We used to watch the science fiction TV show Babylon 5, especially the third year before it got preachy and anti-climactic. One of the fairly main characters vanished for a half-dozen episodes, missed and presumed dead, so some of his friends gathered in his old quarters to have a kind of memorial for him.
G’Kar, an alien character, noticed a big poster of Daffy Duck in mid-rant on the wall. “What does this mean?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s Daffy Duck,” one of the humans said. “Sort of the patron saint of frustration.”
Because of that, I like to measure the frustration potential of things around the farm in Daffies. “Oh, that looks like a three-Daffy task” or “Ugh, fixing that is going to involve potentially HUNDREDS of Daffies.”
The Big Tractor: 0 Daffies
This is our big tractor, a 1956 Ford 850. This tractor has been basically bulletproof and has given us almost no difficulty at all. I had to replace the battery once, I had to replace a spark plug wire that I snagged on a tree branch, and I’ve had to fix one flat front tire and replace the right rear tire entirely when it finally went flat and couldn’t be repaired (the rim had rusted so badly the tire shop couldn’t even dismount the tire without tearing the rim up). It pulls hard, it doesn’t leak, and it doesn’t overheat, and it starts every time unless you make the mistake of choking it and getting it all loaded up (even then, it’ll eventually start, but it sputters for a while and pukes out thick clouds of black gasoline smoke till it clears itself out).
The Little Tractor: 74 Daffies
This is a plain old belt-drive 21.5 horsepower lawn tractor that I bought at Lowes for about $800 one year. It has actually given pretty good service over the years, but I think we just use it harder than it likes. It’s designed to mow lawns, and as you can see, we use it for earthmoving, grading, and manure handling – not tasks that it was ever designed to handle.
It eats up batteries at a furious clip, and almost always has to be jump-started. I had to replace the carburetor once because the float needle seat wore out and the needle valve wouldn’t seal, so about a gallon of gasoline slowly made its way through the carburetor, into the cylinder and crankcase. This hydraulicked the engine so hard it wouldn’t turn over at all, and when I pulled out the spark plug, it gushed gasoline out the spark plug hole like one of Rockefeller’s favorite oil wells. I put a fuel shut-off valve in the fuel line to stop that from happening again, but now the bushing that the throttle butterfly shaft goes through has a big crack in it, so it runs terribly lean and the engine speed wanders wildly. I’ve got the crack packed with gasoline-proof gasket compound and so far it’s holding, but eventually it’s going to need ANOTHER new carburetor. Oh, and the entire gas tank imploded once (though I managed to find a replacement on Amazon.com, of all places).
I had to replace all four tires. After a couple of years, they all developed literally hundreds of tiny pinhole leaks all across the tread surface, and there was just no fixing that. I managed to get the front tire beads set myself, but I never could get the rear beads to set (the new tires were pretty stiff). Jean had to take them to Discount Tire in town so they could set the beads. The good news is that the new tires have been pretty tough – occasionally we’ll get a mesquite thorn in one, but that’s relatively easy to fix with a tubeless plug kit.
I made the scraper attachment myself by cutting and welding a bunch of metal scrap. It works pretty well. It won’t dig, really, but it does a good job of dragging manure around and working it into the soil (we have four turnouts. I can get the big tractor into three of them, but the fourth has a narrow gate and only the small tractor fits through it). It’ll also knock down dry weeds, spread gravel and so forth.
It’s hard to start, and depending on how well the crack in the bushing is sealed, it may or may not run well once it gets started. But I’ve used it and a little dump trailer to move mountains of dirt, rock, and gravel. I’ve laid a bunch of walkways by hand, and I drop the mower deck and use it to do the final finish grading on the walkways before I start laying pavestones. In short, this little tractor has put in a lot of hard service it was never intended to do, and though its incessant battery and carburetor problems frustrate me intensely, I can’t really blame it. It thought it was going to go off and mow a lawn once a week, not drag manure around or haul 20 tons of gravel or drag big mesquite limbs out of the so-called “tree turnout”.
Oh, and some kind of leafcutter wasp tried making a nest in the ignition switch slot. I’ve picked at it with a dental probe for some time, but the ignition switch is still full of organic crud and it takes some effort to push the key in far enough to unlock the ignition switch.