Thursday, November 18, 2010

Man versus Machine (part 2)

Dave got the tractor stuck on a Tuesday. When I initially scolded him, I told him it HAD to be out by the weekend. After another 200 mm of rain though, I took pity on him and suggested he wait a few more days for the ground to dry out. He wanted to give it a shot anyway.

Sunday November 7
It's raining today, but for the first time in three days it's steady showers instead of a torrential downpour. Dave is armed with 100 feet of heavy duty tow-ropes and he's anxious to try and free the tractor from its muddy resting place. I tell him to call a tow truck. He says it's too expensive (this from the guy who just spent 70 dollars on tow-ropes).

I swore I wouldn't waste a single minute of my time helping Dave get out of this mess. But I worry about him working on the tractor alone, so I throw on my rain gear and trek down the muddy slope with him. True to form, Zorro follows too. We both act as "project supervisors."

Dave's plan is to jack-up the tractor, shove boards underneath the rear wheels (the tractor is backwards, with the front pointing down the hill toward the bus), put the tractor in neutral, and hope to heck that the truck has enough horsepower to pull it out. This would likely be a much easier task if the tractor would start. But no, despite balmy 14 degree temperatures, the engine simply won't turn over-- and this time there's no way to position the truck to boost it. No, our poor old Dodge Ram is going to have to pull several thousand pounds of dead weight. To make matters worse, all the rain has created a mini-river that now runs between the tractor's tires.

With the tractor jacked up, and boards wedged beneath its mismatched tires, Dave strings together his newly-purchased ropes. He hoped they would be long enough to reach to the top of the hill so the truck to pull from firmer, level ground. But no, the ropes have come up short, and while the truck is nearing the crest of the hill, it's still on a slope. It's not ideal, but it will have to do.

Dave puts the truck in 4WD low and hits the gas. As the ropes tighten, the truck surges forward the tractor lurches ahead a foot or so. Then the truck loses traction and the tires spin the wet grass into a muddy mess. As the truck slides, the tractor rolls back into its comfortable rut.

We try putting boards under the truck tires too. It simply spits them up in the air. Then, Dave lengthens the distance between the truck and the tractor by hooking a series of ratchet straps to the tow ropes. We're still not on flat ground, but it might just be enough. He hits the gas in the truck again. The truck jumps forward a foot, then two feet. I look through the rear windshield and can see the tractor tires beginning to turn. It's moving.

Just then, one of the newly attached straps breaks, and the tractor rolls backwards. For one awful moment, I'm afraid it will keep rolling right into the bus, but the deep ruts are so well worn that it simply rocks back into its muddy cradle.

The rain is picking up again. We call it a day-- and I repeat my suggestion to call a tow-truck.

Wednesday, November 10
Once again Dave brushes aside my tow-truck suggestion. Instead, he heads to the hardware store to pick up another 60 feet worth of ropes.

Thursday, November 11
It has finally stopped raining. As soon as the horses are fed and turned out, Dave turns his attention to the tractor. It's the day of reckoning. This time, there's enough rope to bring the truck onto solid, flat ground. The problem now is that we can just barely see the tractor. It's down the hill and around a curve. I'm not overly optimistic about our chances, and I make it clear that if this doesn't work, I'm calling a tow-truck myself.

The ropes are attached. The truck is in 4WD low. Dave puts his foot on the gas. The tires find traction and our "Ram Tough" Dodge pickup rolls smoothly ahead. I crane my neck to look through the rear windshield. I can't see the tractor at all, but the ropes are tight and we're moving, so it must be moving too. We creep along, hoping, praying. Then, we see it.

It's as if the hill is giving birth--a breech birth. First the chest-high, mud-caked rear tires emerge over the slope, then we see the back of the driver's seat, and the red of the engine casing. The tractor is halfway up the hill now. It's rolling. It's moving. It's really free. It's...oh no, it's rolling straight toward a thick, 10 foot high stand of alder trees.

As the tractor reaches them, the alders bend, but they don't bow. The truck groans and strains. The tow ropes vibrate. The tractor stops moving. The truck tires start spinning. Dave puts the pedal to the metal. Suddenly, the truck lurches forward and the tractor barges through the stand of trees.

With the trees conquored, the tractor crests the hill. We keep pulling until it's well up on flat ground. Dave and I both let out huge sighs of relief. We run down to inspect the tractor. Branches stick out at all angles from the tractor. It's covered in mud, but otherwise unscathed. After nine days in the mud, our Massey Ferguson 35 has finally been liberated. Now, what on earth are we going to do with 160 feet worth of tow-ropes?

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