The changing of the season and — more specifically — the decrease in temperature and increase in precipitation, brings about a concomitant shift in the activities on our farm.
The neighbors have strung an electric fence around some of our wheat stubble and dropped off a water trough to facilitate pasturing a couple dozen of their cows. This means we will add breaking ice to our list of winter chores when Jack Frost pays his annual visit. The great cowboy poet Baxter Black says the true measure of severity of winter is the size of the ice pile next to the water trough.
Many other wintertime tasks are related to maintenance and overhaul of our largely antique equipment fleet. Rod-weeders may get new chains and sprockets, grain drills might have new points installed, and the combines need … well, to be quite frank, too many repairs to dwell on in this limited space.
Among the routine winter maintenance chores we perform is the time-proven, cold-climate-induced installation of the pizza box in front of the radiator on the ’58 International four-wheel drive pickup. This persimmon-hued brute can blaze a trail through snowdrifts that can only be envied, but seldom matched, by more modern urban assault vehicle “trucks.”
It will start when the mercury dips to negative 10 on the Mail Pouch tobacco thermometer nailed to the barn wall. And son Willie claims that one day it could even serve as a coffin because he “has never had it in a hole he couldn’t dig out of” if it is chained up on all four corners. Unfortunately, one thing it lacks is a good heater, hence a piece of cardboard is placed over a large portion of the radiator to raise the operating temperature of the engine and hopefully enhance the performance of the window defroster.
The aforementioned alternative use for a piece of cardboard makes me ponder recycling. I have explained to friends and family that the ostensibly cluttered appearance of our farmstead is quite intentional and part of our master plan. I come from a long line of folks who are frugal by nature and of the mindset that no place, especially one in the country, is complete without a wood scrap pile, a collection of scrap iron near the shop and a boneyard full of extra farm equipment and parts rigs (a provincial term for what some folks in town call an abandoned vehicle). One can never be sure when one may need a window regulator, a headlight bucket, a door hinge or a license plate. (Please don’t think I’d swap plates — for that’s against the law; an old license plate has many uses, foremost as a patch on a combine clean grain or tailings elevator.)
In case of a major mechanical failure, it’s always good to have a spare rebuild-able engine or transmission. Parts rigs can also act as a sort of savings account in the event that one needs to sell something to raise quick cash or they can help a neighbor who is dead in the water and might need a certain part that is “obsolete.”
I have always been a little suspicious of my friends who don’t sort their garbage and thanks to former governor Tom McCall, it may even pay to do so — as evidenced by the dime I can receive for every pop can (and other beverage container) that I toss into my re-purposed 30-gallon drum located in my garden shed (itself a former chicken coop).
My kids occasionally say I’m a hoarder (I prefer collector) but my lovely wife generally tolerates my penchant for stockpiling. She has even offered what I took as an endorsement when she set the ring-tone for my phone — it’s Quincy Jones’ “Streetbeater,” which is better known as the theme to “Sanford and Son” (now that was television worth watching).
I think we could all probably cut down on our wasteful ways. Even though I’m as addicted to the petroleum-fueled modern economy as anyone, I have been slowly accumulating a full line of horse-drawn farm equipment in the scab patch, just in case everything goes to pot, although judging by the number of retail cannabis outlets in Pendleton, I think it already has.
So, does anyone want to see my yardstick collection?
Matt Wood is his son’s hired man and his daughter’s biggest fan. He lives on a farm near Helix, where he collects antiques and friends.