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.”
“YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED TO!”
“I didn’t know that.”
“WELL YOU SHOULD.”
“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.