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
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.