Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dodging Bullets...and Taking Things for Granted

After a five or six inch snowfall just before Christmas, this week the temperatures have fallen in to the single digits, hovering around zero during the nights and sneaking into the teens during the bright-sun-shiny days.
It's the kind of cold that settles in to your bones so quickly that you do only the minimum chores absolutely necessary, so you can get back into the house and thaw out. It's so cold that Hank's cows huddle next to our leafless poplar trees for the illusion of shelter. It's so cold that even my manure pile that I've bragged on has nearly shut down. It's so cold, I've let everybody in the barn for the last several nights. It's so cold, that urine and damp poop piles are freezing down the the stall mats overnight; and the manure buckets, and the tractor bucket...
The first night of the cold snap, I had left my little blue New Holland tractor parked next to the car, as Al had brought home a couple of bags of grain to replenish my bins. Sitting outside in the frigid temps, "Babe" (think, the Blue Ox) was reluctant to start up the next morning when it was time to go to the barn for chores. But start she did, and we got grain delivered and stalls mucked. Then I parked her in the barn aisle, and even threw an old turnout blanket over the engine compartment, to retain a bit of residual heat.
Yesterday morning she started up much easier, though still a bit hesitantly.

This morning was different:
Babe turned over on the second or third attempt, initially running on three cylinders as is her habit in the cold. I left her to work into all four while I went to throw hay to the girls (RT had already gotten his senior mush). I heard the fourth cylinder kick in, then the engine revved slowly faster and faster. Thinking I had left the accelerator handle too high the previous night, I went over to back it down.
It was already at a very low setting, and the engine continued to rev faster and faster, up towards its max!
I turned the key off as quick as I could, though the "momentum" gathered took a few moments to subside.
I started the engine again, and after a moments hesitation, the RPMs gathered excessive speed again! Shut 'er down again.
Near as I can figure, the accelerator cable must have contracted somehow, and then frozen. Or perhaps the valve on the carburetor.

At any rate, I was having visions of mucking into a wheelbarrow for the duration of the cold snap, perhaps the rest of the winter! How absolutely primitive!
"You never know what you have, 'til you lose it."

As I mucked Kate's stall, I contemplated my next move. Perhaps, if I could get the tractor out in the sunshine, and slightly warmer temperatures of the afternoon (teens, maybe 20s if we're lucky), it would thaw out the works enough to free up the accelerator. Could I back Babe up the 20 feet or so to the spare paddock (where the manure pile lives) in the 30 seconds or so before she red-lined without straining things too bad, or permanently fouling up my little blue workhorse? Thinking it might take a few shorter "trips," I climbed on board and carefully started the engine. She started on all four cylinders and I put her in gear and started slowly moving towards the sun at my back, expecting to have to discontinue the trip momentarily.
But Babe just eased her way back out the door.
Thinking that putting a load on the engine might have made a difference, I reluctantly decided I needed to check what happened in neutral.
I let her idle for a few minutes, with no further problems, so into the aisle she went, and I finished mucking.

It's supposed to warm up slightly this week, and, because I'm back to school tomorrow (GACK! I've been in denial!), I did a very thorough stall cleaning yesterday and today. There is no snow in the near forecast, so hopefully Babe can have a few days, if not the whole week, off.
I have to check with the farm co-op about the diesel additive that prevents gelling in cold weather--it's not clear whether they add it to their supply tanks or if I need to pick a quart up myself for a winter treat for Babe. I'll also check with Hank's foreman on what it might have been (and how to prevent it in the future). The best idea might be to invest in a block heater for the old girl. We'll see.
Here's hoping you and your critters and your machinery stay warm.


  1. Oh no! A broken tractor sounds awful. I'd have no clue whatsoever for fixing it.

  2. hope you get the tractor figured out! I love that last picture, looks so cosy warm.

  3. Glad to hear the Babe is being her old self again, it would be awful to lose her when you need her most.

    The fireplace looks cozy, stay warm.

  4. i would have loved to have come visited your farm but omgosh your weather is worse than germany's!

    my parents wished for a couple of nights at leavenworth with us (my husband moaning, nooooooo please!) but they quickly understood that we have no desire to see the white plague on our lovely three week vacation. i'd hoped for a quick trip to lake tahoe becaue i'd never been there, but no way, not if it's snowy!

    so we enjoyed the green grey damp and sometimes sunshine - actually it only rained on us twice and you just have to see my pics of going to alki beach, glorious 60 degrees! i couldn't get enough of standing at the windows and gazing out at colors that were not white!!!

    now we're here (arrived last night) and the snow is receeding but more is to come. i cannot stand the thought of this, it could be snowy through march, that is what happened last year. i haven't gone out there yet to see the damage but there is one tree lying against our front yard fence that i can see right away. when the sun comes up i'll have to walk our fenceline --- i'm dreading that, the snow is deep.

    i'm starting to understand why all your photos have you so bundled up. you are like the germans in this way, they know how to dress for cold. me, i'm learning.


  5. Lytha, re: Tahoe - think snow over your head. If you don't want to ski, summer in Tahoe is far better. And welcome back home!