought a combine that drove itself and allowed me to read the masters, I was smitten with envy. At least, I was until I read the following article in our local paper.

Come to find out, Jim fell asleep while reading Plato’s allegory of the cave and auto-steering malfunctioned. But despite making headlines, he had a good attitude about the mishap. He said if John Deere ever creates a combine that does laundry, he’ll be the first to buy.

Don’t Judge a Farm by its Combine

Momma always said, “Don’t judge a farm by its combine.” It’s an agricultural truth as old as time. The farmer with the 2021 edition of the GPS-guided soybean destroyer with tracks like an army tank and a 80-foot cutting head may be closer to the verge of bankruptcy than the little old fella with the Gleaner circa 1978. So don’t judge me when I show you my combine circa 1955 because I could be a quadruple billionaire who just likes running old equipment. I’m not (I’m just too poor to afford the GPS-guided-army-tank combine myself) but the point here is I could be rich–despite appearances–and you shouldn’t judge. You can laugh though; I’m not that sensitive.

This is our Allis Chalmers All Crop Harvester, a 66 model (6′ 6″ cutting head).

Farmer to the Rescue

All this wet weather has me thinking: 

One great honor that farmers experience is pulling another farmer out of a bog, ditch, or otherwise similar predicament of inertia. If your tractor ever bogs down to a rear axle, don’t worry–a farmer, likely your worst nemesis, will soon materialize out of nowhere with a tow cable and a newfound interest in your welfare. After extracting your tractor from the bog, the farmer will recite the “aw shucks, it could of happened to anyone” spiel before quickly proceeding to the nearest gas station grill or other gathering place of farm folk to tell everyone what a dimwit you were for getting stuck in a bog. 

Nearly as fulfilling as witnessing another farmer’s mistake is rescuing a hapless inhabitant of the city. Thus, imagine the great joy that the farmer who pulled Henry Ford from a muddy road experienced. In the following story, dated August 11th, 1922, you’ll notice the farmer is not named, but knowing how the law of stuckness works, we can suspect it was likely Louis Chevrolet or one of the Dodge Brothers who happened to rescue Mr. Ford and then quickly went off to find the nearest newspaper reporter.

From August 11th, 1922, Montgomery Advertiser

Still, as embarrassing as it is to be pulled out, doing so can prevent further calamity. Many farmers have suffered injuries or worse when a tractor, bogged down to the rear axle, suddenly reared up and performed a backflip. As with all aspects of farm safety, it’s better to be safe and a little embarrassed than proud and dead.