I hope the anticipation has built appropriately for the remainder of my farming adventures.
Let’s start with a chat about Gary’s tractor. This is Gary’s tractor:
Looks cute, right? Gary (the daytime defoliator) loved Gary’s tractor. To clarify: my uncle is the owner of Gary’s tractor – I think it was the first tractor he ever purchased. He’s pretty proud of it. Despite this, I intensely disliked Gary’s tractor. Why? Well, one of the main reasons was that the lights in the back didn’t work very well, and I never felt like I could see what I was doing.
View from the back of the tractor at night:
I also had to run Gary’s tractor really slowly, because its tiny little front wheels didn’t handle the deep sprinkler ruts very well (my other farmemy). Of course, the struggle against these mini crevasses had absolutely nothing to do with the operator of the tractor. Sprinkler ruts are from – what else – sprinklers that water the fields. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re basically really long arms that stick horizontally out of (and rotate around) a central fixed point. The arms have sprinklers hanging down every few yards, and they are supported by perpendicular rods that have wheels at the bottom. The sprinklers drive around in circles, like the hands on a clock. As they drive, their wheels cut grooves into the earth. The sprinklers save a lot of time irrigating the crops, but they can cause super deep ruts in the fields that make harvest more challenging.
Ruts that run horizontally across the rows are okayish to drive across. I usually just slowed down and bumped my way over and through them. It was when the ruts run parallel or almost parallel to the rows that I had the most trouble. Then you’re trying to stay on row, so the defoliator cuts the tops off properly, but you’re trying not to let any of your wheels fall into the rut, dragging all of your machinery out of place. Sometimes falling into the rut is inevitable, and then you just pray as you tip that you’re not going to break the PTO shaft for the third time.
Gary’s tractor has littler tires than mine, and I thought it was way harder to maneuver through the ruts. Here’s a picture of “my” tractor:
Photo by Brandon
You’ll notice that my tractor is missing a tire in this picture. Yes, I did that… One night, I was driving my tractor and I kept getting error messages on my computer screen. So, I radioed Jerry, who was on the digger from 4pm-4am (my shift was 7pm-7am). The digger is the boss of the field, basically. Jerry said he’d come look at my tractor when I got in line with him across the field. So I drove for a little longer, through a bunch of rough ruts. Then Jerry came and looked at my tractor. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it, even after we turned it on and off, revved it up, and walked all the way around the whole machine.
Shortly before this, one of the truck drivers had hit Jerry’s digger, causing one of its side panels to fall off. This was a brand new digger, and they’re not cheap, so we picked up the panel and threw it on top of my defoliator. I was going to drive it over to the light post (a gas powered light that marked the approach into the field for the truck drivers) so nobody would accidentally run over it in the dark. Jerry, Denys, and I got the panel, which was very big and heavy, situated on top of my defoliator.
I started driving it over to the lamp post (about 75 meters away), and noticed I was having some trouble driving a straight line. Whatever. I thought the field was muddy or something. I had to steer really hard to the right, but I managed to get reasonably close to the lamp post. So then Denys (who had been driving the truck that hit the panel) met me and helped me lift it off the defoliator and carry it to the light.
As we turned back to the vehicles, I could tell he was feeling really bad about hitting the new digger, so I patted his shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Denys, everyone… what the [extra bad word], I don’t have a tire!” And I didn’t. I was missing my left rear tire (one of the big ones). No wonder my tractor was hard to steer. Needless to say, Denys instantly felt better.
I was super confused. So I radioed, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire.” There was a long silence. Again, “Jerry, I don’t have a tire on my tractor.” Finally, the response: “What?”
“I don’t have my left rear tire on my tractor. It’s gone.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Well, I’m looking right at it and there’s definitely no tire there.”
“Where is it?”
“I don’t know. Not anywhere around here.”
Long pause. “Is the rim there?”
“Yeah, I think so… that’s the metal part the tire sits on, right?”
I think he was still incredulous, but he told me to get his pickup truck and drive around the field til I found the tire. Ha! I still laugh when I think about the ridiculousness of that night. I drove around like a drunk for a while, purposely zigzaging to sweep the headlights across as much of the field as possible. I did find the tire, basically in the same spot as where I had been parked when Jerry and I were trying to figure out the error message.
I then called Jerry on my cell to tell him I found the tire. He wanted to know if the rim was inside of it. I said no. He didn’t believe me, so I jumped up and down on the tire and told him I did so… the tire bent in and out, which in my mind, it wouldn’t have done if there had been a rim in there. He still didn’t believe me so I stuck my hand in the tire. There was nothing there. Still disbelief so I had Denys get on the phone and confirm the lack of rim. Then he wanted to know if it was shredded. It wasn’t. I think he thought I was crazy at this point.
But he came over and the three of us lifted/shoved the tire onto the back of his truck. Then I drove it up to my tractor and plodded off to Gary’s tractor, sighing all the way, resigning myself to a long dark night with a heater that was either all on, blowing directly into my eyeballs, or all off. Gary’s tractor had a cab door I wasn’t strong enough to pull shut all the way, so I was constantly turning the heat on and off to try to balance the draft against hot dry eyes. My legs always felt like Jello when I was done with a shift on Gary’s tractor because the clutch was super hard to push. This night was no different. To top it off, the field had some of the deepest, muddiest ruts of any field I defoliated, and I managed to get Gary’s tractor stuck in one of them as the sun rose. I radioed for help and then just sat there, dejected and somewhat humiliated. Brandon came to the rescue. What a guy! Never made fun of me for somehow losing a tire on one tractor and then getting another one stuck.
Here’s the interior of Gary’s tractor (sorry, I somehow neglected to take pics of the interior of mine, it was Cadillacish in comparision, imagine computer controls and the like!):
At any rate, I generally had a pretty good time pretending to be a farmer. And I was told that the tire was not my fault. I’m going to choose to believe that even though I seriously doubt I didn’t play a part. Ha! Apparently what happened was I hit a bad rut, lost the bead on the tire, and then when I started driving again, I hit another rut perfectly and basically just drove out of the tire. Jerry had a pretty good time taking pictures that night! I guess he’d never heard of such a thing, and he grew up on a sugar beet farm. My uncle didn’t seem to think it was that unusual.
I’m grateful I got the chance to work on the farm. It certainly changed how I think about all the food I see in the grocery store. That food doesn’t get there without a whole lot of hard work by a bunch of dedicated individuals and families. Next time you meet a farmer, thank them!
Because I was on the night shift, I got to see some pretty neat stuff. I’ll post some more pictures below, but I saw coyotes (they are not afraid of tractors in the slightest), deer, a porcupine, numerous beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and a lunar eclipse!
View from front of my tractor. You can see a set of 6 rows of defoliated but not yet dug beets on the right.
Sugar beet fields
Digger. Photo by Brandon
Load ’em up! Photo by Brandon
Loaded sugar beet truck, off to the dump. This was shot inside my tractor – you can see the orange computer control board here.
Another view of my tractor 🙂