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The Great Escape
It all began Monday with a little baling of second crop on the lake shore field, and as I drove out past my sister and her hubby's place, this small calling sound could be heard from the general direction of their manure pile. Out of the yard, over the cows and bale piles, through the dozer piles, poplars, and brush, out onto the ditch grade road, past the noisy 6.2 diesel engine pulling my well traveled Suburban along. Well it sure didn't take me long to figure out what it was because I already knew what is was, I just hadn't been hanging around that part of the world enough throughout the summer to pay attention, and by the sound of the pitiful thing it had been calling all summer.
What was incredible about it was how that little calling sound was able to get number one status on my priority list, because I went right home and got my trusty #2 backhoe out (plain old shovel) and came flying back. At that moment I knew what it must feel like to be a fireman. Mind you, I never wanted to be a fireman, I just know now how they must feel when they're going to save someone.
Gingerly hiking my soft parts over the "hot" fence and striding around the back side of the bale feeder, I got my first glimpse of the poor thing. Like a big old bug in a spider's web sat the summer's forgotten bulldozer. Mired to the tops of it's wide pad tracks this IH was stuck. Simply put, boarding the machine was not difficult as you needed only step down to take a seat on the beast. With the blade sticking out of the pile just enough to tempt any would be savior, the beast lay, mired deeply in pig's heaven. And there was no doubt about it, it was what we in the North call "STUCK GOOD" . Manure completely encased the tracks. It threatened to spill into the engine compartment, held back by lower sheet metal engine covers. Broken chains and large ruts lay in front of the dozer where attempts at it's rescue earlier, had been made.
So what I pledged then to myself (and I think it heard me) seemed ridiculous. I, with my shovel, some brawn and a little brain power(what there was of it ) would attempt to do what a four wheel drive Versitile and large chains and brute strength had tried to do and failed.
Grabbing my shovel I began......digging a bit here......walking around….. inspect …..dig some there…...dig in this side......"No, that way seems better" ……more inspection…….cramming a load of sunflowers seeds in my mouth, shells soon flying in all directions. Coughing them all out because seeds and digging don't mix very well. "OOPS"….. don't spit too many down onto the clutch. "Hey, is there supposed to be oil down in there? Hmmm, I don't think so. I'll check my manual tonight". " Yikes"…. water in the crank case, no water in the radiator and cow and pig sewage up to the tops of the drive clutches. "Man, this looks bad". Three months in this spot would have dissolved my truck.
That night I confer with Dad and make wistful plans for the next day. "I'll get it all ready to go and when you're done baling at the end of the day come over with the 660, cause I might just need a tug. There's fluid in one of those tires, right? Good!"
Day Two begins with great plans for technology. The manual didn't seem to indicate any presence of oil in the clutch housing so the first order of business, in my mind, was to get the gallon or so of the stuff out……. I'll just swing down to the hardware store and see if Grumpy Dick's got one of those handy dandy oil pumps for changing your motor oil by way of your dip stick tube. I'll grab my cordless drill and pump that clutch housing dry, just like that. I'll sit back, squeeze the trigger, watch the action and STAY CLEAN.
Looked neat on paper, ......but it didn't work. Pump didn't pump more than a dribble, and that's when I could keep the hoses supplied in the "kit" from curling back up into neat little coils. The coils became great lubricators. A slap here and there, here a drip, there a splat, and soon everything was pretty oily, including me!…. "That's it."…. Out of the drill chuck comes the ingenious little device with it's dripping tendrils. A growl and a heave and the thing arces it's way happily away over the hood of the Suburban…… "Ya worthless piece of crap"……. the truck parked half way up the manure pile a quiet witness to my tantrum.
Okay, so I lost it. I felt much better. The old Chev had seen it many times before as it idled away, doing it's job. My job was getting the TD14 ready for the great escape, it's to freshen the dozer's battery, which it had been doing dutifully for a good hour. "HMMMM, maybe it's time for a break. Let's see if this old thing will fire.
A blast of ether and a flip of the mangled brand X ignition switch and I was ready for a test. Cables running here and there, gauges quivering with life, a push of the starter switch and the beast's starter motor was whirling… "Great"… the starter still works and the thing cranks, even sunk in barnyard soup. A hint of relief begins to spread through me. Pow!….. it fires…… POW..POW….it continues, POW..POW..POW…… POW..POW..POW..POW. The huge old engine was opening it's eyes. A large grin begins to break out on my face. The revs begin to build. "Man, do these old tractors ever die"? ……. Fate answers my question as a dribble of water from the intake manifold deftly baptizes the coil and distributor. The engines eyes shut. …….." !@#$#$%^,"…… Okay, it runs but there's water in the top end somewhere and that doesn't seem good. Right, I'll let it dry out for a bit, do some more digging and finish bailing the oil out of the clutch housing.
Grampa's cane, laying in the Sub from an earlier bull moving expedition, some electric fence wire, and a modified ether can make up the perfect bailer for the oily clutch hole project. Dip, pour, dip, pour, again and again, with oil on controls, floor boards, and boots, the dastardly deed is soon complete. Oil dripping from my elbows, on tracks and manure pile, with no thought for any environmental group, I ponder my next move.
The digging was coming along well, the manure was plenty dry and I had dug pretty much all the dung out around the tracks and blade. The only place it was really wet was at the rear of the dozer where a hole, created by the raging of the big tractor dragging it ahead a bit, had caught the little rain we had had and created a neat kind of petri dish. This I had drained the day before but it still held a good foot of goop . I stayed away from this spot . Childhood memories replayed scenes for me of stork-like balancing acts, of little pink toes held carefully above the barnyard muck in a desperate search for the lost boot, sucked clean away and held firm in the slop.
Another attempt to start the beast succeeded, this time a plastic bucket catching the water that dribbled again from the manifold, not the coil!
Jumping up on the old crawler, I knew it was now time for the clutch to tell me it's story. Pulling the clutch handle back created not a shutter. Not a shake. Two things though became very apparent, instantly. The clutch was totally out of adjustment and I should have put the cover over the clutch hole before I engaged it because as the tail side of the clutch began to spin upon engagement great globs of grease and oil flew out of the hole and straight into my face. ….!@@#$$!@@#". "Man, how old am I gonna get before I get just a little bit smarter"? ……………….Right, so take a crack at adjusting the clutch. Shut down, spin off those two nuts, grab the little plate, careful not to drop it down the hole, pry/pound the center plate clockwise a few notches, put it all back together and try it again.....fire up again.......give the clutch handle another yank(leaning back this time) THE TRACKS SHUTTER!!! "I think this thing is going to actually work………Incredible!". Shut it down again…..dial the clutch up tighter....fire it up ....good! THE TRACKS NOW MOVE!!!(at least an inch or two), before the clutch slips. I now believe the clutch is ready so I look around again and take stock of the project.
The engine has had a few minutes to warm it's innards, and there's no reason not to flip it over to diesel. Up till now I had run it on gas and as I grabbed the switch-over handle this strange feeling I always get when switching over one of these old gas/diesel tractors hits me. I realized then that these Rube Goldberg machines always amazed me when the switch from gas to diesel was actually made. I just never had faith the thing could go from a gas engine to a diesel engine just like that, with a flip of a handle, but they normally did. A good yank on the cross over handle and the throttle handle simultaneously proves the fact as huge billows of white smoke fill the yard, causing even the most jaded of the Holstiens in the vicinity to stare, and I am again one step farther from defeat.
With the engine now in the "run" position and popping away, but missing as a rule, a sense of encouragement comes over me. The knowledge that this old dragon was as ready for a try at redemption as it needed to be, leaves me with the cold realization that the whole project had reached zero hour. This was it. I figured I had worked this whole equation well enough, but still there were a few missing numbers in the problem. Enough to not know the answer……. yet.
I'm on the beast again, grabbing the clutch once more, this time in earnest because in front of me is freedom and below the PILE. Slam the shift into first …..yank the hand clutch back, it claws ahead a bit. Slap the shift down for reverse and hammer the clutch again, it backs into the hole it left while breaking chains with the big four wheel drive. Forward again, back, gaining fractions each time. I jump off letting the blade pick up the track. Under them I toss any garbage I can see. Back on again and more wiggling back and forth, working the clutch till oily smoke boils out. There's no hint of clutch stink so I let it smoke. The clutch is cleaning up and grabbing better but I also notice steam coming out of the crankcase breather. Well, at least the breather's not plugged with dung. I know the pressure gauge works and it's pegged so I'm floating bearings. I've seen these old things run without oil and live to work again so I shut the watery crankcase out of my mind theorizing water wouldn't give me a pressure reading which in hindsight I know was incorrect. By trade I have worked with water and pressure and I know water "makum" good pressure! But in the heat of the moment my brain was not confusing itself with facts and my mounting confidence in the brutal endurance of this machine prodded me on.
I notice the dozer was miring itself in with my monkeying so I back away, hands raised in temporary submission. I clean up the site a bit and head out to the field for the TD14's real chance at escaping it's doughy trap. The 660.
The 660 is a model IH produced in the 50's and 60's and was rated as a six bottom machine so is no tractor to sneeze at. Basically it is the best of both worlds. It will pull like crazy all day long but still sip fuel. Ten bucks is about all you need to keep it in the field all day. It's a muscular piece of tractor flesh and Dad had treated it to an overhaul so the confidence level at my job site had always run a few clicks higher because of it.
Sure enough, Dad was on his last round so I sat on a bale and watched as the 420 baler came around, cracked and bulging tires none the less, booting one last green bale onto the ground, a TV dinner of sorts for some lucky bovine.
We were ready, and the last act of Day Two was about to begin. Mind you now, what was happening here was heavy. Doubts at every point piled on thoughts of of success. Would we succeed where others had failed? Would we break more chains and go home without the prize? Would a little brain and brawn win over brute strength? These are all very important issues that sensitive farm boys must deal with on a daily basis. So, I watched with a heightened sense of purpose as Dad backed the 660 in and hooked the two machines together with what looked like a very small chain. This fact was noted with concern, then shrugs and onto machines.
The whole thing was over in a few minutes. The 660 did a few wheel stands for effect, dully noted by all. Two re-hooks, a little spinning and rutting. Dad looking back a few times, concerned, for to him nothing seemed to be happening. But inch by inch the iron monolith was coming unglued and again becoming a machine. "No, keep going Dad, keep going, it's coming out, just keep doin what your doin".
And then it was free, the lunatic smile on my face only hinting at what I felt.
A few grins exchanged, a fleeting thought of a cigar deserved, and it was done.