The Tractor Whisperer - Home on the Range Blog at - 267400

Home on the Range

The Tractor Whisperer 
Feb. 13, 2012 1:08 pm 
Updated: Feb. 21, 2012 10:58 am

It’s winter again and that means Randyman is brushbeating and mowing down sagebrush. So much of the ranch has been lost to sagebrush in the last 50 years, its remarkable. The fields he has already finished now have lots of grass and feed for the cows, deer and antelope, and some of the grasses are over our heads when we are horseback.
There is a lot of ground to cover and its slow tedious work. Randyman came in and asked if I “wanted to drive tractor”. 
This is not the first time he has asked. I have determined that Randyman is one of those folks that just doesn’t learn very fast. For almost 2 decades, he has known that I have “tractor-phobia” and driving even a small one causes my heart to race, sweat to break out on my brow, the muscles in my neck and shoulders contract like steel and my breathing becomes irregular. I am pretty sure that falls into the phobia category. It’s worse than seeing a spider. At least with one of those, I have the presence of mind to grab a shotgun if its big enough and protect myself. A tractor, I just climb inside and wait to die.
He then asked if I would go down to “High Corner” several miles down the road, to pick him up. He would then drive me home and go back so he had a pick up truck to drive back in when he was done.
I pulled past the cattle guard and down the road to where one big tractor was parked as he drove up in another. He looked pitiful to me...there was so much work to do and it goes so slowly, so in spite of myself I asked.

“Is it scary? Are there ditches? Would I have to go fast?”
Of course he denied all of the above.
“You would have to teach me. None of this ‘here’s the throttle, there’s the bucket’ and jumping out and leaving me like you usually do. You really have to teach me. I want to ride around with you for awhile so I know what its SUPPOSED to feel like. I have no idea what this thing is supposed to do, or feel like, or how to do it, or how to keep it from doing it!”
He agreed and I managed to climb up into the belly of the beast. We took off at a roaring 2 or maybe 3 mph and bounced across the field. There was most certainly a ditch at the other end. I could tell it was big enough to break all of my teeth should we drive the thing into it and imagined all kinds of worse case scenarios.

He turned just in time and we headed another direction, bouncing and shifting around, mowing the large chunks of sagebrush that had been run over with a crusher the winter before. He offered me NO information, so I had to ask. 

I found out that ‘that’s’ the brake, that’s the throttle for the PTO, that’s a gear shift.
Pretty much just the basics...of course there are lots of dials, other levers, and other buttons in the thing which makes it incredibly confusing for me, and not a little un-nerving as I have no idea what they are all for, or what the consequences might be of accidentally hitting one. I’m not one of those people that likes to try it just to find out.

I asked how he knew where to go, which way to turn and was told "You just know. You just do it". 
THAT was a big help.
He insisted we switch places and I drive and he would ride for a lap. I didn’t feel ready but I did it. We were heading for the ditch. I had no idea which way to turn when I got there, only that if I turned too sharp the mower behind would damage the big tire and I couldn't let THAT happen...I began to panic and told him I wanted to stop. (He had yet to TEACH ME HOW). After a small apoplectic fit, he told me to step on the clutch and we stopped. 
He then told me I could drive this big hunk of tin and he would drive the other one. I had merely to drive over the rows he would make and leave behind. 
“NOT until I know I can start and stop without a problem!"

Several starts and stops later...(which comprised of putting in the clutch, popping it in gear, DON’T leave the clutch in too long, put the PTO to 15, but JUMP it UP to a bit over 21 ASAP before  you get going, keep looking back, look for smoke, make sure you are getting both sides mowed, watch out for big rocks, use this lever to raise the mower if you hit one, only put it down to this level above the ground, here is how you raise the wings...yada yada yada.)he climbed down.
I felt I had the starting and stopping down anyway. He left and I took off, spending the next couple of hours mowing away, leaving a clean field behind us as we worked our way to the bottom. My hands, shoulders and arms hurt from  anxiety, but my heart was happy because I felt I had been of some service to both him and the ranch.
I headed home to feed Rosemary her bottle. She is doing quite well and has become very greedy. She knows her name, and in sheep-speak it apparently means “bottle”. She's getting very fat.

I have been putting the Maremma pups out with the sheep during the day as I would like them to pay closer attention to the sheep only. The calves require little protection and if I am worried about the goats, I can always kick them in with the sheep. The dogs were beginning to get too guardy of me and the area around our house. They would prefer to nap on the back porch where they can see more, but I am determined to have my way, so they have been putting up with the sheep by day and patrolling the ranch by night. Cletus doesn't mind much, as he considers them all his pets.

Next morning I fed Rosemary, milked EmmaLouMoo, processed everything, did breakfast dishes, put in laundry and headed out to High Corner again. I climbed up into the ‘belly of the beast’ and took off, mowing down my little rows that had been left by Randyman’s tractor. After a couple of hours, I got into some really big sagebrush and the mower caught a big old gnarly stump and started dragging it. The amps or whatever they are on the PTO meter began to bog down so I stopped, lifted the mower, backed up, re set it, put in my clutch, popped into gear, ran it to 15 then quickly to 21 and took off again. I happily mowed for another hour or so, feeling quite the farmer.
The pattern changed down lower where there was another ditch. Without direction, I had to make a decision where to go, and how to proceed. I managed with a minimum of hyperventilating and continued on my new course. I was pretty sure I had done it all correctly and when I saw Randyman stopped up by the road, I finished my last row and headed over to him.

I remembered what he had said about pushing a lever down, and pulling a button out and turning off the key. I did so, and he raced over and in an unusually loud booming voice said “TURN IT BACK ON!!”
I turned it back on.
The man who never speaks and can only be heard by canines with extremely acute eardrums when he DOES, had something to say.
“You wouldn’t turn the pickup off like that when you stop!”
“Yes I would.” said I.
“Well you aren’t supposed to.”
“But you always do. We drive to town, park, and you turn off the pickup”. I answered.
“Well, yes, but its been idling thru traffic.”
“Well, I wasn’t driving fast in the field.” I reminded him.
“IF you were driving a long way on the freeway, and you got a flat tire, you would’t pull over and turn off the engine.”
“Yes, I would.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I am not a mechanic. I was a horse trainer. I do not know how to take care of your trucks and tractors. I only know what you TAUGHT me, and that was how to turn it on and off. So I turned it off.”
“Well, now you know.”
“Yes. Now I will only have to remember how to turn it on and when I am done, I will climb out and leave it for you to turn off when you think its ready.”
There were one or two other things pointed out to me, such as the small difference in the height of the grass after I had rescued the mower from the gnarly sagebrush.
I came home and ate peanutbutter on sourdough tortillas, followed by buttered popcorn which I think is comfort food.
I don’t think farming is one of my 'gifts'  or is going to be in my future. In fact, I think I have already forgotten how to turn it on.

The Tractor Whisperer is going to have some long days ahead of him. Maybe I will send him with some cookies.
Feb. 13, 2012 1:16 pm
LOLOLOL. I'm laughing because I have had an almost identical conversation with a certain someone and popcorn is an excellent comfort food. Umm did you read Mike Harvey's comments on my blog? Besides understanding male compliments, I wonder if he should also blog about properly explaining to us ladies how to operate machinery! And your pictures were lovely, here in MO it's thistles and locust that have to be brush hogged.
Feb. 13, 2012 2:08 pm
So funny, loved it. Last year when I went to get soil for my new garden, I ended up having to drive down and get a second load. When I got to the soil place, it turned out that the only option for getting loaded was the 92 lb 4'6" Phillipino girl manning the desk. She gave it a go, and by go, I mean, she got up into the machine, a Cat 966, and she got it turned on but she just couldn't seem to make it go. She'd obviously been given the same kind of instruction that you were and it was hopeless. Now, I drove a forklift once, for an entire shift at a sawmill, ok so it was 30 years ago but still, I offered and she leapt at it. So there I was, tell ya what, yeeeehawwww, pedal to the medal, what does this do, ok, and this ok...I loved it. I filled my truck up, and off I went. So sorry that you had to fight through your fears Rocketwoman but you know what, I'm proud of you too! You are Rocketwoman!!!
Feb. 13, 2012 2:33 pm
haha! thanks. I don't think teaching is Randyman's forte`
Feb. 13, 2012 5:25 pm
Your first paragraph sounded almost like a passage from Little House on the Prairie, and I mean that as a compliment! :)
Feb. 13, 2012 6:00 pm
Sounds like Randyman just lost a mowing partner! And why, pray tell, does one leave the tractor running? Is it because it won't start, because of something to do with the PTO - - come-on, Randyman, explain! At least you didn't drive the tractor with the bat-wing mower!! Around here, we mow horse weeds, briers, thistles, and those lovely multiflora roses someone thought would make a good hedge, eons ago. The birds just love to spread their seeds, especially in fencerows. I've only rolled a small tractor once, when mowing a hillside. Cookies and milk are comforting, also.
Feb. 13, 2012 6:51 pm
He said because it cools down the engine. Who knew?
Feb. 14, 2012 8:26 am
I love your pictures as usual Petey!!! I want to bring Rosemary home to my house!!!! She is so stinking cute!!!!!
Feb. 14, 2012 4:42 pm
Cool is good. Maybe you could give it another try, after some at home review of tractor-specific driving 101 ;) Is there anything you haven't done or tried at the ranch?
Feb. 14, 2012 5:20 pm
Wow, what a view and what a job to have. I have never driven anything but a car. Don't think I would want to be anywhere near a big tractor. After almost getting seriously hurt by a large snowplow when we lived in Maine I have a fear of large vehicles.
Feb. 14, 2012 8:12 pm
well maw maw...I never drove the backhoe...but the boss wife does all the time! and his 16 y.o. daughter drives the excavator, and all the kids can drive a semi truck and trailer!
Feb. 14, 2012 8:40 pm
Great blog, and I agree w/ Alex...a bit of LHOTP in there!! Now,,,, if he came in to help bake cookies or bread or make cheese, would you yell at him in the same way?? We all have our "specialties" in this world.... and that is a good thing!! Great read, Petey, as always!!
Feb. 14, 2012 10:32 pm
Wonderful blog, petey, just wonderful!
Feb. 15, 2012 3:19 am
Thanks, Petey, once again for sharing your adventures. I remain in awe - and aaahh. I too want Rosemary!!
Feb. 15, 2012 4:55 am
LMAO!!! I now have a complete vision in my head of his expression during that little 'exchange' :):) I have driven a 'small' tractor before, during hay season, I wasn't strong enough to sling the 100lb bales on the wagon so they let me drive...scary at first, but then you get used to it and it's just another machine. Congrats on conquering a fear!!! I am SO with you on the spiders though, I do like your shotgun approach!!! :) Fabulous blog as usual petey! :)
Feb. 15, 2012 6:10 am
Oh my goodness. I would have been right there with in the scared department.I don't even like to ride a riding lawn mower. I will push one all day just don't make me get on the riding one!! I really enjoyed readying your blog as usual.
Feb. 15, 2012 8:34 am
OMG Sparky has had similar "conversations" with me at one time for another and boy do those "conversations" pi$$ me off. Lucky for him they are infrequent and that is probably one of the reasons we still love each other after 41 years of marriage:) BTW This blog is making me think more fondly of my patio container garden. I would be scared spitless to try a tractor!
Feb. 16, 2012 7:27 am
Oh Petey - you are a braver woman than I am. I am scared to death of large equipment. I am also scared to death of screwing up the computer ---- that is NB Papa's turf. I have on several occasions ask him for instructions, it never goes well. He ends up frustrated and I end up back in the kitchen or in the garden, where I know what I am doing. NB Papa was never cut out to be a teacher.
Feb. 16, 2012 2:06 pm
well, if Randyman was a better teacher, or maybe seemed a wee bit more appreciative, he might be finished with that field by now LOL
Feb. 21, 2012 10:58 am
LOL, Petey, my heart was having palpitations right along with you. Seriously, driving anything bigger than a car is not for me. I've heard too many stories about overturned tractors...And men are *so* particular about their machinery that in the end there is nothing we can do to really please them. Do they expect us to learn by osmosis? or mental telepathy? Sweet hubby is a great teacher but he's smart enough to know I have no business behind the wheel of his tractor ;)
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About Me
Kids are raised, we are ranchhands on a 250,000 acre working cattle ranch 110 miles from the nearest small town, so we raise a lot of our own food, vegetables, fruits, milk,eggs and meat. Love riding and working cattle, but find myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen, and the garden.
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A layered Jello dessert...the middle layer never set, so it did the 'ooze-wiggle'...and...well..I liquified a couple of chickens on 2 different occasions, turning them into a black gel. Moral of that story is, don't start cooking then go clean barns!...and there was the time that my kids were helping me make Thanksgiving dinner and SOMEbody (who resembled my youngest son) forgot to put the sugar in the pie!!!
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