This story (about yours truly) is further proof that you should not let cowboys anywhere near farm equipment…even if it is only to feed the cows!

About the only thing worse than playing farmer is playing mechanic. Sort of reminds you of the old soft drink commercial, “You like
it; it likes you,” only it’s more like, “It likes you; you hate it.” The ““it”” in this case is grease. I’’d rather get bucked off face first in a fresh cow pie than to have to get grease on me. The cow pie will wash off, but the grease sticks to you like a finger dabbed in super glue and stuck in your ear. It’s there for quite awhile, and no amount of soap or waterless hand cleaner seems to affect its color. But no matter how much I dislike the danged stuff, there are still for me to prove I’m not a mechanic.

The time that always seems to linger in my mind was the winter I had to learn how to feed with one of those big, round-bale processors. It was an older model processor tied up to a brand new tractor. Of course that new tractorhappened to be somewhat of a lemon so half the time, I wound up feeding with the old tractor.

This tractor was an old crab-crawling, International four-wheel-drive tractor. Now this tractor was so old and falling apart that it was rough even when standing still. Trying to go in a straight line with this machine was about as futile as trying to light a match in a hurricane. The object was to lower the trailer containing the bale processor and back in underneath a row of round bales sitting on the ground and pick them up five at a time. The fact the tractor couldn’’t be backed straight and the bales were not in a perfectly straight line was compounded by the fact that I couldn’’t see over the bale processor to see where I was backing. Now the boss had assured us that one person could feed a thousand cows in less than two hours with this contrary contraption. Heck, that first load took an hour for me to load with Henry guiding me, and even then I only managed to get three fifths of a load. After a few days I started more or less getting the hang of it, and then the new tractor came back from the shop.

Having a tractor I could actually back in a straight line made a world of difference. It was even easier to load because this tractor was high enough that a person could see over the top to where he was backing. The boss was right; one person could feed the cows in less than two hours. Then the tractor broke again. At least it was under warranty, and the dealer sent a mechanic out to load it up and haul it back to town. In the meantime, being the poor farmer type I am, I couldn’’t figure out why the
bale processor was making so much noise. I finally figured it out when the main bearing went out, and the front of the processor basically fell off. Two things made this especially bad.

First it was out of warranty, which meant that the ranch mechanic and welder was going to have to do the work. The second bad part was that being second in command on a two man
outfit meant that I also happened to be the ranch mechanic and welder. Priding myself on my ineptness at both welding and
mechanics, I began begging and pleading to send it to the shop in town. Unfortunately, no amount of whining or crying would convince the owner or manager that it would be faster and cheaper in the long run to hire areal mechanic.

After several hours, three scraped knuckles, and several new chapters in the book of little-known profanities, I managed to
get things straightened out enough to get the main bearing off. Meanwhile, Henry was feeding with the loaner tractor by bowling for cows. Picking up two bales he’’d leave the stackyard driving as fast as he could to out run the hungry cows. Once he figured he was far enough ahead of them he’d back as far up a hill as he could go. Then he’d jump out, cut the strings and jump back in the tractor. By this time the cows were coming up the hill towards him. He’’d release the bales and they would roll down the hill (hopefully unrolling themselves) without knocking any cows down. Luckily he didn’’t hurt any cows, but he also never rolled a “gutter bale.”

Meanwhile, back at the shop, I was welding and cussing and banging and cussing and making slow but poor progress on fixing
the feeder. On the third day I announced that I’d have everything put back together and ready to go with enough time to feed at the end of the day. Henry was relieved because he was tired of bowling for cows. As an extra added bonus, they were bringing the new tractor back out from the shop.

When I finished the feeder, I backed up with the new tractor and hooked everything up. Just to make sure, I even turned on the
processor. Lo and behold, everything turned and the processor was purring like a new machine. In spite of the scraped knuckles and
layers of grease, which would take months to get off my hands, I was beaming at accomplishing what I thought I could not. I drove out to the stackyard and picked up my first load, happy to be alive. When I got to the feeding ground, I flipped on the feeder
and amazed myself at how nicely (and quietly) it was processing the bale.

After moving about ten feet there was suddenly a rattling and banging worse even than when the bearing went out. Glancing over my shoulder I noticed how the drive shaft was making a really wide circle. Without thinking, I hit the emergency shutoff, simultaneously ducking as the drive shaft joined me in the cab at a high rate of speed. Luckily there was a safety bar in the
back window so it just came in, sprayed me with broken glass and bounced out of the cab.

Now after spending three days working on this piece of (*(^%* machine, I was really urinated off that it was already broke down. I wound up feeding by cutting the strings, driving on a side hill and chaining the bales off. About the time I got back to the house, I started shaking as I finally got over my mad and realized how close I had come to being killed by my own repair job. One good thing came out of it though. They never asked me fix anything else.
This story is an excerpt from my book A Million To One Odds (times five) available on Amazon


About bobkinford

Author, working ranch cowboy, reduced stress cattle handling expert, horseman, humorist, and gourmet cook.
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