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Past Month's Moccasin Telegraph

May 2007


I'm sure glad it's Memorial Day. No, I didn't make it to any sunrise services, although have been thinking about my ancestors a lot lately. Tractor driving lends itself to contemplation, although I'm immensely pleased to be done with it for a bit. We managed to squeak the crop in between rains by a margin of literally minutes, finishing seeding just before dark last night, and this morning are savoring a blend of relief, thankfulness, and exhaustion. Not to mention a pouring rain, and hey, check out this radar map;

See that red spot just left of center? It's camped overhead, stalled along the west slope of the Bridgers, dumping like a big dog! Maybe not like Glacier Park, though... Some intense precip coming down up there. Camping there might not be much fun right now.

No, I'm perfectly content to be indoors, thank you. That and profoundly glad our machinery upgrade came to fruition. A lot of things that could have gone wrong didn't, and those that did were manageable, although a couple in the final sprint caused stress levels way disproportionate to the acreage involved. Things held, though, and not ten minutes after I finished the last field...

Rain!! YAY!!




As mentioned in last month's column, not to mention prior entries over the last few years, we've been slowly upgrading farm equipment here on the Rockpile Ranch. Just two years ago, we were still in the early fifties.

Last year we upgraded to the sixties, and now we're clear into the eighties! At least if you average the "new" tractor and what I'll still call my "old" air seeder. As mentioned last month, I got just an outrageous response on ads for a decent used 4WD tractor, a biofuel behemoth as it were. This would be used to pull the Flexi-coil air seeder I used in a (not that long ago) previous life wheat farming on the Hi-Line. We'll raise wheat again once we're organically certified (next year) but for this year it's camelina and golden flax. Healthy Omega-3 oilseeds and basic for biodiesel, among other things.

It got to where I had to enter the tractor options into a spreadsheet to keep them straight, and about a half dozen of the strongest possibilities fit together on an interesting route past Square Butte, Fort Benton, Sun River, and then north into the Triangle.

I wound up buying the first tractor I looked at on that tour, although not before I'd checked out the others also, and then partly disassembled my re-purchased air seeder to get the weight down to where one might feasibly pull it with a pickup. A diesel load puller, anyway.

Moving the air seeder turned into a project, as I knew it would. First load I hauled the wing shanks and two sets of packers; the factory V-packer wheels and a set of coil ones I built back in the day, that just could be the best thing to hit the Rockpile Ranch in some time. Either that or they won't work at all. I'll know in a few days.

I promptly turned around and headed back for the cultivator portion of the thing. I should strongly caution and flat-out advise against anyone moving big iron this way, as things could go badly. When options ranging from friends with semis to enlisting our Hutterite brethren aren't coming together, though, you do what you gotta do.

Fortunately I had good help, my retired implement dealer friend Ed Mitch. Ed recently made the news by donating a collection of Bob Scriver bronzes to the C.M. Russell Museum.

When this project was in the early stages I recall commenting it'd be a miracle if it could be pulled off in time for seeding this spring. Miraculous could be stretching it, but true to form several key things fell together uncannily well, for which we're immensely thankful.

We'd more or less figured out how to move the air seeder ourselves, as I just couldn't seem to enthuse anyone else with the project, at least within budget/time constraints. I had a few trucking options tentatively lined up for the tractor, but when the deal came to pass they'd all sort of evaporated. Driving through Townsend on the trip to get the cultivator I noticed a semi and lo-boy with wide load signs sitting there all ready to go and after brief consideration turned around and dropped in on 'em. Lo and behold, it's a logging operation that I just happened to catch in their slow season (aided by a well-timed shower). Townsend is as near halfway between Square Butte and Bozeman as you're likely to find a tractor hauler available on very short notice, and so a day or two after our cultivator move we had something to pull it with. And then, against all odds there was an available crane just down the road to unload the air seeder tank, but that comes later...

A day of wrestling heavy iron around and lots of bolt turning and the plow was back together. And oh..., it's so much better! There's no give to the shank trip mechanism until it really has to give way, and so for the first time we were able to really effectively till the place, instead of the plow shovels just kind of sliding over and around the rocks!

And then, it was to the north country once again for the air seeder tank. This was one of the trickier loads I've hauled. At least loading it was tricky, but fortunately I had good advice from people who've hauled lots of oddball stuff about how to secure the thing and it never moved a micron the whole way to Bozeman. Good thing, as the alternative is too dire to contemplate.

That was a marathon day. Left Bozeman early, made a couple of stops in Great Falls, and then several in Shelby, Ethridge, and on to the edge of the earth, aka Napi's Country (the "trickster" in Blackfoot mythology). With minimal stress, considering, we got the thing loaded and secured, I was on the road south by 4:30, and made it home by 10:00. Again, I must strongly counsel against such courses of action.

Unloading it was mightily interesting too. I'd assumed with all the construction and excavating going on around here, it'd be no problem to find a big backhoe and pluck the tank off the trailer. A neighborhood excavator and I had traded messages about it, but when we finally connected I learned even the big ones can only pick up about 4000 pounds, and this air tank easily exceeds that. Implement dealer unloading ramps were Plan B, or C as it turned out. I'd noticed a crane sitting down the way while plowing, and a phone call revealed it belonged to log home builder and long-time neighbor Jerry Gray and his son John, who graciously came right over and viola!

So now all that remains is putting things back together and getting seed in the ground. I like to be done seeding by May 10, but now we're going to be able to get over the acres hasta pronto and aren't that far past the optimal window. The weather forecast looks great all week, and after a nice .8" of rain yesterday, a fella could get optimistic.



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