Sunday, September 14, 2014

Prairie oasis and weird places

We spent the night before last at Cabri Regional Park.  We would have loved to stay longer but water and work kept us on the move.  Water was an issue because, despite the beauty of the park, their tap water is frankly disgusting.  We neglected to fill our tank before we arrived and refused to put their muddy brown solution in our lines.  Work beckoned as well because I’m hurrying to get my Assiniboia Farmland files wrapped up over the next couple of days.  So we only spent one night but we definitely will be back – with a full water tank next time.

CabriPark

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A winding trail from the bald prairie northeast of Cabri leads to a little oasis on the bank of the south Saskatchewan River.

After we got set up at Cabri I went for a drive over toward Shackleton.  I was in that area in July but it was so damn wet that I couldn’t get to any of the places I wanted to go.  I even ended up in the ditch briefly on that trip and – horror of horrors – had to be drug out of the ditch by a Chebbie.  In my defence the idiot driving the Chebbie had forced me off the road to begin with but mercifully stuck around to pull me back onto the road.  Its not a whole lot drier now but it was enough drier that I could get to the places I wanted to go this time.  Some of the ruts I made a month ago were still evident.

20140912_152744Western Canada has a lot of really big things which some local welder/artist thought would be a good idea.  I’ve profiled some of them over the years but this one is about the most bizarre example of the genre.  Go ahead – guess what it is before you read the next caption.  You won’t get it right.  Guaranteed.

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There …. I told you that you wouldn’t get it.  And, tempting as it was, I decided to give the museum a pass. 

We got a little rain overnight at the park.  It probably amounted to less than a 10th of an inch but it has been so wet down here that even that insignificant amount had an impact on the road.  The truck was just on the edge of spinning out all the way up the fairly steep hill as we left the park.  Then we chucked mud all over the undercarriage as we followed the gravel into Cabri.  I deliberately went slow and managed to keep the front of the rig clean but the undercarriage got blasted.  When we pulled into the Husky at Swift Current I discovered that we only had 3 shoes left.  Somewhere along the way the right front tire on the trailer had completely shredded.  Fortunately the rim was undamaged but all that remained of the tire was strings of rubber around the rim.  The night before I had looked at the tires and thought that they didn’t have much life left in them so we limped from the Husky to the Integra Tire store next door where we had 4 new shoes installed.  It was Saturday morning so there was only one guy on duty, answering the phone, manning the counter and installing tires.  Nonetheless he had us out the door with four new tires in under an hour and for just a shade over $600.   Two more of the tires were on the verge of separating so it was way past time anyway.

Last night we stayed in Notukeu Regional Park on the outskirts of Ponteix.  I’ve got a couple of visits nearby so we’ll spend one more night here before we go back to Regina and then on to Buchanan.  My farming gig fell through – evidently they found another truck driver who was prepared to come immediately.  While I would have appreciated a call to tell me they had found another driver I was actually relieved.  There’s no way they would have paid me even a fraction of what I think I’m worth and I’ve just got too many things to do right now to be doing charity work for farmers.  Particularly so for farmers who can well afford to hire the help that they really need. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Home briefly

Last weekend I drove Marilyn to Saskatoon where she rented a car for a fast trip to the Okanagan.  She was pitching a training program to some grape growers association.  Her reunion in P.A. went well, wrapping up with a breakfast at the golf course on Sunday morning.  We left from the breakfast for Saskatoon.

While she was driving across half the country I finished up some Assiniboia files across the north of the province.  Then I came back to Buchanan via Bjorkdale so I could look at another skidsteer loader.  It was pretty tired and overpriced.  The guy who owned it wasn’t home so I told his wife he could call me when he got real on his expected price.  So far no phone calls.  The guy in Big River with the bastard Thomas loader, on the other hand, has already called me with a price reduction.  I may end up buying that one.  It seemed pretty tight – he obviously is negotiable on the price – and its a very simple machine.  Simple = good in my books.

Meanwhile I’ve been cleaning up the little Kubota.  I spent about an hour washing it yesterday.  Next I need to figure out why it has no working gauges and I need to replace the shutdown cable.  Right now when its time to shutdown I need to reach in behind the engine and feel blindly for the shutdown level.  Which is actually pretty simple now but my arm ends up really close to the muffler and its kind of a pain so it needs to be fixed.  The vendor had already bought the cable but hadn’t got around to installing it so he included it in the deal.

Marilyn came home with a bad cold so we’re taking a couple of days for her to recover and I’m happy to have the time to get things ready for winter.  Then we’ll make one final trip to wrap up the farm visits. 

A friend has asked me to help him with his harvest so that’s where I’ll likely end up by the end of next week.  Marilyn’s plans are still fluid.  There could very well be snow on the ground by the time I get back here again so yesterday and today I was busy getting my various antiques ready for winter.  I spent most of today dinging up the little Kubota.

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Revere seems a little extreme but I’m certainly coming to appreciate how good a deal I appear to have made on the little Kubota.

I started the day with a new grease gun and by the end of the day the first tube was empty.  That likely means I have too many pieces of equipment.  Along the way I discovered that my Kubota does have glow plugs after all.  They weren’t connected to anything but when I did they clearly work because the little 3-banger fired on the first turn.  I was suspicious that my alternator wasn’t putting out so I tested it and sure enough, it wasn’t doing anything other than turning.  A few jumper wires later I had confirmed that there is nothing wrong with the alternator.  There’s a lot of boogy wiring to be cleaned up – I expect as I get further into cleaning up the wiring more of the bits and pieces will start to work again.  The defective shutdown cable turned out to be as simple as connecting the cable that was already in place so now I have a spare shutdown cable if I should ever need one.

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Here’s a good example of boogy wiring – random wires going to nowhere, lots of black tape.

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In the past I’ve always hired someone else to do my sandblasting and that was likely very wise.  However I have several projects coming up that will require sandblasting so I now own a genuine Princess Auto piece of crap sandblaster. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The tireman

We left Buchanan after lunch, headed west and then turned north at Watson.  I had planned to turn north at Wadena but we’ve gone to Saskatoon too many times so we were headed west out of Wadena before I realized what I was doing.  It didn’t really matter – our destination was Prince Albert so we had about 4 possible routes from Buchanan and they were all roughly the same distance.  I just haven’t been up that highway from Wadena through Archerwill and Tisdale for a long time. 

Instead of Archerwill we got to see the tireman at Daphne.  There’s not much left of Daphne.  Beyond the tireman, there’s really nothing left of Daphne.  The tireman on the other hand has been there as long as I can remember and we’re talking childhood memories now.  Early childhood.

20140828_150254 I think he’s been rebuilt a few times.  My recollection is that the version from my childhood had a body made of tires as well.  And the original tires weren’t painted.  He may very well be like your grandfather’s axe – 3 new handles and 1 new head but otherwise the same axe he cleared the homestead with.

Today the tireman stands guard over a roadside store.  They had signs out claiming that they had fresh produce for sale so we stopped in search of new potatoes.  I detoured to take a picture of tireman and Marilyn went into the store.  Evidently she missed the sign which caught my attention as I entered.  I’m paraphrasing now but it said something to the effect of:

We love our children dearly so that’s why we let every bug in christendom shit all over our produce which we then sell to you.  We also don’t believe in sustainable production so we constantly mine the ground that produces the food we sell.

Like I said, I’m paraphrasing – but we didn’t buy anything either. Instead we went on to Melfort and followed the signs to the farmers’ market on the Co-op parking lot.  There we found Steve Rudy from Nipawin selling produce out the side of a panel van.  I used to sell Steve liquid fertilizer so I asked him if his potatoes were organic.  I think Steve is losing it a bit – he clearly didn’t recognize me but he immediately assured me that his potatoes were in fact organic.  I of course challenged him and he immediately agreed that he did use some non-organic inputs.  Where he is growing potatoes if he didn’t at the very least use potash his spuds would be scabby diseased monsters.  And the ones we bought were on the contrary, very fine specimens of potatoes.  And they tasted wonderful when we boiled some of them for supper.

It struck me though how quick Steve was to claim organic status, as if it was automatically good.  Clearly he had been asked the question before and equally clearly the right answer was to claim organic status, no matter how conventional his production practices might be.  After a very few minutes of conversation Steve launched into an explanation of the superiority of his cabbage crop and how essential it was to use insecticides on cabbages.  Evidently his neighbours are constantly asking how he can grow cabbages while theirs get eaten up by worms.  The answer of course is to kill all the moths that lay the eggs that subsequently hatch into worms.  Its really sad that a man who has figured out how to grow premium vegetables on sandy marginal land finds it necessary to lie about how he grows those vegetables.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A different kind of dirt

Its been pissing rain every day everywhere in southwest Saskatchewan. But the effect of that rain depends entirely on where you happen to be.

Two days ago I was wandering around near Cabri, Shackleton and Rush Lake.  They have the snottiest slimiest mud known to man.  I could scarcely move – two wheel drive or four wheel drive – it made no difference.  At one point I didn’t trust taking the truck down the road so I got out to walk and the road – which appeared dry on the surface – was too slimy to even walk on.  Another time I got sideways on a sideroad and spent over 15 minutes jockeying around in 4WD to get headed back the way I had come from.  That time I thought I was done for but I persevered and finally got out.

Yesterday I was in the Lucky Lake, Riverhurst, Outlook area and it was night and day different.  I actually drove through standing water several times.  Roads which looked too slimy to travel were easily handled in 2WD.  It is remarkable how different soil can be – if anything its wetter over here than it was by Swift Current.

Tonight we’re going to visit Jorgito’s new grandparents.  We haven’t heard from Glen and Cathy so we don’t know how he’s doing.  Obviously we hope for the best but I expect the little furball turned into coyote food sometime over the last year.  They weren’t at the summer reunion so Marilyn has been worried about the little bugger ever since.  Me too a little bit.

Other than worrying about the furball, we’re having a kind of down day, enjoying several espressos and listening to CBC’s Sunday morning programming (which is about the only thing left worth listening to on government radio).  We’re missing the big rain in southern Saskatchewan but only barely – its been dreary and drizzling here since we got up. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

A new toy

It may appear that I am collecting a yard full of random machinery but there is a master plan.  When Jack Boxall started his sand and gravel business in Nipawin I thought it was inspired.  For a relatively small investment he had a business that he could spend as little or as much time on as he wanted to.  Jack had some bigger equipment than I want to mess with but his concept was to fill a niche that the big contractors wouldn’t bother with.  He had a couple of gravel trucks and a wheel loader but he also had smaller equipment.  I’m restricting myself to equipment that I can drag behind the big Ford.  Anything that needs an annual safety is automatically off the list.

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Clayton couldn’t resist trying it out – he’s a better operator than me but that’s setting the bar petty low.

Yesterday I picked up a little Kubota mini excavator.  I’ve been looking for something that will dig past 8 feet and that’s remarkable hard to find unless you want to spend big bucks.  Which I didn’t.  Eight feet is the magic number if you want to bury water lines below the frost line.  There was one came up in Saskatoon on Kijiji a couple of nights ago and it just happened that we were going to be in Saskatoon anyway.  Murray and I went to look at it and neither of us could see anything wrong with it.  Not that either of us is any expert on mini excavators.  Between the pair of us we maybe had half a clue. 

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Then as luck would have it Murray’s neighbour wanted some digging done in his pasture so I was able to try the machine out.  I’m a pretty rough operator but I think the machine performed OK.  There’s a remarkable amount of technique involved.  At first I thought I needed a bigger bucket but the more I ran it the more I thought maybe I just needed a better operator. 

My little excavator is what Kubota refers to as a gray market machine.  That means that when it was imported it bypassed Kubota’s dealer network.  They say that also means that the dealers won’t honour warranty on it.  Given that it was built in 1998 I think I can live with that.  I’d really like to find an operator’s manual for it because gray market also means that all the decals are in Japanese.  I’m not real good at Japanese.  I was trying to figure out what all the little pictographs mean but after a while it reminded me of a story father told me years ago.

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Farm tractors with mechanical gear shifts used to have numbers stamped into the transmission casting.  In theory the numbers allowed you to align the shift and thereby select a gear.  One of their neighbours on the farm at Kenaston had commented that he could tell more about what gear he was in by which direction he was going and how fast than he could by the little cast iron numbers.  I figured out what the controls did by moving the levers.  Some of them were a little tricky because there’s a diverter valve that you move and that way one lever does two different things, depending where you set the diverter.

Next item on the shopping list is a wood chipper for the little Fiat/Cockshutt/White.  That way we can charge for tree removal, chip the trees and then sell the chips.  And finally we’ll need some kind of a skid steer loader.  We’ll get a little coloured limestone inventory from the quarry at Limestone, Manitoba as well as some plain old crushed rock.  I’d really like to have some red shale inventory too but I haven’t figured out any economical way to get it to eastern Saskatchewan.   And shit.  We need a great big pile of good old rotten cowshit. 

A new toy

It may appear that I am collecting a yard full of random machinery but there is a master plan.  When Jack Boxall started his sand and gravel business in Nipawin I thought it was inspired.  For a relatively small investment he had a business that he could spend as little or as much time on as he wanted to.  Jack had some bigger equipment than I want to mess with but his concept was to fill a niche that the big contractors wouldn’t bother with.  He had a couple of gravel trucks and a wheel loader but he also had smaller equipment.  I’m restricting myself to equipment that I can drag behind the big Ford.  Anything that needs an annual safety is automatically off the list.

20140817_172313

Clayton couldn’t resist trying it out – he’s a better operator than me but that’s setting the bar petty low.

Yesterday I picked up a little Kubota mini excavator.  I’ve been looking for something that will dig past 8 feet and that’s remarkable hard to find unless you want to spend big bucks.  Which I didn’t.  Eight feet is the magic number if you want to bury water lines below the frost line.  There was one came up in Saskatoon on Kijiji a couple of nights ago and it just happened that we were going to be in Saskatoon anyway.  Murray and I went to look at it and neither of us could see anything wrong with it.  Not that either of us is any expert on mini excavators.  Between the pair of us we maybe had half a clue. 

20140817_172318

Then as luck would have it Murray’s neighbour wanted some digging done in his pasture so I was able to try the machine out.  I’m a pretty rough operator but I think the machine performed OK.  There’s a remarkable amount of technique involved.  At first I thought I needed a bigger bucket but the more I ran it the more I thought maybe I just needed a better operator. 

My little excavator is what Kubota refers to as a gray market machine.  That means that when it was imported it bypassed Kubota’s dealer network.  They say that also means that the dealers won’t honour warranty on it.  Given that it was built in 1998 I think I can live with that.  I’d really like to find an operator’s manual for it because gray market also means that all the decals are in Japanese.  I’m not real good at Japanese.  I was trying to figure out what all the little pictographs mean but after a while it reminded me of a story father told me years ago.

20140817_172321

Farm tractors with mechanical gear shifts used to have numbers stamped into the transmission casting.  In theory the numbers allowed you to align the shift and thereby select a gear.  One of their neighbours on the farm at Kenaston had commented that he could tell more about what gear he was in by which direction he was going and how fast than he could by the little cast iron numbers.  I figured out what the controls did by moving the levers.  Some of them were a little tricky because there’s a diverter valve that you move and that way one lever does two different things, depending where you set the diverter.

Next item on the shopping list is a wood chipper for the little Fiat/Cockshutt/White.  That way we can charge for tree removal, chip the trees and then sell the chips.  And finally we’ll need some kind of a skid steer loader.  We’ll get a little coloured limestone inventory from the quarry at Limestone, Manitoba as well as some plain old crushed rock.  I’d really like to have some red shale inventory too but I haven’t figured out any economical way to get it to eastern Saskatchewan.   And shit.  We need a great big pile of good old rotten cowshit. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fixing tractors

Fixing tractors is my life.  I started the week by parking the 446 oil burner and firing up the 2nd of the two micro-Case tractors that I bought last fall.  That second one appeared superficially to be in worse condition but the engine is clearly in better shape.  It is a model 444 with a 14 or 16 HP single cylinder Kohler compared to the nominal 18 HP twin cylinder Onan in the 446 model but there is no comparison to the HP produced by the two tractors.  The little Kohler is pretty tired too but nowhere near as bad as the Onan.  We can actually mow grass with the Kohler and its not laying down an embarrassing oil fog while I mow.  I’ll leave the Onan hooked to the sprayer which it is more than capable of pulling but I don’t think I’ll ask it to do anything more strenuous than that.  My goal when I bought them was to restore one of them so it looks like the 446 with the Onan is the logical choice for that restoration.

Like I said a few weeks ago, my mistake was getting the 446 running and then thinking I could use it.  As I turns out, I think I actually can use the 444 so that may be the best possible outcome.  The 446 has a real 3-point hitch on it – the 444 just has a little piece of square tubing that fits into a C-section on the attachments.  I’m not sure what difference that makes but the 446 3-point looks like a real 3-point hitch.  The mechanism is pretty well identical.  The 446 also has slightly newer tin and its painted in newer Case colours.  If I’m doing a restoration I can choose whatever colours I want but all in all the 446 is the logical choice for a restoration so if I can use the 444 while I restore the 446 then that’s just a bonus.

There are enough of these little tractors still in existence that people have developed conversion kits specifically so you can install new engines in them.  I have to decide whether it is worthwhile buying a kit or whether I’ll just find a used engine and jam it into the tractor.  That’s a decision for another day.  At one point I considered some kind of a diesel conversion but right now that feels like too much work.

Once I got a lawnmower tractor working I started using the Fiat.  That let us get the yard at the little house cleaned up big time – we tore out the falling down fence at the back, cleaned up some dead trees, filled in some holes, hauled all the junk to the dump.  Fortunately I did all that before I noticed a big gap in the right hand rear rim.  I knew the rim was bad when I bought the tractor.  The tire was clearly leaking fluid and the calcium chloride had corroded hell out of the rim.  I didn’t think it was in imminent danger of rupturing the rim but that is in fact exactly what happened.  I think it happened before I pushed dirt at the little house.  If that is true then I got really lucky in that I was able to move the tractor back here and get it inside the garage before it collapsed in a messy heap in the road.  As soon as I noticed the broken rim I stopped using it but I think I had been using it for at least a day before I noticed the hole in the rim. 

20140810_153251When it comes to rims there’s good and there’s not good.  This is not good. 

I found a new rim online and the tire looks to be good enough to reuse so its not a great big deal.  The rim has a bolt in centre so all I need is the actual rim.  The centre needs paint but its otherwise in decent shape.  The rim on the left hand side looks really good but I’ll be dumping the fluid on that side as well.  There’s 200 pounds of cast iron weights on each side which should be more than enough for all I plan to do with the tractor.  If it isn’t I’ll find a few suitcase weights and hang them on the 3-point hitch.  Thirty years ago I changed the tires on my 70 John Deere with a lot less tools than I have at my disposal now so mounting the tire doesn’t seem like that big a deal.  The tire on the left hand side looks pretty rough – once I get the good one back on the right hand side I’ll see how I feel about changing another one.  At that time I may just go ahead and put a new tire on the left hand side while I’m draining the fluid anyway.  That way I’d start out with two dry tubes and I could paint the left hand rim to match the newly painted rim on the other side. 

I’ve also got some electrical clean up to do on the tractor.  Its got 30+ years of boogy farmer electrical “fixes”, most of which should just be ripped off and thrown in the dump.  At the same time as I do that I’ll rip out a lot of the original Fiat nonsense wiring.  Its a really simple tractor – a mechanical engine with mostly mechanical gauges so all it needs is a really spartan electrical system along the lines of what I did to the Onan generator on the bus.  That all can wait until fall and in the meantime the tractor is more than usable.  Well …….. right now its sitting on blocks so not that usable but once I get the tire and wheel thing sorted out it will be very usable.

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Farmer electrical – yes, that’s cigarette paper wrapped around those fuses.  And there’s a lot worse that I just can’t easily take pictures of.  Effing European engineers.