quickly shot this idea down.
I first tried to simply ignore the rapidly growing grass, but when it reached my knees and it wasn’t even the fourth of July, I reluctantly grabbed my worn-out credit card and headed for Tractor Supply. Here we purchased what is known as a “brush hog,”
which is basically a lawn mower on steroids. Not only is this machine considerably larger than your typical suburban mower, but instead of nice sharp little blades this thing slings around a chunk of blunt medal about the size of a breadbox. In other words this is not a piece of equipment you would use to manicure your front lawn, but it will readily overpower acres of pasture grass –
plus any bushes, saplings or small animals which are unfortunate enough to get in its way.
Also, a brush hog must be towed behind a real tractor with a three-point hitch. The three-point hitch is one of the more ingenious agricultural inventions of the 20th century; allowing a single farmer to operate a vast collection of equipment and in its small way
had helped make America the breadbasket of the world. The good news was our old Ford tractor was fitted with one of these miraculous inventions; the bad news: I had to learn how to operate it. I suppose if one is raised on a farm, using a three point hitch is a skill learned right after walking; but for us city folk it is a whole new world.
First, as its name implies, this device has three points of connection. As anyone who has ever tried to hook up a plain old trailer (one point of connection) can attest to, backing a two ton vehicle to within a fraction of an inch of a desired location is not an easy
operation. Add two additional points of connection and you have an exercise in futility.
Fortunately, my fellow engineers who designed this device provided some “slop” in the connections, which means an accuracy of one or two inches is acceptable. However, we are not talking about maneuvering a Porsche on a level asphalt parking lot; but rather a 50 year-old tractor with a worn clutch over rutted, muddy fields. Throw in the fact my tractor brakes are a hit and miss operation and hooking up our brush hog is an endeavor which would have challenged Houdini on one of his good days. To add to the fun the three point hitch is a one-man operation – at least in theory. So on a typical day I would move the tractor, check the alignment, grumble, move the tractor some more, check the alignment, grumble some more, etc. Now there was a time when climbing on and off a tractor seat would not have been a challenge for me, but I am well beyond that particular stage in my life. So after the third or fourth try I resort to the farmer’s best friend, a 2 pound sledge hammer, which I now consider an indispensable and lifesaving tool. It may not be pretty, but I have found this “hammer method” to work well and if it saves me even one climb onto
that darn tractor seat it is worth every swing.
Once the three-point-hitch is finally in place, I have yet one more operation to perform – the attachment of the PTO or Power Take-Off. You see, the hitch merely allows one to drag the brush hog around the field and raise it up or down; the PTO is what actually makes it cut the grass. A PTO is a wicked device which protrudes from the rear end of a tractor. As its name implies, it is
a rotating shaft which transfers power from the tractor engine to whatever piece of equipment you are dragging behind you. It is also a very dangerous device, as many arms and lives have been lost by getting tangled up with it.
Today in our super-safe society, manufacturers have tried to alleviate this danger by encasing all the moving parts in a protective cover. In real life what this means is that nothing is readily accessible. The bottom line is I must expend a fair amount of energy and grumble alot every time I attach or detach a piece of equipment.
Oh, I forgot to mention our tractor has one other “little”oddity: namely a “live” PTO. This means the same clutch which controls the tractor also controls the brush hog. Consequently, it takes a fair amount of skill and finesse to keep both pieces of equipment operating in a somewhat coordinated state, especially when trying to turn a corner. (I now understand what that guy meant when he sang: “give me forty acres and I’ll turn this rig around!” Unfortunately, we only have ten acres.) The other thing a live PTO does is make it impossible to stop the tractor within a reasonable distance. A rapidly spinning brush hog has a lot of momentum and with a live PTO this force is imparted back to the tractor when one applies the brakes. Therefore, instead of coming to a nice, safe stop, this energy shoves the tractor forward into fences, barns, people or whatever else happens to be in your way.
With the brush hog hitched up we are finally ready to cut some grass! Actually, Roxanne, our designated grass cutter, is ready. (As for me, after fighting with the three-point hitch and PTO for an hour I am ready for a cold beer and a nap.) I must admit I was a
little worried about Roxanne as she climbed onto the tractor seat for the first time. Now you must understand that Roxanne is a very intelligent and capable person. She wrote complex computer programs and ran entire departments for a Fortune 500 company over the course of her working career. She also possesses an inordinate amount of common sense: often has been the time she has redirected my efforts in the nick of time to avoid a dangerous or expensive mistake.
But Roxanne will also be the first to admit she has little aptitude for mechanical apparatus. For example, shortly after we met she
demonstrated her “radio repair” for me one day while riding in her car. What this entails is turning the radio volume up loud enough to drown out any unpleasant noises your automobile happens to be making. And this lack of mechanical expertise is exacerbated by the age in which our tractor was built.
Today, computer chips have reduced the operation of complex machinery to simplicity: a Boeing 747 can pretty much land itself and my car now tells me when to add air to its tires. But our tractor was built when people were still expected to think for themselves. As a result it has all sorts of levers and pedals in strange locations which must be manually manipulated in the
proper sequence or nasty things will happen.
So it is with more than a little trepidation I waved goodbye to Roxanne on her first day of grass cutting. In fact, I was still giving her the benefit of my “expert” advice when she suddenly popped the clutch and was off for the far end of our pastures. As I
watched in apprehension, she swung her rig around the corner (live PTO and all) like Mario Andretti at the second turn at Indianapolis. Yes, even without my priceless advice, I must grudgingly admit she now does an excellent job of maneuvering our tractor and brush hog through the fields. Between her and the alpacas, we have some of the best looking pastures in the county.