It was -10C this morning with an icy north wind. The snow crunched like midwinter’s when I stepped on it. O.K., I was bored. I had fired up Tony’s 4WD Polaris Ranger to take out the garbage and it made sense to warm it up a bit before putting it back in the shed. And there was that huge expanse of untraveled snow…

The Ranger booted over the snowbank at the edge of the driveway and dove down behind the house. No problem. If it can do this, I can haul the sugar-making equipment up to the shack. How do I get back up? Last year I ran on down the hill, crossed to the barnyard and climbed back up the hill there.

Off I went at full speed. The snow felt like concrete under the freshly-tuned Ranger’s wheels. I carved a wide turn in the 20-acre field below the house and headed west. This was too much fun. Why not carry on to the other end, another quarter-mile away, and come back the next field over?

At cruising speed I ducked through the gap between fields. A straight shot to the 50 acres beyond beckoned, so I headed north.

All of the sudden the left front wheel of the Ranger dove into deep snow, quickly followed by the rest of the 1500 pounds of vehicle, cargo and driver.

Why is it always the left side which falls through the crust? Tony has a real stability problem with that machine.

Mind you, my slightly lighter Ranger TM did the same thing in January. In fact the only way three of us could keep the 1100 pound vehicle on the crust after lifting it up and rolling it ahead was to drive it from outside, manipulating the gas pedal with an old canoe paddle found in the box. Maybe it’s the driver’s weight that’s the problem. Oh, well.

So there Tony’s Ranger sits, front corner down in two feet of snow, next to a quiet farm lane. It’s comfortable. There’s no point abusing it in a frantic attempt to back out. A crew will either lift it back up onto the snow or spring will free it, whichever comes first.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/112002166@N06/13428228334/

UPDATE: 6:50 p.m.

Did I mention I buried the winch tractor on the way back to rescue the Ranger? I explained to Bet that I had needed some space in the buildings for sugar-making equipment. This barely earned the derisive grunt it received.

After supper I walked back to the Ranger with a round-point shovel. Anything I dug just buried it deeper.

On the other hand the Massey Ferguson 35, though apparently stuck in the snow, wasn’t quite done yet. After rocking a bit of a gap, I discovered that while high speeds were useless against the crumbling snow, if I eased the old tractor forward very slowly it would in fact climb back up onto the crust and creep the final 150 yards to where I could turn it downhill and run the cable 150′ to the Ranger. That was 5800 pounds + driver riding on the crust at least a foot above the field.

The buried Ranger offered no resistance whatever to the 8800 lb winch. In no time it was back up on the crust and after a couple of spins around the fields to celebrate and allow the battery to charge up, I put it away. The MF35’s as comfortable there as anywhere.

UPDATE: 27 March, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

It only gets worse. I need spring to get here.

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UPDATE: 30 March, 7:30 p.m.

After a day of thaw I was able to drive the winch tractor from where I had abandoned it to a road a half-mile away. With the winch I then rescued the Bolens by dragging it through three feet or more of snow to a path I had blown out with another tractor.

We still can’t get to the sugar bush with wheeled implements, snowshoeing has become an agonizing way to travel now with the uncertain footing, but the thaw is gaining momentum.

UPDATE, 3 April, 2014:

Rod vs Snow

So far it’s Snow 6, Rod 0.

The path back to the woods remains stubbornly impassable for wheeled vehicles. There’s just too much snow and with mud underneath. The task overwhelms even my larger tractors. The situation improves each day, but only by a little.

Four days ago on snowshoes I sank to the bottom so drastically that I could barely travel. In one area in the middle of the walnut field I dropped into snow above my knees. Sore muscles leave me disinclined to try that again soon.

But waiting for spring is a difficult concept even for a not-so-young fellow hardly brimming with energy, not to mention a son whose travel agenda allows only a short time in which to expose all of his friends to the joys of sugar making.

Of course the trees in the lane (now 33 buckets) have stopped running. Yesterday I tried to use the new Kubota with its large turf tires to smooth the ruts in the driveway. Nearly got the thing stuck. With a trailer attached it’s useless in mud.

Today is another day. It’s frozen quite hard outside this morning, so the sap may run. The tractor may even make it from the big walnut tree (a quarter-mile back the lane) across the 450′ of walnut seedlings to the woodlot, where more deep snow awaits. Then at least the Ranger will be able to haul people and materials back and forth to the house.

Saturday, 5 April, 2010

We’re still far from our goal of free passage to the woodlot, though it rained heavily overnight. At 6:00 a.m. on Charlie’s last weekend before he returns to Vancouver, who knows how today will unfold?

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I’ve spent the better part of the last week getting adjusted to the 2005 Kubota B7510 I purchased privately last weekend and trailered home. So here are some notes and a few questions. Please jump in with a comment where you have information to ad.

Towing

A few years ago I built a tandem trailer for my Polaris Ranger and usually tow it with a 4 cylinder, 4WD Toyota Tacoma, rated for 3500 pounds. The truck/trailer combination proved marginal at best for hauling a B7510 with belly mower. In hilly country I was genuinely worried about the rig’s stopping ability on the wet pavement of the day. For another trip of that duration (3 1/2 hours, one way) I will use a heavier vehicle and a trailer with brakes.

Mid-mount Mower

It’s quite an impressive implement. I spent the better part of two days on a flat garage floor adjusting the thing for a tall cut. It produces a fine mowed surface now, and the rocks are well below the cutters (ok, most of them). The vendor installed the mower by driving over it and clicking everything into place. It took him about ten minutes. To remove the MMM I slid it sideways on the garage floor. Because the mower was set to a 3 1/2″ setting, though, it lacked the clearance underneath. A floor jack raised the front enough to allow the belly mower to slide out to the right. A pair of link stoppers underneath (small plates to hold the mower arms when the mower’s not installed) proved crumbled by the hoist, so I had to remove one and take it to an anvil. The other I beat into place with a small ball-peen hammer. To hop forward in the chronology, after I had re-installed the mower and raised it once, the link stoppers were crumbled yet again. This time I removed both after a look in the manual. The problem was at the setup stage: heavy steel cotter pins were driven through the shaft retaining the link stoppers, and their bulk restricted the necessary rotation of the bits which are designed to clip onto other pins to keep them out of the way of harm from the mower mechanism. Out of curiosity I checked a 2011 B3000 at a local soccer field. Its link stoppers are also bent, caused again by too-thick steel cotter pins restricting the movement. To replace the mid-mount mower the manual calls for it to be set to the lowest possible setting. I didn’t want to do that and planned to store the MMM in a gravel-floored building, so I resolved to dig the mower into the gravel, provide appropriate blocks, and lighten the front wheels of the tractor by not removing the 405 lb. rotary mower from the 3 pt hitch. Then I removed the two flimsy metal covers on the top and drove over the MMM as the vendor had demonstrated. He was a bit better at it, but the process worked. UPDATE, OCTOBER, 2013: Turns out the best way to access the mid-mount mower is to raise the front of the tractor by chain from the car hoist. I use a choke chain off my timber skidder looped through the ends of the rear lift arms. It’s efficient and safe as long as I don’t hit my head on heavy metal while working.

Seat and seat belt

It’s impossible to mow without the seat belt fastened. Perhaps the tractor is designed that way. The seat is slippery enough I would fall off it on some of the slopes of our lawn, and without the down-force of the belt the tractor could easily flip me from the seat on full-speed, 400′ dashes to the end of the lawn. For the record, in light grass the mower cuts very well at max. cruising speed. The mower is indeed an impressive implement. UPDATE: I paid a lot of money for a new seat the parts guy and I found at the Kubota dealer. Enough’s enough. The hated original seat was actually the subject of an exchange program from Kubota a few years ago.

4WD

The extra wheels driving make treacherous slopes easy on this machine. That said, in one terraced section I did use the differential lock to get up over the top. The drive train provides seamless power in tough going, though to eliminate skid marks on corners I have learned to mow in 2WD much more frequently than I did with the Bolens. To its credit the G174 has very effective differentials, and skid marks on the lawn were never a problem until the Kubota took over.

Hoist

Is there any way to adjust things so that the mower doesn’t trail along on its front casters while lifted? (UPDATE, June 13, 2013: The centre roller is digging in on slopes because it can’t rotate around its shaft. It’s pinned in place by the hardware which trails from the front to the mower. Doesn’t seem adjustable. Must ponder this.) UPDATE: The parts guy suggested disassembling the centre roller and lubricating it carefully. Now it turns well but still digs ruts where the mower would otherwise high-centre.

Remotes

I switched the ends to fit my log splitter and tried it. Not bad at all. The splitter seems just as fast (not very) as when mounted on my 35 hp. TAFE, maybe a bit faster. My line pressure gauge reads 2600, which seems high. I tried to adjust the nut. The lock nut came loose easily, but the inner nut seemed to be soldered to the larger round end on the housing. Is the whole thing supposed to turn? I put all of the force I judged appropriate onto the end of a 9/16″ wrench and nothing moved. Perplexed. UPDATE, May 29, 2013: Embarrassed grin. When my neighbour Peter Myers dropped by I asked him about the adjustment. He looked and immediately noticed that the inside of the thing adjusts with an Allen key. A quick 1/4 turn and the pressure was at 1950 lb. and all was well. He further told me that the only thing the high pressure would damage would be a weak hose.

The Tractor

It runs very well, produces an excellent cut when mowing, maneuvers easily, provides great visibility, reasonable comfort, and an improved level of operator safety (I hope) over my elderly Bolens G174. But I still like the Bolens better. I almost never smell exhaust fumes from the Bolens, and I just like the feel/sound of the two cylinder engine better than the rather loud Kubota mill when it’s running the mower. The Bolens is a friend; the Kubota is a tractor. Now when I drive the Bolens I am very conscious of its apparent tippiness. While the ‘Bota has done all of the mowing since its arrival, both lawn and tree plantation (with 48″ rotary mower), the Bolens is still very handy for odd jobs. I don’t see selling it. Another job for the G174: I figured with the empty 3 pt hitch on the Kubota I could easily use the trailer hitch triangle to ferry trailers around the yard when mowing. But I find myself using the Bolens for the job instead. The Kubota’s range of travel on the 3 pt hitch is restricted by the MMM hardware, so it won’t reach down far enough to pick low-lying trailer couplers up off the ground.  With unlimited height adjustment, the Bolens works better for this. It also turns out it’s a lot easier for me to turn and look backwards from the Bolens seat, unencumbered by seat, belt, ROPS, and hydraulic controls mounted at my right elbow on the Kubota. So ease of turning around in the seat and the ability to reach down trumps the step-through frame, HST and power steering when jockeying trailers. So far.

Mowing under apple trees

Forget it. It’s too tall. The Roll Over Protection System stands 75″ from the ground. To mow around the trees this time I pressed the old mowers into service to do the precise job for which I bought the new one. But I’m still glad I bought the Kubota. You just never know how something new will get used until it’s been around for a while. Seems there’s still a role for the Simplicity riding mower. With its hydro drive and small stature I can insinuate it under the pear trees with minimal damage to the branches. Its engine is on its last legs, but may last a long time if it only does 20 minutes of work per week. As my neighbours all keep telling me, you can’t have too many tractors.

A final word about the use of a rotary mower with the B7510

I have spent 500+ hours operating a succession of rotary mowers on various tractors since retiring to the farm in 2004. Precise height control on the 3 pt hitch is highly desirable, though not essential. The Massey Ferguson 35’s control was pretty good. The TAFE’s isn’t bad, though it often conflicts with the loader on the other end. For mowing season I bolt the lower setting down quite rigidly and then it cuts very well with a 5′ Rhino mower. The Bolens G174 does not have height control. The Woods 3 pt hitch finish mower which came with it uses chains attached from the leading edge of the mower to the tractor end of the top link for a minimum-height stop. Correctly adjusted, these chains do a good job of regulating the cut. They are particularly useful when the operator has to lift the cutter over an obstacle and then resume. What the 2005 Kubota B7510 lacks which I understand the new models have is precise height control. I’ve now trimmed around ten acres of trees with it and it has done a very good job, but I have to reset the height by trial and error every time I move it. This is an area for improvement. I may steal the check chain brackets off the top-link of the Bolens and install them on the comparable shaft on the Kubota. If anyone knows of a vendor for these simple Woods chain plates (check chain bracket, part #23898) stamped out of 1/4″ steel, I’d like an additional pair. Kurt at Steensma Lawn and Power Equipment in Kalamazoo, MI was happy to take my order for the parts.

Update, 6 January, 2014

The B7510 starts pretty well in winter. Frigid conditions required a block heater. The local dealer provided one which replaced a twist-in plug on the side of the engine block. Note that Kubota calls for very long (to me) preheating intervals. My Massey Ferguson and TAFE both need just ten seconds to preheat, but a Kubota needs upwards of a minute in cold weather, and 20 seconds at a minimum. 15W40 non-synthetic oil works fine in winter, as well.

Update, 2 January, 2016

The Kubota’s ease of winter starting contrasts sharply to the Bolens G174’s cold-bloodedness.  Despite the rudimentary heating element glued to its crankcase, if I wish to use the Bolens in very cold weather I have to put it to bed each night beside the stove in my woodworking shop.  It’s a garage queen from ice-in until ice-out.

A false economy  24 April, 2015

When I bought the tractor it was missing one cap on its battery, the hole covered with duct tape.  By the time I replaced the tape with a plug borrowed from a Polaris battery, spilled acid had rusted the cooling tubes and radiator screen.  Two years later I found myself with a set of HST cooling tubes glowing orange from rust.  This required a thorough cleaning and paint job on the affected area.  The replacement battery only cost $89.00 from the dealer and works much better than the 10 year-old leaker in front of the fan.  Why had I waited this long to replace it?

A surprise:  the engine needs far less pre-heating with the new battery.  The thing had started well all winter, so I hadn’t suspected that the 10 year-old battery was losing its touch (apart from leaking acid out the top, of course).

Safe when others must operate it 2 December, 2017

Heart surgery slowed me down last summer. Running the Kubota was more than I could handle, so my wife decided to mow what parts of the 2 acres of rolling lawns that she could. Turns out she did most of the mowing over the summer and rather enjoyed her new gardening implement. A retired electrician returned a decade of favours by stopping by to do whatever climbing and heavy lifting required. He lifted the 5 gallon cans of diesel to fuel the Kubota and mowed under the apple trees on the steep slope. Bet did most of the rest.

Nobody removed the mower for service, though, so it went almost 200 hours without grease or sharpening. In the fall my wife even mowed 1-mile trails through the fields and woodlot so that I would have a good surface for the walks which were part of the post-surgery therapy. When I finally cleaned it up and greased the mower, it seemed not to have suffered for the neglect.

Yesterday we pressed the Kubota into service to power a medium-sized logging winch. While I did not need to skid logs with the tractor, just control the felling of a bunch of dead trees, it carried the 540 lb. weight and, with the blade of the winch dug into soft ground, had lots of pull. The B7510’s a little light for the job, as a couple of hard pulls to control the fall of tall, crooked trees produced 4 wheel wheelies. Nonetheless, the Kubota did the job safely in a pinch, without damage to anything. The short length was a real asset in this thickly forested area. Again the safety interlocks on the tractor made it safer for a visiting operator to run it.

Yesterday Tony brought his 2003 Ranger 500 to the farm and drove it around the trails in the woods I had established with my Massey Ferguson 35 and winch for hauling out logs. The wide body on full-sized Rangers may be a pain to fit onto a trailer, but the wheels fit nicely into a tractor track through deep snow. In anticipation of sugar making activities I had dragged the blade on the winch through the trails where the snow was very deep to provide ground clearance for the Rangers. Tony’s new to offroad driving so he wasn’t as impressed as I was by the 500’s ability to navigate sections that had stuck my 2004 2WD Ranger TM during the previous week.

Then we used the 500 to do something none of my toys could handle: move sugar-making equipment from the basement of the stone house up to the sugar shack. The 500 could move around in/on corn snow that had left the TM royally stuck. Just for the record, a standard 3/8″ dock line of the sort I use in summer is not strong enough to tow a Ranger when it won’t go any more on its own power. I stretched one past its breaking point twice with my Bolens 4WD tractor, then went with a prefab towing line out of yellow nylon which worked fine.

The first thing I tried with Tony’s Ranger was a slide down the hill. Why not? At full throttle off the top of the hill by the brick house we planed 600 feet down the slope until I could pick up a tractor trail back to the barn. Tony was a bit wide-eyed during the descent, but the machine worked fine in the granular snow.

After loading the gear in the deep corn around the south side of the house the 500 couldn’t back up the slope to get to the driveway, so I just booted it back down the hill and picked up the previous track across the field and up by the barn. It was an exhilarating ride for two guys, a dog, and a precious and fragile bit of kit, the boiling pan.

Eight 16 litre pails of water made another trip. Well, nine, but one didn’t have a lid, so Tony only filled it 2/3 full. Away we went. It was still more than half-full when we got to the shack. We didn’t get wet because of the rear windshield/stern cover. Pretty good ride with a partial load. Interestingly, with the extra 300 lb in the bed the 500 didn’t plane over the corn snow. The back wheels had to dig their way through. The 30 hp engine seems well suited to the chassis in tough going. I remained in high range throughout these adventures, of course, with the throttle pegged to the floorboards.

This week I plan to keep the 500 in the shed as a tow-truck and gather sap with the TM as long as it will do the job. If previous experience is any indicator, it will get through the syrup season just fine, floating over soggy turf which would bury heavier vehicles — even my little compact tractor, while carrying 14 pails of sap or up to nine volunteers per trip.

The TM is only 90% as capable as the 500, but its drivetrain is so simple I think it’s a better choice for multiple, inexperienced drivers.

The Good Ice Tour, 2013

January 27, 2013

IMG_6161

The full moon made it inevitable: no fish bit for an hour this morning, the air was clear, cold and still, and the thin crust of white on Newboro Lake over 13″ of ice made for perfect driving conditions for Tony’s Polaris Ranger.

We resolved to find the winter route to Chaffey’s Locks. Open water or at least weak ice at the Elbow and the Isthmus meant a trip across Scott Island if we wanted to look for splake on Indian Lake.

Yesterday we’d noticed a pack of wolf hunters coming out of the upper reaches of Stout’s Lower Bay, so we followed their tracks to a rugged trail off the ice. Tony had never faced driving conditions like these. On the other hand the Ranger 500 gave evidence that it has had lots of practice over rugged terrain, idling over breathtaking moguls, ducking its windshield under overhanging pines, and ploughing fearlessly through frozen muskeg until we reached a better trail.

We were pretty lost until Tony noticed that this looked like our friend Tom’s cottage road, so we oriented ourselves from there. I must emphasize that it is very easy — in any season — to become lost on Scott Island.

The township road is little more than a snowmobile track at this time of year, but the Ranger had no trouble on the hard, rutted, snow. Just short of the ferry dock we turned off onto a short trail and drove out onto Indian Lake.

Clusters of vehicles indicated the splake fishermen at work. We drove up to veteran Chaffey’s Locks fishing guide Lennie Pyne, comfortably ensconced in a mobile shelter above a shoal in the middle of the lake. Lennie told us that he had lost a good fish this morning, but that otherwise fishing was slow with the full moon.

Lennie showed us where he had driven on with his pickup truck, so we followed a minivan off the lake and out to the township road which runs around the south end of the lake, took our bearings, and headed back across to Scott Island. Tony decided it was time for a change of drivers.

The 2003 Ranger 500 4X4 has just over 1700 hours on it, but the engine is fresh and the rest of the UTV works well. I noticed immediately that the 500 is more softly sprung than my 2004 Ranger TM. On the open ice at 30 mph the steering feels light, yet stable. It didn’t offer to break the back end loose, though I was careful, mindful of the rig’s high centre of gravity. On the island trails the suspension worked its way over bumps and obstructions so that the passengers and equipment enjoyed a comfortable ride at a reasonably brisk speed. The optional cab and windshield enabled riders to retain at least some body heat on the cold day, and an improvised rear windshield kept snow and exhaust back there where they belonged.

According to the owner’s manual the AWD only engages a front drive wheel if one of the rear wheels slips, but I found the system distributes power very effectively without input from the driver. To cover the same terrain with my 2WD TM I’d be shifting the differential lock in and out at every obstruction. We didn’t use the diff lock on the 500 at all during today’s fairly demanding outing on the Island.

A wrong turn led us down a narrow and steep cottage road. Tony dismounted to move an oak branch out of the way and nearly slid down the hill when he picked up the limb. He climbed happily back into the Ranger and we sure-footedly made our way on to the point that further progress was unlikely. Then we made a 3-point turn on the narrow trail and regained our proper route.

The drive from Indian Lake to Newboro by Scott Island is quite scenic, but too long for a convenient fisherman’s commute. Tony timed our island transit at 30 minutes, though that included the time lost on the dead end. Add fifteen more minutes for lake travel and it would make more sense to drive a 4X4 out on the lake at the Chaffey’s end, if the ice permits.

On the way back we stopped to photograph a remarkable beaver project: an enterprising rodent has half cut down a 30″ pin oak overlooking the bay.

So it was a great day to explore. The ice was hard and strong and the crusted snow felt like concrete beneath the tires of the Ranger. Conditions don’t get better than this for cross-country winter travel.

We grow our rodents big in Leeds County.

We grow our rodents big in Leeds County.

Last year’s tour was a bit too eventful, with two tractors of four requiring repairs after the run up Foley Mountain. This year Peter Myers scheduled the event a couple of weeks earlier to avoid the blizzard conditions of the drive last year, as well. But the plan was to cross at Narrows Lock and make a run down the north shore to Rideau Ferry, with the return trip along the Old Kingston Road. That’s a long way on an antique tractor.

All week through the wretched weather I’d rehearsed my excuses. Saturday I gave the Massey Harris a chance to vote on our participation in this year’s run. It sputtered so badly I barely made it home from Forfar. A call to Peter to cancel just resulted in a house call to the ailing Massey. Once the newly-cleaned carburetor had a final adjustment it worked fine, so the trip was a go.

At 10:00 Sunday morning we started off. It was a pretty nice day by the standards of these things. The gusts of wind only buffeted the tractor a little; most times I had no trouble at all keeping it on the road. Doing anything else while driving the beast was quite another matter, though. It took me almost the length of the Big Rideau to tighten the velcro straps on the sleeves of my coat: only one hand was available at a time, and I didn’t dare risk losing a glove. Fortunately my coat’s hood was easy to put up and secure with one hand.

Burt Mattice joined us along the route with a different ride: a mid-40’s Cockshutt 30 with a high-low range adaptor he installed himself. While no show model like the McCormick W30 he left at home, the Cockshutt ran reliably throughout the day. Over the winter Burt did locate a new exhaust manifold to replace the one which the W30 grenaded on Foley Mountain last year, but he wisely chose to bring the newer machine on this trip.

The shortcut from the Stanleyville road to the Rideau Ferry Road is a picturesque bit of Canadian Shield with occasional gentrified settlements, all in all a beautiful drive on a bright fall afternoon. I could tell the scenery was nice when the convoy slowed down frequently to enjoy the view. Peter has developed a tendency to race his John Deere A from one sheltered patch to another on cold, windy days, so the journey had moved along quite quickly this morning.

My Massey seems to have reconciled itself to higher engine revolutions, running well past the throttle gate in order to keep up with the tractors with larger back wheels, but I refused to run at full emergency power for fear of a repeat of last year’s debacle with a broken rotor and ignition points welded together.

Keeping the chain snug during the long tow home behind Peter’s “A” had worn half the life off the Massey’s pristine brake pads.

I noticed a lot of nut trees growing along the fence of Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. Some looked like black walnuts, others like the strain of butternuts which grow in my woodlot. Black walnuts don’t usually grow in the thin soil of the Canadian Shield. Perhaps they are two different strains of butternut. In any case things were going by too steadily for more than a quick look, and after a single attempt to take photos I gave up and concentrated upon keeping warm.

As we backed into parking spaces at the lunch stop I noticed Chris Myers cranking hard on his John Deere B’s steering wheel to get it to turn. Maybe that’s the purpose of the Tired Iron Tour: to give these old gems enough exercise that they don’t seize up from disuse.

The dining room at the Rideau Ferry Inn boasts a large box stove which was extremely welcome to this tractor driver. The food was good.

Water surrounds the Rideau Ferry Inn, with the Upper Rideau on one side and the Lower Rideau on the other, divided by the iconic bridge which gives the community its name.
The whitecaps out there made boating an uninviting prospect today. All in all I felt better off to be driving an antique tractor to God knows where down a back road, rather than bouncing around on Big Rideau swells in a craft of similar vintage and reliability, trying to get back to Merrickville for winter storage.

Thoughts of getting stranded in a windy bay while the light fades don’t have the same appeal now that they had thirty years ago. If the tractor quits I can get off and catch a ride home, or even walk. I won’t likely freeze or drown.

But the freshly-tuned Massey worked like a trooper all day, and it coasted into its spot in my backyard at about 2:30. An uneventful trip! Trouble with such a debacle for a columnist is that it doesn’t provide any narrative fodder for readers.

Oh well. Peter’s now talking about a run to Perth Road Village next year. I hope they’ve fixed the Hutchings Road by then.

For more action, check:  https://rodcroskery.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/the-second-annual-tired-iron-tour/

Below please note the only usable photo from the trip.   I missed some fine scenery.  The tractor requires a surprising amount of driving;  the camera is too complex to operate without two hands and some attention.  Sorry about that.

One evening last week I spent 2 ½ hours on a simple bearing replacement on my trailer.  Blame it on middle-aged ineptitude or bad lighting, for it wasn’t for a lack of tools, parts, or place to work.  I just couldn’t get the thing to fit back together.

To my credit I must protest that I did spot the bad wheel and attempt to repair it before heading out onto the highway and endangering others.  I have learned something in the aftermath of last summer’s loose-bolt debacle.

The clinical definition of insanity is repeatedly to try the same thing in the expectation of different results.  Friday I must have gone a little crazy, because I kept thinking that if I could just get that big nut to catch on those threads, I could force the thing into place with the ¾” ratchet.

The fog of war has nothing on the confusion surrounding a dark trailer hub full of black grease, miscellaneous metal parts, and bits of gray limestone from each time I dropped it on the driveway.

Number one rule:  don’t take a trailer bearing apart on a fresh gravel driveway, especially when there’s a nice clean garage floor twenty feet away.  Grease is a gravel-magnet, and when things get sticky, my mind seems to seize up.

A question emerged when I looked up the broken bearing in the Princess Auto Catalog.  It listed 1 inch and 1 1/16” splines for 2000 lb trailer axles.  Mine measured  1 1/32”.  Uh?  Maybe they under-or over-estimate sizes, like the nominal measurements at lumber yards.

When I arrived at the store the following afternoon, bearings for 1 1/16” splines were not in evidence at all, but the 1.03125” size was available.  That worked out to 1 1/32, so I bought a set of bearings, washers, nuts and seals for this size, but hedged my bets with the 1” size, as well.  There are lots of other trailers at the farm which will need a set of bearings, I’m sure.

The new parts matched the old ones, so I was away to the races once the rain stopped.  Removing the remains of the broken inside bearing the previous night had required the sacrifice of a small screwdriver, the services of a larger one and a 3 lb sledge, and finally a bearing puller once I had come to my senses.  Add another hour to the time for the project, come to think of it.

On went the vinyl gloves.  I tentatively wiped the black goo out of the hub, somewhat taken aback by all of the chunks of rock in there until I realized they were roller bearings which had been chewed up after their holder had disintegrated.

First I needed to seat the back bearing.  I carefully checked the spline.  It would fit fine.  So I tapped the tapered holder into place on the back of the hub.  It wouldn’t go far enough.  Tap harder, with a piece of oak cut to fit on the amazingly dull band saw.  I guess that alternator body Charlie was cutting up was made of something other than aluminum.

No luck.  I measured the diameter of the race, then headed for the other garage and my ¾” sockets.  Surely enough, a 1 7/16” socket fits the space nicely.  Taps didn’t work.  Harder taps started to crack the hub, so I decided that was far enough.

I emptied the grease gun into the cavity, then slipped it onto the spline.  In went the front bearing, almost far enough.   The bolt, even without a washer, just wouldn’t reach.  Much insane wiggling, tapping with the sledge, imprecations to the twin deities of grease and gravel, came to naught.

When in doubt, remove the wheel and look.  Off it came, with insolent ease, on the garage floor.  The now-lighter hub still wouldn’t fit.  Tried to measure.  My expensive electronic measuring thing wasn’t going into that greasy hub.  A piece of oak went in.  Should work.

After an amazingly long time I realized that while I had put a tapered bearing sleeve into the hub part, I hadn’t previously removed the one that was in it.  Inspection revealed that the poor fit was caused by two of the tapered sleeves jammed together in the back of the hub.  A tap with a screwdriver and the extra race dropped out and rang triumphantly on the concrete floor.

From there it went together without difficulty.

What have I learned?  In a bad wheel, even when some parts have disintegrated, the round, flat ones likely haven’t, and if you try to put an extra round flat thing into a hub without taking the other one out, the bearings won’t fit, no matter how much you tap them with a sledge hammer or ask them nicely.

If I hadn’t written this down I would have forgotten about my stupidity already.  Amazing how the human mind heals the ego.

A few years ago Tom and Kate came up for a mid-February expedition to their beloved cottage, ostensibly to see if the roof was all right after the heavy snowfalls, but really because they were homesick for Scott Island.

We unloaded the snowmobiles near the Isthmus, drove them down the road to the ferry landing, then ducked out onto Clear Lake over a snowmobile trail which avoided the questionable ice near the current.  All went well until we hit the deep snow of the Island.  On eBay Tom had bought a new drive pulley for his pristine 1970 Skeeter, but he had expressed some worry about the rust on the polished steel where it met the belt.  I had assured him it would soon wear smooth with use.  What did I know, eh?

The first deep snowdrift left Tom and Kate straddling a smoking, roaring snowmobile which clearly wasn’t going anywhere.  A look under the hood showed a lot of fragments of belt, and big holes worn in the sides from the rusty drive pulley.  O.K., I guess they don’t polish themselves.

Determined to carry on, we left Bet and Kate with the crippled Skeeter and pressed on with the Alpine.  The biggest Skidoo is a brutal machine to control, but its one saving grace is that it can plough through deep snow.  It picked its way through the island snowdrifts without difficulty.  Trouble only came when we got off the thing and tried to snowshoe down the hill to the cottage.  In the deep, wet snow it was a cursory check of the property before exhaustion drove us back to the Alpine.

Out the trail we went to where we had left Bet and Kate.  Tom reversed the Skeeter out of the snowdrift, looked ruefully at his frayed drive belt, and gingerly set off in the lead on the return course. Halfway across the Clear Lake stretch, the Skeeter abruptly disappeared into a cloud of gray smoke and came to a halt in front of me.  The eyes of Tom and Kate grew wide as they gazed at the water oozing up around their stalled machine. I wasn’t going to stop the Alpine in a pool of slush, so I moved it and Bet to shore before I let off the throttle.

Then we walked back to the Skeeter.  Yep, the slush had gotten it all right.  The Alpine had had enough power to blast through, but the Skeeter’s wonky pulley had torn up the weakened drive belt when stressed.  Now the machine sat up to its running boards in slush.  The footing was too questionable to work around, so we retreated to Smiths Falls to recover and plan.

Sunday morning rose clear and very cold.  No problem with the footing on the ice this day, so Tom and I headed out with ropes, axes, and an ice spud, not to mention an auger and a ratchet winch.  On a whim I threw in a couple of 5” walnut boards I found in the shop, as well.

What followed was a four-hour session of chopping a heavy snowmobile out of six inches of ice.  Tom and I  emphatically do not recommend this activity.

We discovered that a large snowmobile encased in a block of ice is very heavy, too heavy to move even after we had chopped the ice free around it.

I drilled a hole, stuck the two walnut boards down it, then anchored the come-along to them to stretch the Skeeter enough to pry it forward when we lifted up with the axes and the ice spud.  This actually worked, though it was brutally hard work.  With two hundred yards to go to shore, we’d be worn out long before we got there.

So I took a hundred-foot 3/4″ yellow tow rope out of the Alpine and tied it to the front of the Skeeter, did a bowline around the trailer hitch on the Alpine, and headed for shore.

There’s quite a bit of spring in nylon rope, so it brought the straining Alpine to a halt with the Skeeter unmoved.  Next time I backed up beside the Skeeter and took a running start at the rope.  That worked.  I heard the loud “SPROING!” even over the roar of the engine, but the ice block and its snowmobile were ten feet closer to shore.  Now if we could get it moving again before it froze down…

I tried again, full throttle.  Another ten feet.  It became a matter of momentum:  the Alpine with me on it weighed about nine hundred pounds; the Skeeter with a full load of ice around it weighed anywhere from 1000 pounds to a ton.  How can you tell?  The rope did not snap and decapitate anybody and Tom kept it from tangling, but it was a long, rough tow as we bungee-corded the Skeeter to safety.

It took a month for all of the ice to melt out of the flooded running gear.  Then one sunny day in March I started the derelict up and loaded it onto its trailer.

Tom and Kate got their vintage Evinrude back, but somehow they had lost the urge to cross onto Scott Island with it.  Last I heard the Skeeter’s for sale.