Monday, July 04, 2005

Man DIY Rides Again!

Well, today I had another country-boy first.

I drove a tractor. A real one. With huge back wheels and everything!

You see, I live on about an 8 acre property, owned by my Father-in law.

It doesn’t take rocket scientist to work out that 8 acres of land can be a right bugger to keep trimmed, especially in summer, when you can actually see the grass growing.

Well, up until now, I had two weapons against mother nature in my arsenal. A smallish riding lawnmower, and a push mower. Both are borrowed, and therefore not always available (Regular readers will know of my 2 acres with a push-mower episode).

Well today, I got a call:

“The cub (the tractor) has been fixed. You wanna come over and learn how to run it?”

I jumped at the chance. You see, the cub has a lawnmower attachment. It doesn’t cut a girly little foot and a half wide strip when you ride it. Nope, this beast cuts a strip about 5 feet across (Feel free to do your Tim Allen ‘woof woof woof’ now fellas).

Put it this way. If a riding lawnmower is a hand grenade, the Cub is a tactical nuke.

Of course, there’s the attraction of a really big machine. Ladies, watch your guys, if they come across a really big machine, no matter what it does, they start salivating.

So I take the short walk to my parent’s in law’s house. There she is, sitting out front. Big. Yellow. The kind of machine that picks fights in bars, has facial tattoos, sleeps with other tractor’s wives, and laughs about it in the morning.

There to meet me is my sister-in-law. My sis-in-law is the epitomy of the G.R.I.T.S phenomenon. Girls Raised In The South. She is to be my teacher.

Now despite the fact that she has drove this thing a hundred times, there’s still the fact that she’s a girl, and as a man, I find it impossible to admit that a female could know more than me.

She shows me where the valve to turn the gas on is, where the ignition and starter is.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever.

I jump on, and like an old hand, start her up. (The tractor, not the sis-in-law)

I see three pedals. Just like a car. I push the left most pedal down, put it in gear. I lift my foot from the clutch and press the gas.


The tractor stays stationary, and that noise worried me. So I lift my foot off the ‘gas’ and the machine lurches forward.

So at this point, the tractor is moving (Luckily at about 6 MPH), and I have not clue how to stop it. With amazing presence of mind, (It’s amazing how clearly you think when your brain is fueled on sheer terror…I may have only been going 6mph, but the tractor got to 6mph in less that a quarter second…not fast, but enough to throw you back in the seat), I push in the clutch, and turn the thing off.

I roll to a stop, amid much laughter.

Apparently, the clutch is ‘tricky’, let off it too fast or too slow, and the belt that powers the mower blades will jump off. That was the source of the clang.

Second of all, I learned a very important lesson:

Tractors Have No Gas Pedal.

Those two pedals on the right were brakes, front and back.

Basically, I’d put it into gear, and mashed down on the rear brake. When I let up off the ‘gas’ to find out what was wrong, I was really letting off the brake.

That was just the start of my problems.

Now this is an old machine, with plenty of things rigged on it to keep it functional. For example, the gear lever to put power to the fly wheel that powers the mower blades is worn. Worn to the point where you have to put a piece of wire around it to keep it in gear.

Also, the pulleys are a little misaligned, meaning the belt for the mower will come off if you let off the clutch too fast, too slow, or if it just feels like jumping off.

(I would like to point out, for the sake of my mother who may be reading this, that there is a quarter inch thick steel plate between me and all these moving parts, the blade attachment itself could explode, and I’d be safe).

Having been served a nice big slice of humble pie with big scoop of humiliation ice cream, I actually listened and learned the correct way to operate the machine.

After 15 minutes I was ready. I had the beast trained, on a leash and completely in my power.

“Cower brief mortals!” I declared to the grass. “For I, the grim reaper of the gardening world, am about to collect thy slim, green, chlorophyll containing souls!”

I climbed back into the seat.

I started the engine.
I pushed in the clutch.
I wiggled the mower attachment gear into place (Direct quote “It’s worn, you gotta wiggle it a bit.” …Was I learning to operate a tractor, or taking part in a Sir Mixalot video?)
I pulled the gear shift into first.

That grass was going to pay!

I let off the clutch.


I pressed the clutch.
I took everything out of gear.
I turned the engine off.
I climbed off the tractor.
I put the belt back on the fly wheel, worked it through the pulley system and back around the blade attachment.

For the sake of brevity, let’s say I repeated the above about 15 times before I actually managed to move more than six feet.

In fact, in the course of cutting just the front side of the property, I repeated the above a few hundred times…literally. I’m not joking here. I’m not even exaggerating. I never went for more than 10 minutes without having to put that frigging belt back on.

Finally I got the two acres cut.

Oh, did I mention that I had to do the whole lot in first gear? Apparently, any faster than that, and the belt jumps off ‘a lot’. In first gear, it jumped off every 10 minutes. I’d hate to see what a ‘lot’ is.

Finally, I finished. I glowed with a mixture of manly pride, and 3rd degree sunburn.

Suddenly, something didn’t look quite right.

I looked.

I looked again.

I looked some more.

Then I swore.

Then I swore some more.

Then I invented some more swear words. Swear words that would cause Satan himself to say “Steady on there, old chap, there are ladies present!”

Then I screamed at myself like a man who has just had his testicles smeared with honey and then pushed into an oversized beehive.

You see, no one told me that the cutting blade, while exceptionally wide, was not quite as wide as the wheels of the tractor.

I hadn’t so much cut the grass, and given it a sort of weird spiral Mohawk.

Luckily, at that point, my mother in law came out and ordered me to go inside as it was getting too hot. (I’m apparently very sun-fragile, coming from England) My sister in law would finish it.

I protested, but not very much.

The story should have ended there, but it didn’t. This is because of two facts:

1) The grass around my house needed cutting.
2) I’m a complete f**king idiot.

Deciding to fit all my extreme torture into a single day, that evening, I went back to my father-in law’s house when it had cooled down a little, and borrowed it again.

This time I learned what happens when you drive the tractor into waist high grass without raising the blade up a little.

I’ll give you a clue:


Of course, this time, having changed more belts than Belt McBelt, owner of Belt’s Belt emporium, specializing in the selling, buying and changing of belts, winner of the Belt changing competition 50 years in a row…it wasn’t such a problem.

After changing the belt, I get back on the tractor.

You ever heard the expression ‘Someone up there likes me.’?

Well someone up there must absolutely detest me.

We live less than 50 yards from the Railroad track. We’re also about a half mile up from a crossing. Many of you may know what a train does when they approach a crossing. For those that don’t, I won’t spoil the surprise.

Imagine being spaced out on top of a tractor. A very noisy tractor.

Imagine a train approaching when you’re less than 15 yards from the track.

Imagine that you don’t actually hear the train, because the very loud tractor you’re sitting on is drowning it out.

Imagine the train is behind you, so you don’t even see it.

Imagine that train suddenly blowing its 200-decibel whistle when it’s directly behind you.

Imagine nearly soiling yourself, while levitating 15 feet into the air, still in the sitting position.

Imagine screaming like a little girl, while trying to find the skin you just jumped out of.

…I was not having a good day.

However, despite the train scaring the entire spectrum of different coloured poop out of me, as well as a few other colours as yet undiscovered by mankind, it wasn’t really a problem.

Having to change the belt every 15 minutes wasn’t a problem.

Operating a very temperamental machine, while sunburned, hungry and thirsty wasn’t a problem.

…The sudden thunderstorm was.

Imagine, sitting atop a tractor, more sunburn on you than the planet mercury, it’s 80 degrees, about 150,000% humidity, your heart having just dropped back below the 150bpm mark…you think things cant get much worse. Then:


I felt like a cartoon character, with a little thundercloud over my head.

As I sat atop the machine, soaking wet through as a mixture of sweat and ice cold rain stung my eyes. As I sat there, silent steaming, contemplating my place in the pecking order of the universe, I was suddenly struck by a very profound thought.

It went as follows:


I turned the tractor off, and ran inside.

You may accuse me of lying or hyperbole, but the very second I crossed the threshold, the rain stopped. The sun came out. Fluffy bunnies frolicked beneath a rainbow.

Somewhere, an Englishman in South Carolina swore his fucking head off.

I looked out at my lawn, and silently willed it that every blade of grass would get genital warts.

I suddenly understood that it’s a damn good job that I didn’t have Starwars Force Powers, because if I did, the world would suddenly find itself in a rage fueled stranglehold. If I’d found an ‘Earth Self-Destruct’ button, I would have pushed it, and laughed as my constituent atoms spread themselves out over the universe.

Only one task remained. Taking the tractor back to my Parents-in-laws house.

This shouldn’t have been much of a problem, I didn’t have to use the mower attachment, so I didn’t have to worry about that frigging belt.

I drove it back to the house. Uneventfully.

Now my Parents-in-Law, keep the tractor in a garage. I looked at the approach.

I had maybe a half-inch room for error on each side. If I steered off this incredibly thin, winding path, I’d either destroy an RV or my Mother-in-law’s vegetable garden.

Imagine trying to play that game, where you have to maneuver the metal loop over the twisted metal wire, without touching the sides, blindfolded…and you’ll be approaching the difficulty I was facing.

Regular readers will also know that I’m a crappy driver, and there is also the small problem of me having no depth perception (It used to be fun playing Rugby at school, where I would position myself to catch the ball, then see it land over 50 yards in front of me).

I considered just leaving it out, but my testosterone took over.

“I’m a man, Goddamn it! I can steer this thing round that path into the garage! What am I? A man, or a mouse?”

I fought the urge to stop squeaking.

Inch by agonizing inch, I maneuvered the tractor through the maze.

I was amazed.

I got the thing into the garage, without hitting anything, running anything over, and only had to back up once. Truly, I was the king of parking. This was, seriously, a feat of precision driving.

So I strutted into the house, cock-sure and full of many pride.

“Hey Charles!” I said to my Father-in-Law. “The Cub’s in the garage.”

My Mother-in-Law was impressed.

“You put it back?!”

“Yep!” I said with a smile.

Then an evil look crossed my sister in law’s face. She was pissed about having to re-mow the front of the property, to turn my spiral Mohawk into a more acceptable crew cut.

“You did leave enough space for the riding lawnmower, didn’t you? Oh, and you did remember to turn the gas off?”

The thought of having to back the tractor out through that maze filled me with bowel loosening terror.

I was suddenly infected with a severe dose of honesty.

“The gas, I can do. If you want the tractor moved, what are you less attached to? The vegetable garden, or the RV?”

I left the house to much snickering.

I’d like to say I learned something from today’s experience. It’s this:

“Long grass doesn’t actually look that bad”.

If the wife doesn’t like it, she can cut it herself…or buy a goat.


Vicarious Living said...

Still laughing - and I finished reading a while ago. Very nicely written, and at your own expense.

Every time my parents would mow the lawn, I'd beg to help. Seriously, being in charge of the lawnmower sounded fun! Until they let me push it a few feet. Luckily, by the time I was old enough to do it on my own, we lived in an apartment. I was not unhappy about this.

Miz S said...

LOL- I am sooooo glad I wasnt there to see that- either Nina and I would have been brawling in the backyard for her being so mean or I would have been laughing with them- neither is a very appealing prospect.

My solution to this very vexing problem? Allow your little nephews who are still DYING to be allowed to cut the grass to do it for ten bucks. They think your'e the worlds greatest uncle because you think they're grown up enough to do it(and it's still a novelty to them) and you end up being an all round great guy because the lawn gets done.

I know- I know-----Mind my business.

Just a thought

MC Etcher said...

Dear Lord. I'm sorry for you. I don't know if it's impressive or worrisome that you stuck with it so long.

I would have built a huge bonfire right on top of the offending gizmo, and torched all the grass starting at that spot.

Slash and burn, good for the soil.

aurora said...

If it makes you feel any better I feel the parking pain if nothing else. I also have no depth perception. It made for ana interesting time learning to drive.