she tried to warn me.
it was so sweet of her.
I didn’t understand.
Sunday morning, I went out to do the chores. I had gotten a new round bale the day before, but it was dark when I got home with it. this morning, I had to put it out in the ring in the mushy, muddy paddock. sometimes I can back the truck in there and just roll the bale off, but with all the mud I felt like I should definitely use the tractor this time, just in case.
first, I had to get the bale off the truck. always a little scary. I can’t handle round bales without thinking of the guy from ELO (the band, from the 80’s) who got killed by a runaway one while he was innocently driving down some highway in England, minding his own business. I opened the tailgate and reached up, wrapping my fingers around the string as high as I could get a grip, and pulled. the giant cylinder of hay ponderously rolled a few inches towards the end of the bed. I reached up higher, got another handful of twine, and rocked it back and forth a few times, then pulled hard and jumped out of the way.
800lbs of hay rolled off the truck and bounced gently once before coming to rest. I went around to the far side and pushed it over onto its flat end.
I went over to Betsy, my blue tractor. the seat was wet with dew. I turned the key without getting up onto it. there is a failsafe under the seat and if no one is sitting in it the tractor won’t run. I knew that already but I really didn’t want to get my bum wet. Betsy cleared her throat vigorously but did not start. I sighed, left the key “on” and walked to the barn, about 20 feet away, to get a dry grain bag to put on the seat.
when I came back, I got up onto the seat, turned the key off and then pushed it back forward.
no sound, not even a click.
I don’t even know how to open the hood, let alone if there’s anything different about jumpstarting a tractor than a car. (or a lawnmower, I’ve done that too… but wrong!) I spent a few futile minutes trying to figure out how to pop Betsy’s hood. didn’t get anywhere. now the bale is off the truck so I can’t even move it at all. shit.
I walked away, to the barn. thinking about having to leave the bale there and peel hunks off of it for the animals until Monday when Union Farm Supply opens. and how long it might take for them to fit me into their busy schedule. argh. I went back over to Betsy, climbed up and tried turning the key again, just out of pure desperation and stubbornness.
Betsy roared to life!
I heaved a giant sigh of relief and thanked Betsy from the bottom of my heart.
(Betsy is named after the girl who mercilessly bullied me all through grade and middle school. it’s fun to have her working for me now.)
I happily raised the rear weight box, adjusted the bucket, and drove over to the bale. I move the round bales with a chain and the two hooks welded to the ends of the loader bucket. tilt the bucket down, wrap the chain from one hook, around the middle of the bale, to the other hook. get back on the tractor and tilt the bucket up. the round bale rises into the air. lift it up just slightly (tipping forward is a real concern, even with the weighted rear tires and box full of rocks on the back) and head for the gate.
as I passed through the gate into the slop of mud, the tractor lurched slightly. I wasn’t surprised. it’s been raining and nothing is frozen and it’s just awful. I prayed to not get stuck and drove straight ahead. put the bale down on a spot just slightly less muddy than the current location of the ring feeder that prevents the horses from using the round bale as a bed. then hopped off the tractor to loose the chain.
I took it off the left side hook and took sticky steps around to the other side, gathering up chain. as I lifted the last link out of the hook on the bucket, the corner of my eye caught an angle that didn’t seem right.
I looked at Betsy’s front wheel.
the tire was off the rim.
I guess that lurch wasn’t just the mud. and those odd tracks I noticed after the last time I did this… I think I get why they looked weird now.
the bucket was still mashed tight to the bale. I climbed back up onto the tractor seat, crossed my fingers, and shifted into reverse. took my foot off the clutch just long enough to get about a foot away from the hay. the flat tire swung crazily and threatened to separate completely from its wheel… but did not. I shut the tractor off and dismounted into the mud, boundlessly grateful that I had gotten the horses out of the way by putting them in the front field instead of shutting them in their stalls.
my friend Elaine knows everybody, and she doesn’t go to church. I called her.
“would you happen to know anyone who might be able to help me with a flat tire on my tractor, on a Sunday morning, in Union, Maine?”
she did. his name is John. I called John’s number. his wife called him to the phone and he sounded completely unfazed and said he’d be over in a bit.
John had to put his truck back together, so it took him all of about 45 minutes to get to me. he looks like a skinny Santa Claus in a dirty Carhart. I had warned him about the mud. he said it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as he was expecting. he instructed me to raise the front end of the tractor by pressing the loader down on the ground, then removed the rim and tire and we threw a cinder block and a 2×6 under the axle to spare the hydraulics. we had a brief conversation about the cost of new tractor tires and he went off to see if he could find a tube at Tractor Supply in Thomaston. no dice. there are actually two different tractor dealers right down the road from me, in Union. of course neither is open Sundays.
the next morning, John called at 10am. the tire was all ready to go. he was here in 15 minutes and I met him at the paddock gate. the horses had spent the night in the paddock, eating (and trashing) the un-ringed round bale and investigating, but thankfully not damaging, the tractor. I had brought them back up front before John got here so we could work in peace.
he rolled the tire over to Betsy. I followed. as we got closer, I heard him start to mutter, “oh dear, oh dear…” and at the same moment I wondered what had happened to the bolts that held the rim on.
I had been on the phone briefly while he was working Sunday. left on his own, John had made a little pile of the bolts on the ground… and forgotten to go back for them.
and then the horses walked around on top of them for 12 hours.
we were able to find one just by looking.
then, I sighed and went to get a pitchfork.
I turned the mud (and manure) over, sifting small bits at a time. soon enough the second bolt appeared. then the third, and the fourth.
John took over with the fork.
the other two bolts were eventually recovered as well.
the horses had moved the bucket joystick overnight and let Betsy down so her full weight was on the block. I started her up and hoisted her front end back up into the air so John could replace the rim and tire.
when he was finished, I triumphantly drove Betsy out onto dry land.
I paid John for his work.
then, after he left, I went to the hay feeder ring. it is about 8 feet across. I tipped it up onto its side. I’m always tempted to try walking in it to move it, like a hamster wheel. but I’m chicken. if I hit my head there’s no one to call 911. so I got behind it and pushed, rolling it over to the exploded round bale. the horses had pulled one side out and each of them had spent a few hours laying on the resulting “couch”.
I rolled the ring as close as I could, then went around and reached down, taking hold of the pipe that forms a sort of cage on top. I pulled up hard and the ring fell down… right on top of the bale. it was too loose and messy. I went around to the other side and pulled until the ring settled down a bit. I stuffed the hay in on that side as best I could. then went all the way around, pushing the ring down around the blob of hay.
finally, I took an armload of the hay and brought it over to the calves. they capered around happily. I scratched their cheeks and Earl started licking me like he always does.
I gave him my finger and he latched on.
and all was well once more.