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DayCreek Journal

September 12 , 2004

Gremlins

Sickle Bar Mower from Hell.

Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." OR..."If anything cannot go wrong, it will anyway."

That pretty much sums up this past week. The gremlins were running rampant at Day Creek and I'm not talkin' about AMC Gremlins. Lately I seem to have a propensity to mechanically destroy everything that I touch.

Let's see...what went wrong this week...

With only a four day work week, this seemed the appropriate time to put down the mortar and confront the jungle of weeds that have been growing unchecked all season. The plan was to use the brush hog, sickle-bar mower and weed whacker around the fence lines and generally tidy things up a bit.

Let's start with the sickle bar mower. The sickle bar mower is a handy device (BCS 730) that has a 12HP engine that drives a 3-speed drive transmission and interchangeable tools. It has a tiller attachment and a sickle bar attachment. I primarily use it with the sickle bar attachment, and my goal was to use it around the fence posts to get at those hard to reach weeds. It's a walk behind tractor that does a pretty good job...when it works right.

My problems actually started last year when while I was cutting brush—the whole front-end kind of flung itself apart. Pieces went flying into the weeds never to be seen again. After that fiasco, the mower sat in the pole shed for almost a year until two weeks ago I ordered the necessary parts, plus a new cutting blade in order to get the mower back into operation.

After a few hours of monkeying around, I got the mower working—good as new, so I thought. I went happily mowing along for about 100 feet when the left tire went flat. Of course, it was in the worst possible place—on the side of a steep hill. After arm wrestling the thing back to the house, I took the tire off and attempted to fix it myself. To make a long story short, the new inner tube I installed had a leak so I decided to take the tire to the Hokah Co-op and have them fix it. I put the fixed tire on the mower and left the mower sit comfortably overnight.

The next morning, the new, fixed tire was flat again! Jeesh! Back to the Co-op for their second attempt at fixing the tire. Finally, their second attempt at fixing the tire seemed to work.

Off I went to mow the field by the house. Everything was now going great.(So I thought.) I got the majority of the field mowed and decided to whack down a bunch of unwanted saplings in back of the solar panels. All of a sudden, the front end of the sickle bar went through a series of convulsions and I immediately shut down the mower before the monster began to toss a number of projectiles into the weeds.

Back to the house I went with the sick puppy. The cam/crank shaft that drives the blades had come out of its socket. This took about two hours to disassemble the mechanism, whacking things back in place and then reassembling the dang thing.

Before I went back to mowing, I decided to take a lunch break. After my break, I was just about ready to begin mowing when I noticed that now the RIGHT tire was flat! At this point, I started imitating Oliver Wendall Douglas (Green Acres) screaming, yelling and kicking the frickin' tractor. This was getting really nutty! I couldn't believe all the problems I was having with the mower.

I decided to take my chances and fill the tire up to see if it would hold air at least for an hour while I finished up the trim work around the fence posts. Luckily, the tire stayed round long enough to finish the job.

Whew! Now that the trim work was done, it was time to hook up the brush hog to the Massey farm tractor.

The brush hog is nothing more than a big flailing blade that whacks everything in its path. It certainly isn't a finish mower, but it does a great job of taking down tall stands of grass. My goal was to cut a path along side the fence line to our tillable area, then go down to the front pasture area and whack down some weeds that our neighbor's horse refuses to eat.

I started mowing the path around the tillable area. Everything was just working great. I made one pass and started a second pass when all of a sudden there was a huge CLUNK!. I looked down in back of me and the U-joint that connects the tractor's PTO (Power Take Off) to the drive shaft was in pieces! I very calmly picked up the pieces, got back in the tractor and went for a ride back to the pole shed where now the tractor, brush hog and what's left of a U-joint are taking a long nap.

Well...at least I got the path cut around the tillable area, but so much for the front pasture.

The week so far was going just peachy. It was now time to do my weekly chore of mowing the lawn with the garden tractor. I wanted to make sure the grass got cut nice and short for next week's Applefest. Every year we have friends come up to celebrate La Crescent, Minnesota's Applefest and during the weekend festivities, we have an 18-hole, croquet golf tournament. It's a lot of fun to be sure.

I was merrily mowing along when I hit a rock. Now, I have hit rocks before and although it makes me cringe, it usually doesn't cause any major damage to the blades other than a few dents. The rocks are usually soft enough that they get the raw end of the encounter. Not so this time. The blade shattered in two!

Off to the store for new blades. After returning with two out of three blades (Sears only had two!), I removed the mower deck, installed the new blades and finished mowing around the house, adjacent field, and back by the cabin and pole shed. Once in the pole shed, I noticed that one of the guide rods to the mower had come loose and caused the undercarriage to become rather mangled. (Just another fun day.) It was now time for the garden tractor to take a long nap too.

After mowing the lawn, I got out my battery-powered, ecology-minded weed whacker and trimmed around the solar panels. About three-quarters of the way through, the cutting blade that cuts the line to the proper length broke. Not being defeated, I ended up using a scissors to keep the line trimmed so I could finish up the trimming.

Okay. That was it. Too much fun for me for one week. Time to do something fun like build a cordwood wall. Unfortunately it was now Friday morning, but what the heck I might as well work on a wall! I got a bunch of wood cut and had enough time for a couple of loads of mortar. I started the cement mixer and found that one of the bolts and fallen off of the motor mount. After fixing the motor mount, I did finally get some mortar work done before it was time to pack the truck and head to Illinois for the weekend.

I backed the truck up the driveway to load it up for the trip home. Something didn't seem right. The truck seemed to be bogged down a bit. Since I needed to fuel up before I hit the road, I decided to head to the gas station in Hokah. By the time I reached the gas station, I knew what my problem was—you could smell that my brakes were burning! Yes, for whatever reason (gremlins) the back left brake had seized up.

It was 4:45 on Friday and I doubted seriously that I was going anywhere! As luck would have it, there was a used car lot next door that repaired cars. And as further luck would have it, they had a mechanic there that was willing to look at the truck. And even luckier, he happened to be one of my neighbors that I know and trust. He took a look at both back wheels and both wheels would not turn freely. Hmmm... He took a little screw driver, made a few adjustments to the brake adjuster and within minutes the wheels were spinning freely again. He asked if I had a brake job done lately and I said "nope". We both just scratched our heads and I was on my way. (This was the ONE thing that went right this week—some kind of a fluke I guess?!)

I drove home Friday evening rather paranoid, not knowing if any more gremlins were in the truck with me. I thankfully arrived home Friday evening without any other "incidents", but what a strange week it was.

Finally, back in Illinois I drove to the dentist for a checkup. I made it there fine—no problems with the truck. I sat down in the dentists chair and the hygienist informed me it was time for a few X-rays. She set up the computer and X-ray machine for a few pictures, put the lead bib on me, and hit the switch to give me a zap. She said "That's weird, the computer didn't capture the image. Hmm...I wonder what's wrong?" Hmm indeed.

 

September is a great month to view the Milky Way if you get the opportunity to get away from city lights. This picture was taken using a telescope clock drive to track the stars. That's why the trees are blurred, but the stars are not.