Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ode to a friend

I hadn’t looked in on the Kubota all winter. DW and our neighbor, Ken, had gone into the barn for a reason that now escapes me, and it was Ken that noticed that a tire was low. I was out of town at the time. When I returned home and heard about the tire, I went out to have a look. The tires looked OK to me. But I was looking at the front tires. As I started to walk away, I noticed that not one, but both rear tires were meeting the ground with way too much tread.

A reader might wonder why I didn’t initially inspect all of the tires, just as one might do on a car. Well, for one thing, in all of my life I’ve never seen a flat rear tire on a tractor. Now, mind you, I haven’t been around farm equipment all of my life, but I have a fair amount of time put in on my grandparents’ farm and those of my childhood friends before I took on the questionable avocation of farming myself, and rear tires on tractors just don’t lose pressure. That’s because they don’t have much air in them; instead, they are almost completely filled with liquid, which in the case of my Kubota, is a calcium chloride and water mix. There is a little bit of air in the tire, but not much.

I looked for leakage but didn’t find any. So, maybe the tires just needed a little top-off with some air. The problem was, of course, since I had never encountered this problem before, I was unclear as to how to proceed. I called the Kubota dealership and a nice fellow name Dennis (who seemed equally surprised that my tires were low) told me how to proceed.

First, I had to position the tractor so that the valve on each tire was at the twelve o’clock position. This was so that when I put air in the tire, the air would be going into the “bubble” of air remaining in the tire from when they were initially filled with the calcium. Then, I would have to jack up the rear end of the tractor in order to take the pressure of the heavy machine off of the tires. I was to accomplish this with a 6-ton bottle jack I had bought a few years back, still in its box. Of course, I could see that when one valve was at the proper position, the other was at about 2:30, so I would have to repeat the process.

I have an electric air pump, which is quite adequate for pumping up the tires on our small wagons and for the car, yet I was a bit skeptical when it came to filling tractor tires. I couldn’t find any information in my manual or on the tires as to how many (much?) psi each tire should have. You hear stories. People have been killed filling tractor tires. If one fills the tire too much, it can explode. Proceed with caution, Mr. bastin.

Even though I had not fired up the tractor in months, I was relieved when it turned right over. It was nice to hear the familiar ring and roar of the diesel. As I backed out of the barn, I leaned over the fender and felt inside the top of the right tire until the valve touched my fingers. I turned the tractor off, dismounted, and placed cinder blocks in front of the front tires to prevent rolling. I then positioned the jack under the hitch and got the rear in the air.
When I attached the air pump, a little liquid leaked out but quit when I locked down the nozzle. I turned on the pump, yet even though I was fairly certain that air was going into the tire, the gauge did not move. Lovely. So what did I do? Like any good man who encounters such a situation, I winged it. “That oughta do it.” Indeed, when I released the jack, the tire looked well-inflated.

I repeated the procedure for the left tire, with the same results, except when I was removing the pump, a rather substantial amount of liquid escaped, spilling onto my pump, and it started to complain in that particular electric voice that says, “You better unplug me now if you expect me to work next time.” I obliged.

Now that the Kubota was ready for action, and I had a couple hours of daylight left, I could not resist putting it through its paces. There was compost that surely needed turning, and, since the tiller was still attached from last fall, maybe I could do a quick, shallow turn in Paddock Two and kill some early weed growth.

Simple pleasures! I love my tractor. We have spent many, many hours together, and it felt great to be back in the saddle. And I still had it, that Zen feeling of being one with the machine, working the front end loader in tandem with the movement of the tractor, leveling the bucket to the ground, then scooping and placing the compost with precision.

The tilling was equally enjoyable. Paddock Two is one of our smaller growing areas. If I don’t perfectly time lifting the tiller out of the dirt and making a tight turn, I lose time backing up the tractor in order to position it for another run. Oh, and to smell the freshly turned earth!

As any farmer will tell you, the tractor is singly the most important tool on the farm. It is both a labor and time saver. It is also a sanctuary. Time flies when I do tractor work. And if I have been on my hands and knees weeding for hours, or doing some other similarly tedious work, when I finish, I will ask myself if there is any work that needs to be done with the tractor. And unlike any other task on the farm, when I get on the tractor, I do so without music. No iPod, no headphones. I want to hear the song within the machine.


Crash said...

Two great pictures, one from your camera and one from your words. Mood-lifters.

joxum said...

Good post, sir!

Wish I had a tractor too, but I doubt if I could find one small enough for this little patch we call a lawn.


Crash said...

Me, too, joxum. I can just see me going around our .34 suburban acres on one.

bastinptc-can you do all the maintenance on your tractor, or do you need to use the dealer now-and-then? eg-a hydraulic leak. How is that handled? Do they work at your farm, do they trailer it in to their shop?

bastinptc said...

Crash - I do very basic maintenance, oil and filters. The dealership has a program where they'll fetch the tractor for free for annual maintenance. I take advantage of that.