Thursday, January 19, 2012

There's just one hitch...

When it snowed a couple of inches the other night, it reminded me of a chore I'd been putting off for months: hooking up the big scrape blade to the back of the tractor.The tractor was still attached to an old Haban sickle bar mower -- too short to get at all the vile-tempered briars growing along the banks of our creek but better than any of the bush-hog brutes we've got to help keep the foliage down and the fields open. So I had put off what needed to be done.

I'm the hired hand on this old farm and I've been fighting tractor hitches just long enough to have an appreciation for the mule. Nope, never plowed with a mule, but the notion of an uncooperative, stubborn, recalcitrant, mind-of-its-own beast adequately describes my view of the three-point hitch. Shoot, just getting an implement unhooked from the tractor hitch can consume more time, effort and strength than you might have for the remainder of the day.

Or used to, anyway, until I traded in two old, leaky, shackley underpowered tractors that would barely pull some of the steep hills we have up here at 3,100 feet elevation. A fellow clued me in to part of the problem -- the two lift arms on each of the old tractors weren't adjustable,  and thus all manner of levering, banging around with a nine-pound hammer and cussing in the style of a stevedore on steroids was part of any change from, say, a finish mower to a box blade. It will wear you out.

A word about three-point hitches: They're far safer than the hitches many farmers used in the early days of tractors. I've written about this before: The three-point hitch was developed by Irishman Harry Ferguson in 1926 after the British government asked him to develop a system to prevent tractor accidents caused by plows catching on rocks.

"The plow would halt but the tractor would attempt to keep going – and with the large rear wheels’ axle serving as a fulcrum, the tractor would rear up and flip over backward, killing or maiming the driver. 
Ferguson came up with the three-point hitch, a sort of A-frame shaped connection whose two lower bars would provide stability and whose top bar would apply forward pressure, keeping a tractor from flipping back when a plow hung up on a rock. He also developed the hydraulic lifters that allowed the driver to pick up the plow or bush hog it was towing. That made turning or getting to and from the fields a lot easier."  Ferguson years later became the Ferguson in Massey Ferguson Tractors.

Yesterday the wind was screaming and the mercury around 30 when I finally fetched up the grit to go out and unhook the sickle bar mower and put on the scrape blade.  We're having a relatively mild winter, but I keep remembering two years ago when there was snow and ice on the ground from early December to the first week of April, and there was no way to move that stuff around once it froze.

This time it was almost pleasant. The picture at left, pulled from a website called TractorByNet, shows part of the solution.  After I finally learned how to extend the lift arms by pulling a clip and a clevis pin on each side, the old mower miraculously slid right off the now-loosened lift arms and settled onto a couple of six-inch beam cutoffs that keep the thing out of the dirt.  It's a lot easier to slide off the power take off (PTO) link, the devilish device that transfers engine power to the farm implement you're trying to attach, than it is to put it on. Detaching the top link is a simple matter of backing off on a threaded sleeve.  And hooking up the heavy-duty scrape blade was just about as easy, especially with no PTO to reattach.  I was done in about 10 minutes, a new world record for an aging, arthritic farmhand with too much newsroom experience and not enough farmland savvy.

I wrote about three-point hitches nearly five years ago for a newspaper blog I was putting out at the time. Shortly after it appeared, I got a nice note from a Raleigh lobbyist for agricultural interests. In part it read:

"Once you master the PTO, you can move up to the manure spreader!"

Several ways to take that, of course, but I decided it was a compliment. At my age you got to take them any way you can get 'em. Let it snow.

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