Monday, November 23, 2020

Wild Kingdom on the River Trail

Note that this post deals heavily with critter encounters, most of which were very quick, and as such, since my digital camera is pretty dang slow (I'd need to buy a camera that costs as much as a car to get a critter-speed worthy digital camera - and that's not going to happen!) this post, despite the title, is long on description and short on actual critter-photos.

Colorado Bend State Park's River Trail tracks along the bank of the Colorado River (Well duh!) and connects the main camping area at the south end with a number of trails further north.

At 7 miles out and back it's a hike all by itself, but if you want to wander some of the trails up there at the north end without moving The Van, or your version of The Van, to one of the closer trailheads, it's the necessary first, and last, leg of a longer hike.

And since I didn't want to move The Van, as the sun was coming up over there on the other side of the river, I was geared up and ready to hike.

I had hardly been on the trail long enough for my pack to get settled when I caught a glimpse of raccoon butt, fat raccoon butt, scurrying up this old tree.

Apparently there was a hollow up there, as well as at least one more raccoon. Not that I could see them up there as they kept the tree between me and them, but I could hear as they had a less-than-whispered discussion about who was going to nip into the hollow and hide first. And it wasn't a polite 'You go dear. No you first, I insist' kind of discussion either. It was a raucous, nasty 'Get the hell out of my way because I'm going first! No! I'm first!' kind of exchange.

Like the night before, which I spent in a tent, last night was a little nippy as well

and it was a special treat to be out on the trail early enough to be witness to this the delicate frost driven from the very plants themselves by the unusual physics of water which expands just as it freezes.

These ephemeral formations are quick to dissipate in the light of day so there's a small window in which to marvel at them.

Eventually I'd had enough marveling and moved on. (Either that or my legs protested against all that squatting with a pack on my back for a closer look.)

But apparently, in doing so, moving on, I interrupted this guy's morning routine and he wasn't shy about letting me know he wasn't happy about that.

In fact, at several points during his persistent harassment he climbed out on limbs - actually twigs - no bigger around than his own toes, all wobbly and twitchy like a tight-rope walker about to lose it, right over my head, and I was thinking he intended to drop down on me and kick my ass. Until I figured out that he simply wanted whatever goodies were hidden out there at the very end of those flimsy little perches. Isn't that always the way? The best stuff is juuust out of reach.

Again, I moved on and left him to his breakfast, but that didn't stop him from hollering and screeching at me until I was out of sight.

This is a photo of an armadillo that I encountered near the end of my day's hiking, many hours from now. I first spotted him running and skipping down the middle of the trail right towards me looking for all the world like a happy puppy without a single care.

Now armadillos are pretty clueless animals, and mostly blind, but it was still a bit unusual to have one run right up to within nose-touch of my left boot. At which point he stiffly turned his little head and gave me a beady eye before making an abrupt dash for the side of the trail.

But armadillos also have the attention span of an ADD gnat, and he was almost immediately distracted by the possibilities of bugs hiding under the leaf-litter and forgot that he was supposed to be running away.

But, back to current time, my first armadillo encounter of the day was just as strange. Usually armadillos are pretty chill, but for some reason I scared the holly hell out of this one and he ran off as fast as he could, screaming and wailing the whole way. "Oh God he's going to get me! Somebody help! I'm too young to die!"

I've never heard an armadillo vocalize before and I felt bad that I traumatized him like that.   

OK, the trauma has already been imparted and I can't do anything about that, so back to normal hiking.

Except you see that bit of empty trail out there in front of me?

Well it wasn't empty when I pressed the shutter, honest!

A couple hundred yards or so after leaving that traumatized armadillo behind, the morning-trail quiet was again interrupted, this time by the weirdest deer-bark I've ever heard.

Normally when startled or angry a deer has a high-pitched bark that's a mashup of a spit and a wheeze. This bark was low, really low, and gravely, and I'm standing there, wrapped in my armor of flimsy skin, all soft and mushy and defenseless, thinking 'Whoa! big deer! Really big deer!'

Except deer don't usually crash and thrash through the undergrowth making such an impressive racket as this one did!

Then, just as that intimidating racket has almost reached the shit-my-pants stage two jet-black feral hogs, market sized hogs, you know, about 130 pounds with really nice, tender hams and lean bacon, burst out of the trees on the right, the river side, and soared across the trail without touching it.

Just like a cartoon, their front legs were stretched out horizontally under their chins and their rear legs in the other direction, tucked up under their tails, as they flew, yep, flew, as in pigs fly, right across the gap and disappeared, but not silently, into the trees on the left.

In the lull that followed I had a feeling - either that or I just had to pee real bad - and raised my camera before calling out 'Hey! I'm still here!'. Sure enough, after a noisy running start one more hog flew across the gap all stretched out exactly like the first two, levitated like some carnival ride minus the garish colors flying by.

Of course my camera was too damn slow, so all I've got is this rather nondescript and boring photo of an empty trail.  Buuutt, I'm proud to say, that when the crashing and thrashing faded away to nothing, I did NOT have to detour down to the river and rinse out my underwear!

Usually when moving down a trail, close-up encounters like the several this morning are few and far between because, even when trying to be quiet, us humans are clumsy and noisy.

But I wasn't done yet!

Yep. That's the trail he's standing in. The trail I'm trying to hike.

This is an Aoudad, otherwise known as a Barbary Sheep, though they are in fact a goat and not a sheep.

Looks kinda sleepy and laid back doesn't he? In fact I suspect that's exactly what he hoped I would think so he could lure me in closer, but I wasn't fooled!

You see, these aren't your petting-zoo, farm-yard goats! In fact, as he stands, the curl of those horns come up to about my nose-level and he probably weighs somewhere in the 200 pound plus range. (They generally top out at 300 pounds)

Then in the dappled morning light I realized that there were more of them down over the bank between the trail and the river.

Lots more.

By the time they finished dribbling and dabbling across the trail in front of me, casually but nervously meandering from the river side

to the bluff side, I figured there had to be about a dozen of them in this group. The largest group I've ever seen before.

And that first guy?

Well he stood guard there on the trail until all the others had made it across, then, gave me one last 'Yeah? What a ya gona do about it?' look before following them into the rocks.

There was a diagonal ledge of sorts, as long as you're a goat anyway, along the bluff there off my left shoulder, and the entire band, all gathered together now, picked their way quickly up that ledge and out of sight. I had the time for one more photo of this but didn't even bother since I knew the camera would just focus on the branches right in front of me and leave the ledge as an indecipherable smear in the background.

Not all the wildlife I encountered that morning was of the fauna type either.

This thing is growing in a few places along the river and those leaves are big enough to serve as umbrellas!

 The ping-pong-ball sized fruits are a contrast of nasty looking spikes and incredibly delicate flowers.

I'm pretty sure this is a Castor plant of some sort and these specimens are actually an invasive since it is not native to here.

Fun fact - or maybe just a sad commentary on our gullibility: Because castor, particularly castor oil, has a slightly negative vibe to us Americans, marketing departments have taken to using the Brazilian word for the fruit, graviola, when selling various health-related concoctions derived from the bean. 


I finally made it to the end of the River Trail!

But wait! That's only about a third of today's planned hike.

I wonder what else is in store for me today - - -

Monday, November 16, 2020

And Now For Something a Little Different

I know, I know. You've seen me post photos like this before so what's different about that?

I freely admit to being one of those hated and despised morning people, so yes, usually these are sunrise photos as I set out on a hike. But this is actually a sunset photo - as I set out on a backpacking trip.

The difference between a hike and a backpacking trip?

A hike is a few hour walk, stroll, meander, or lollygag, (take your pick) usually between sunrise and sunset. A backpacking trip is deliberately carrying your shelter and sustenance on your back with the intent of spending one or more nights out on the trail.

You see - when I wasn't wallowing in depression and/or nursing a raging case of self-pity, over missing camping during the spring-summer-fall of Corona, I was contemplating ways to deal with the sudden rush of newbie campers overwhelming the limited resources of the park systems, along with the loss of the usual relief provided by the "good the kids are back in school and out of my way" season.

In these times, here in Texas where public lands are scarce, any camping trips have to be planned and reserved for at least a month ahead of time, and even then the pickins are pretty slim, even for someone like me that is happy, in fact would prefer, to use the hookup-less sites.

But many of the parks in the Texas State Park system also have backpack camping areas as well as the drive-up sites. Obviously these don't appeal to quite as wide a demographic so maybe they would offer additional opportunities for those who are willing?

While desperately trolling the reservation system I noticed that when all the other campsites were showing X (unavailable due to social distancing issues) or R, (already reserved) there were often A's (available) showing in these backpack areas.

The sign-board at the trailhead to the Windmill backpacking area shows all sites reserved, but since there is no "walk in and take your chances" allowed during these Corona times that's not surprising and several of these sites were in fact empty the night of November 1.

That's not to say that there's no interest in these campsites, but still, I wondered if maybe I could stitch together trips of more than a night or two (Which is important when the nearest "good" state parks are at least 4 hours away) by mixing backpack sites with campground sites.

Which is how, on this Sunday evening, the first day of November, I found myself setting out to hike into a back-country campsite, and spend the night on purpose, for the first time in a long while.

(Despite the fact that the very red governor and state attorney general of Texas did their damndest to disenfranchise the less economically blessed voters of Texas, or scare off that demographic that takes Covid exposure seriously, with a variety of tactics, including disallowing fear of Covid as a reason to mail-in your vote while at the same time allowing only a single ballot drop-off point per county, despite the fact that Texas has 9 counties larger in land-size than the states of Delaware or Rhode Island, and one county with a population greater than 27 of the US States, it turns out they could not disrupt the rights of those 65 and over to mail-in their vote, nice and early so that dude at the USPS couldn't screw it up as well, so I was free to camp during election day.)

OK, OK. I'll concede that it's (I'm back to the backpacking now) actually not as adventurous as it sounds. The majority of these backpacking sites are only one to two miles from the trailhead so it's hardly an epic journey and legging it back out to The Van for more supplies, or get out of the rain, or to cook up a more elaborate hot meal, is certainly doable.

And to make things a little more civilized, which, as someone old enough to be a Medicare recipient, I think I'm entitled to, rather than "rough it" with my tarp, I equipped myself with one of these for $50.

It's not nearly as sexy and elaborate as some backpacking tents, but is much more flexible than many costing significantly more and will do me just fine.

This tent doesn't come with poles. Instead it is designed to use your hiking sticks instead.

Or you can, as I did here when practicing before heading out for real, process a couple of sticks on site, lash them together at the top, and have a setup which leaves the entire front door unobstructed for easier access for those old bones that have just hiked in with a full backpack.

It was forecast to be very dry, otherwise I would have tucked the ground-cloth under the tent better.

Since I had never scouted this camping area - the Windmill Backpack Camping Area in Colorado Bend State Park - with actually camping there in mind before, it was pure luck that I had managed to reserve one of the two best campsites out of the eight and was able to pitch my tent in a secluded spot under a Live Oak using no poles of any kind.

By the way, in case you didn't know, "person sizes" of tents are about as accurate as waist sizes for pants.

A "two person" tent is NOT! Even for two very close people. But it will be comfortably adequate for one person and their gear.

Speaking of gear.

This is what I already carry on day-hikes.

Starting at 9 o'clock and working roughly around in a counterclockwise spiral I have: (See, I'm assuming you're interested. If not skip ahead a couple-three photos.)

  • GPS with two spare sets of batteries as well as the fresh set already in it.
  • A small bottle each of bug-juice, sun-screen, and hand-sanitizer (not because of Corona but because wash-sinks have always been hard to find out in the woods!)
  • A hand-held chain-saw (that thing with orange handles in the zip-lock) which is light but surprisingly efficient at processing material up to about 3 inches and can handle larger if needed and you have the time.
  • A heavy-duty rain-poncho with corner grommets so it can be strung up as a tarp or lean-too shelter if needed
  • An inflatable situpon cushion.
  • A bug-net that drapes over my hat. I'm very rarely driven to actually use this but it weighs less than air so why not have it available just in case?
  • A poop-kit consisting of a half-ounce shovel, toilet paper, individually packaged personal wipes, and several quart ziplock bags for hauling used paper and wipes back out. (carefully stack your paper and wipes as you use them, turn a bag inside out over your hand, pick up your trash with that hand, and re-turn the bag before sealing)
  • A microfiber towel.
  • 100 feet of 550 paracord and a half-dozen pre-made toggle-loops
  • A first-aid kit with a handful of bandages, a couple tabs of Ibprofin and Imodium (one cuts back on inflammation of any inadvertent injuries and the other - well there's nothing worse than diarrhea out on the trail!) a high-visibility survival blanket, a sawed-off (so it fits in the kit) toothbrush with a bunch of dental-floss wrapped around the handle, and a heavy needle in case I need to use the dental-floss to repair some gear.
  • A compass, small lighter, watertight container of matches with striker, watertight container of Vaseline soaked cotton ball fire-starters and, just barely visible at the top corner of the first-aid kit, a small, (2" blade) all stainless steel, folding knife because I've never felt the need to go all Rambo with something that weighs two pounds and hangs down to my knee.
  • A small headlamp with spare set of batteries. (Please people! Use the red light and stop night-blinding yourself, not to mention the rest of us!)
  • A 3 liter camel-back water bladder with a 0.7 liter bottle for emergency water, both of which tuck into the dedicated pouch inside the pack (with it buried in the pack there's often no warning that the camel-back is coming up on empty until you are sucking air!)
  • A filter-straw for real water emergencies
  • A spare gallon ziplock or two just in case.
  • Camera and spare battery (Not showing because I'm using it to take this photo!)
  • Also not showing but part of my hiking gear, proper trail-boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, hiking sticks, a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection, a paper map in my pocket and electronic map on my phone, clothing - either spare-in-the-pack or worn - appropriate to the season (I'm talking night-time temps because you never know) like hat, gloves, heavy socks, base-layer, and always, regardless of the season, an over-shirt, either worn or in the pack, because even in the summer it can get cold in the rain or at night and, again, you never know. 

That might seem like a lot of crap for day-hiking, but I hike alone and I am a strong proponent of being responsible for my own actions and that includes being prepared for self-rescue if necessary.

The pack and the usual stuff in it weighs in at 7 pounds. The 4.7 liters of water adds 8 pounds to that.

For my overnight experiment I added the following:

  • One liter water bottle, full of course, for cooking and tea, with a dozen or so wraps of duct-tape around the upper part of the bottle just in case I need to make any repairs to my gear, and a nearly weightless titanium cooking-cup with folding handles nested on the bottom.
  • A stove about half the size of a box of wooden kitchen matches and a fuel container.
  • A nesting fork-spoon-knife set.
  • A "camp-tool". This thing is small but has just enough weight to the hammer end for driving in stakes. Like a Swiss Army Knife, it also has a handful of tools of questionable value but there is a 2.5" knife-blade to supplement the 2" blade I already carry, and the tiny little ax opposite the hammer, if kept sharp, is amazingly efficient at stripping small branches off a pole and putting a point on short sticks for stakes. It does come with a hard-sided belt-holster but I don't use that, instead just tossing the tool into my pack with the little blade-guard on the ax.
  • A small gear-bag for hanging food and trash away from the tent.
I already had all this stuff in my inventory and it, including a liter of water, weighs a total of nine pounds.

And finally, my bed-roll which consists of:

  • Chunk of Tyvek cut to size from a left-over roll as a groundcloth. Technically the floor of this tent is designed to act as it's own groundcloth, but with all the pokey-stuff we have out here having a little extra protection between the pointy stuff and sleeping pads is worth the extra weight.
  • Tent (the only thing out of all this I didn't already have)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag

The sleeping bag and deflated sleeping pad and pillow, (to be added soon, see below) are left laid out in the tent. The tent is flattened down on top of it, the little bag of stakes is then tucked just inside the door, The tent and groundcloth is folded into thirds lengthwise and finally the whole thing rolled up.

Yes, I could get this to roll a little tighter if I worked at it, but it weighs the same either way.

This way, if the weather is not great the sleeping stuff never has to leave the protection of the tent.

I could do without that glaring white of the Tyvek, but it is very tough and durable for it's weight, and I already had it on the shelf. Maybe over time a little use and grunge will tone it down a bit.

Not being inclined to own two of anything if I can help it, my one and only pack is a compromise. It's little large for day-hiking but this also means it is adequate for a night or two on the trail.

Anyway, the "bedroll" also weighs in at 9 pounds, for an all-up total of around 34 pounds of gear, clothes, and boots. Then I have to add the food.

In my case the "food", instant noodles, dry soup, instant oatmeal, tea, and maybe a few cookies for a treat, (Yes, I could throw a proper freeze-dried meal or two in there but man, have you seen what that stuff costs?!) weighs pretty much nothing. (The food-weight is in the water bottle) I prefer instant stuff with it's own container. That way I can dump heated water in the container then turn right around and use my cup/pot for brewing up some tea.

This is not what some would classify as gourmet cuisine, but then again, if we didn't place so much emphasis on "cuisine" maybe we wouldn't be so fat.

And all this highly processed food is not exactly the healthiest, but it's not like I eat this stuff every day and in the short term convenience takes precedent.  

Anyway - as daylight faded to moonlight that evening, camp was set up, I was heating water for dinner and browsing the kindle app on my phone (In airplane mode since there's no cell service out here so no sense in wasting battery as it searches for a signal) pre-loaded with the maximum of 10 kindle-unlimited books.

I was a happy camper. Literally.

Lessons learned?

First off, yes, this backpack camping thing is going to work, so it opens up some additional camping opportunities for me.

But it did get down into the high 30's that night and I think I need to replace my 20 year old, cheepy sleeping bag regardless of its optimistic-when-new 20 degree rating. On cold nights in The Van it works fine as an extra blanket on top of the microfiber fleece I normally use, but it just wasn't quite up to the task in that tent.

The same goes for my sleeping pad. The inflatable pad I took with me would have been fine on a more temperate night, but I suspect that the foam in my other one, my slightly bulkier self-inflating sleeping pad, would have provided better heat insulation from the cold ground.

And my inflatable seat cushion propped on my pack functioned adequately as a pillow, but it was awkward so I think I might just look into adding a proper inflatable pillow to my inventory as well - as long as it isn't too pricey that is.

Now - where and when can I get booked in for my next trip??


Monday, November 9, 2020

Awning Update: Free Soldier Tarp Long Term Review

You know that

when this happens, your awning has been up for too long!

About two years ago I bought this $40 tarp because I was (still am!) too cheap to spend $1200 on a proper van-awning.

About a year ago I published this post about how I am using it, but not how much I am using it.

Because I use The Van as an extra room, a man-cave if you will, when at home, (Where we live in a single 380 sq. ft. room in a corner of the barn) unlike the typical RV awning which gets deployed a handful of times per year, my awning is up most days (and nights) of the year.

And that is a lot of abuse here under the Central Texas sun!

Here I've got a corner of the tarp turned up so you can compare what is close to the original green color on the bottom side of the tarp to the decidedly greyish color of the top-side of the tarp well faded after 2 years of solar exposure. And lately, after all this UV abuse, I'm pretty sure that when the tarp is billowing in the wind it sounds more brittle, more crinkly, than when it was newer.

And this area is showing the abuse of the top rear corner of The Van's side door when I fully open it. (For the photo I pulled the door partially closed.)

But so far the rip-stop construction of the tarp has kept the destruction localized.

Here's another example of blatant abuse. In this case, when I didn't bother taking the awning down in the face of some feisty weather, which - you know - I should do but don't always get around to, the wind ripped one of the corner stakes out of the ground and, still connected to the guy-rope, flipped it up over the tarp where the tip of the steel stake made a surgical incision right over where I sit while doing my daily Spanish lessons.

It's virtually impossible to see in the photo, but when this happened I took the awning down, laid it on a clean wood surface and burnished a length of clear packing tape to the bottom-side, "stitching" the slice together and waterproofing it again.

So far so good. The awning has been up every day since and the tape looks as good now as when I first put it on.

In fact, the manufacturer sealed up the center seam the same way, except with a narrower version of the tape, which has started to separate now just under one of the tie-points that is sewn onto the topside.

Being right in the center of the awning this drips on me during hard rains, and also acts as a drip-initiation point on those dew-laden mornings when the underside of the awning is carrying a good coating of condensation.

I keep threatening to reseal the entire center seam with my own tape, but what the hell. Contrary to what some may think, a little water isn't going to melt me into a gooey green puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West, so I'll get to it - - eventually - - maybe - -

If we have serious winds in the forecast I might - once in a while - if I remember - take the awning down, but to be honest, as you've already seen, I'm pretty slack about doing that, and as anyone that's lived with tents or awnings long enough knows, tremendous strains can be put on them by the wind.

But despite the abuse the construction of the Free Soldier tarp has proven to be very robust

and I am impressed by how well it is holding up.

I've had this $40 tarp for about 2 years now and it has been up as my awning for - let's say 500 days out of those 2 years. That works out to - crap! where's my calculator? - to about 8 cents per day. It may not be pretty, but it's thrifty, and I think I can live with that!

Especially since, in order to get down to anywhere close to that daily cost, a $1200 awning would have to last 15000 exposure days, or about 30 years the way I'm using my tarp. - - - Yeah, can't see that happening - - -

Of course I know I'm pushing my luck and this tarp is not going to last forever, so I'm thinking about ordering a replacement so I have it in hand when this one does finally give up on me.

Maybe this time I'll try the grey version, although that could be a crap-shoot since my current tarp, which I think you'll agree has a decidedly green cast to it where it is protected from the sun, is called brown by the manufacture, so who knows what color "grey" really is.

Since the tan, or brown if you will, para-cord I use for some of the guys on my awning are showing quite a bit of sunburn after two years while the black para-cord I use for the rest of the guys is showing no sign of sunburn, maybe that means the grey tarp will hold up to the UV better than my "brown" one?

Monday, November 2, 2020

Getting Ready for Spring!

 OK, contrary to what you may be thinking, this has nothing to do with seasonal camping, or optimism about seasonal camping. In fact I'm making no spring camping plans this year until we get closer to that time and see what's going on.

This particular spring planning is all about giving the wildflowers a little extra help by shredding down the summer's growth so that the plants that produce our spring wildflowers, all of which do the majority of their growing close to the ground where it warms up earlier in the season, a better chance at thriving, and therefor producing an abundance of flowers for our springtime enjoyment. (Wild-flower season around here starts in March and peaks in April, though some varieties will last for several more months.)

The timing of this can be a little tricky. The idea is to shred late enough that there is limited growth afterwards, but early enough that the residue can get a good start on breaking down into flower-growing nutrients before the real cold sets in. (Yeah, yeah, we are pretty far south, but cold is relative.)

Rather than trust my own instincts for this timing I cheat and use someone else's lifetime of local experience and expertise by keeping an eye on the rancher to the south of us. When he does his final haying of the season, in other words, when he doesn't expect a lot more growth for the season, I figure that's as good a time as any for me to shred.

This year, even though the afternoons are still hitting the high 80's some days, (second week of Oct) with a forecast high of 99 once this latest hurricane goes by, when he hayed last week I took that as my queue anyway.

But first a little pre-work on the long-neglected brush-hog. (This is a once a year deal. The rest of the time the brush-hog sits out behind the tractor barn growing rust.)

As always, photos tend to flatten out hills, but here the tractor is nose-down on a pretty decent slope at the edge of the driveway. This helps get the brush-hog a little higher when I cinch up tight on the top-link then raise the hog as high as I can with the 3-point.

Throw a couple jack-stands under it to make sure it stays up, drag out the grinder, have the hose ready in case things heat up too much,

and I'm all set to crawl under there and freshen up the edges on the blades.

This too is a balancing act.

I want them sharp enough to hack through the growth out there without leaving too much standing, but dull enough to shatter the stumps on any yupon that has started to creep its way out into the field. (A clean-cut stump grows right back, a shattered stump not so much.)

Once I finished the prep-work I was ready to take the field between the barn and the pond, you know, the one we look at most, from this

to this.

But - well we all know that once in a while things don't go quite as smooth as you would hope.

You see that tractor sitting over there in front of the tractor-barn rather than backed inside where it belongs?

Well that is one hard-working little piece of machinery.

The near-bank of the pond, left-center in the photo, (The far bank is reddish in this light) varies from a 35 to a 45 degree slope about 8 feet high, but if I don't shred right over the edge it spoils the nice clean winter view.

Put this tractor in 4-wheel drive and 1st gear-low, engage the PTO to get the brush-hog spinning, set the throttle to 2200 rpm, cinch the seat-belt tight, lift the loader bucket high up out of the way, ease out the clutch, and I swear that little 3 cylinder, 22 HP diesel engine could walk it right up a wall! (At its max of 2200 RPM in 1st-low the tractor moves just barely faster than a slow walker with a walker.)

Not that I've actually tried it on a wall though. Going up (forward) and down (backwards) that bank makes me scream, whine, and whimper enough as it is! (I remove the top-link when shredding which lets the brush-hog float over the ground no matter now steep the approach/departure angle is.)

Well today, when I was down there on the edge of the water shifting from reverse to forward for another pass up the bank, she, that trusty old machine, suddenly quit moving.

Engine's still running so it's not that. PTO is still spinning so it's not the clutch - at least not the first stage of the two-stage clutch - . I get the same no-go results in any of the three main gearbox speeds so I didn't wreck first gear. Shifting the gearbox between low and high ranges didn't gain me anything. The only thing left is the shuttle-shift. (There's no reverse in the gear-box, instead it uses a shuttle-shifter to spin the gear-box input shaft in one direction or the other, with access to all three speeds, plus high or low range, when going in either direction.) But I kinda already guessed this since the shuttle-shift lever was pretty much just flapping in the breeze.

Thinking the worst, like maybe I was going to have to crack open the case and repair something inside the gearbox right here on the edge of the pond, I got down there in that most inconvenient spot, far from the barn, and my tools, and started trying to figure out what happened.

It may not have the bells and whistles, or drink holders and fancy sprung-seat of one of those better-known green or red, or even blue, tractors you might buy off the lot nowadays, and it might weep fluids from all sorts of spots no matter what you do to stop it, but the great thing about owning a tractor based on a 1950's design and built in a 1970's era factory is that with a handful of tools and a basic machine-shop you can fix anything on it except maybe the fuel-injector and hydraulic pumps, and both those are bolt-on replacements.

Of course, being more of a wood-worker kinda guy, I have a very small handful of mechanic's tools and no machine shop, but I had to start somewhere because leaving the tractor down here to wait for the spring rains to submerge her was not an option, both from an asset management as well as a pond pollution standpoint.

As it turned out, it actually took longer to figure out what was wrong than it did to fix it. But in my defense, my main diagnostic support came from this drawing in the parts manual, which you may notice, as I certainly did, doesn't include the shuttle-shift linkage at all.

Up near the top of that drawing is the shuttle-shift shaft and fork, part 85. A little farther up the page is the bell-crank, part 92, that goes on the end of the shaft. My, very simple once I found it, problem was that part 83, a 5X25 roll-pin that connects the crank to the shaft, had sheered.

Of course it's in a tough spot to see let alone reach, jammed up there under the foot-board and sandwiched between the complicated throttle linkage (there is both a foot throttle as well as a set-and-forget lever up by the steering wheel) and the brake pedal arms (the tractor has two separate brake pedals, one for each of the rear hubs to help with making sharp turns, and as you can imagine, they are big and heavy to withstand all that lift-your-butt-up-out-of-the-seat-because-there-ain't-no-fancy-hydraulic-brakes-on-this-thing stomping.) but, laying on my back out there on the edge of the pond and working in the shadows by the light of a headlamp while tractor gunk and field debris fell into my eyes and up my nose, and water seeped out of the ground below as if the earth was trying to suck me back in before my time, I finally managed to track down the issue.

Now that I knew what the problem was I was able to make a temporary fix by working a 2.5mm allen wrench (After tramping all the way up to the barn and back, for the dozenith time, to get it.) through the hole in the center of the busted bits of the roll-pin and keep it there, for the moment anyway, with a small spring clamp, while I jumped back in the seat, stomped hard on the very-heavily sprung clutch, and gingerly shifted the shuttle into forward with an extremely satisfying clunk.

At this point, since I had sooo much confidence in my temporary fix, I wrapped the green-neon elastic from my headlamp around the shuttle-shift lever to remind myself NOT to touch it again, and finished with the rest of the shredding.

And you know - it kinda sucks having to do all that shredding on that bank and in and around trees and the well-house, without being able to go in reverse!!

The next morning I moved the tractor, going forward only, up next to the main barn where I could lay on the uncomfortable gravel drive rather than the uncomfortable wet vegetation down by the pond.

With easy access to my tools I was able to quickly remove the bell-crank and, following the advice of my expert brother, drive the broken bits of the old roll-pin out of both the bell-crank and the fork-shaft with a small bolt because I don't have a proper roll-pin punch,

and, as also suggested by my expert brother, in lieu of the proper roll-pin, which I also didn't have, I manged to line things back up under there in that tight space and work a 10-28 bolt through the bell-crank and shaft to pin them back together.

It was also suggested that I could use some lock-tight on a nut to make sure my bolt-turned-pin would stay in place. Well after almost 20 years there's not a lick of rust on this tractor, and that's mainly because the whole damn thing is constantly coated with a thin fresh sheen of one petroleum product or another that seeps out of countless gaskets, so lock-tight didn't have a chance in hell of getting a grip under here where gear-oil very slowly, but constantly, oozes out around the fork-shaft. I jammed two nuts together instead.

Slip the linkage back through the other end of the bell-crank, secure with a fresh cotter pin, of which I have plenty, pull the chocks out from under the tires, and I was ready to drive (backwards part of the way just because I could) back down to the tractor-barn and put her away where she belongs.

Parked on top of a couple oil-absorbing pads, because the trusty old girl can always be counted on to drip a little, with a 5W solar panel hooked up to the battery which might just be a little, OK, a lot, beyond it's use-by-date. (The bendix engages every time, but it may take a half dozen key-bumps before she'll actually turn over, and that's when the battery is well topped up!)

Oh, and not to dispute my expert brother, but it seems to me that if I sheered a proper steel roll-pin, (Granted it took nearly 20 years of rather abusive use to do it.) that soft 10-28 bolt may not stand up to the job forever, so I have a package of 30 pins (the smallest package I could find) and a cheap set of assorted roll-pin punches on the way.