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
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.