Tractor Tales

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1 February 2017 - 15:41, by , in Blog, Propane News, No comments

Propane prices moved up and down slightly through the month of January, but pretty much stayed the same. I’m sure the mild January weather helped to keep prices in check. Of course, this time of year I’m always praying for cold weather, and although my primary objective is to sell some more propane, the mild temperatures create other challenges for us. Our truck drivers have to be vigilant when it comes to icy road conditions and driving safety. They also have to keep their heads up in some of our customers’ driveways, as the mild weather makes some driveways soft and a truck could sink in, making a big mess in our customers’ laneway.

Our lane at the shop takes a beating, with truck traffic creating mega potholes which require constant maintenance. This January was the first time in 32 years I’ve lived here (residence and shop are on the same property) that I removed the snow blower from the tractor and put on a landscape scraper box to grade the lane to get rid of the potholes. This was only possible because the mild weather made the lane soft enough to grade. Usually it’s frozen hard and we are limited to filling the potholes with gravel as they appear and reappear. I’ve looked into paving the lane, but with 1200 feet of lane and a couple of parking areas, the quotes are ‘pretty high’. Hard to justify such a large expense, or might it just be that I’m too thrifty? Maybe one day.

Living in the country always comes with wildlife challenges. Raccoons are usually an issue, however this year they haven’t been. We often see coyotes, opossums, squirrels (that eat the bird seed), and the odd fox. But those darn mice show up around the same time each year. Of course, we have traps set, but there are always some that make their presence known. This time the issue popped up when my sweetheart asked me, ‘can you smell that?’ What “that”? I inquired, and she said ‘that smell around the dishwasher.’ Well, I work with propane, grease, oil, diesel fuel, and a number of other offending odours, so nothing seems to register. The dishwasher smell inquiry popped up a few times over the next few weeks, until I was requested by my honey to remove the dishwasher from under the counter. After the extraction, it was obvious the pesky little rodents had been spending time on top of the dishwasher and depositing what looked like black rice and urine on the sound insulation covering the outside of the dishwasher. They had also chewed a hole in the discharge hose. My next task was to move the dishwasher outside. Haven’t received my orders yet as to whether an insulation and hose replacement, as well as a thorough disinfecting, are in order–or if a new unit might be required. I’m awaiting further orders.

When we get a heavy snowfall, I am usually the one out in the early morning blowing the snow off the lane and parking areas. Depending on snow accumulation and snow conditions (light and dry or wet and heavy), this job can take two to five hours. Most of this is accomplished using a 46 horsepower open station tractor with a rear mount snow blower. What ‘open station’ means is that you are sitting out in the wind and weather, driving backwards blowing snow, which often times with the help of the wind blows back into your face. After thirty-two years of this, I decided to pursue a larger tractor with a front mount snow blower, and an enclosed cab. These units aren’t cheap, but after two years of looking, I finally found the right tractor, used of course. Had the tractor outfitted with an 86″ front mount hydraulically driven snow blower. This tractor is 85 horsepower, and 40 of that is needed to drive the hydraulic pumps. This tractor is also four-wheel drive. I asked the tractor dealer where I purchased this unit if they normally put tire chains on these things for winter conditions. ‘Oh no’, was the reply, ‘not necessary with four-wheel drive!’ So, I asked when I could have it delivered to my yard, and they told me the end of November, after the snow blower is manufactured and mounted to the loader arms (where the tractor bucket would normally go).

November ends, no tractor. But big snow storm, and more driving backwards with a stiff neck. Four days later, no tractor. But another snow storm, and continued stiff neck. Finally the tractor shows up. Looks great, runs great, heated and air conditioned enclosed cab, windshield wipers, radio… alright, bring on the snow! Finally we get some snow, but not a lot. Now, my lane has a steep hill coming in from Clyde Rd, which levels out at the top by our shop facility, and then has a steep grade again going down to my house past our shop building. So, I fire up the new (to us) four-wheel drive, 86″ snow blowing machine and start to eat up the snow. Man, this thing just fires that snow out of the way, I can see driving forward, the lights on this baby light it up like daylight (snow removal starts between 4:30 – 5:00 am so I can have the parking lot and lane clear before the staff arrive. Don’t want to see anyone stuck on the lane or end up in the trees, hence the need for the mega lights) and no stiff neck, how easy is this! Wait a minute, what’s going on here? How come I’m not moving forward up this hill? I’ve got four-wheel drive and lots of horsepower. What do you mean, no traction?

Turns out rubber tires on wet, hard packed snow equates to no traction. Son of a gun. On the flat, this unit works quite well, but on a steep grade, not so much. The only way I can clear the snow on the hills is by going downhill where gravity is my friend. Next day, I call the tractor dealer and order two sets of tire chains. One set for the front, and one set for the back. As of the end of January, still haven’t received the chains yet, thank God we haven’t received much snow.

On one of these lane clearing adventures, after the snow, then melt, then rain, my lane was all ice. So again I’m out at 4:30am to spread sand on the lane and parking areas. Get to the top of the biggest hill, look down the hill… and the tractor starts to slide down. Now this tractor (the stiff neck one) has tire chains. Didn’t matter. Down I went, just trying to stay out of any kind of trouble until I hit the bottom. Mission accomplished, tractor and driver intact. Now what? I’ll walk up the hill to one of the sand boxes and spread sand for traction. Piece of cake. The sand box is at the top of the hill, and I made it up almost to the box but I had to cross the lane on foot. I take my time, it’s darn slippery, but I’m almost there. Did I mention it’s now pouring rain? Oops, a little slip, oh and now I’m starting to slide down the hill. Picking up speed, keep my balance, going faster and faster, trying to edge closer to the side of the lane, don’t want to crash into the tractor or fall on my head, I’m thinking somehow this adventure might hurt. Still upright, but the bottom of the lane is coming fast. I dove for the snow on the side of the lane, did a shoulder roll (thank you gymnastics training from high school), stood up and waited to see what hurt! Didn’t hit anything, no rocks, trees, or tractor. Nothing hurt. Alright! I thought, if any of my neighbours saw these antics they would be thinking ‘what’s that crazy old coot doing now’. Then again, it was too early for these young people to be up, so no fear of a tarnish on my reputation. Did end up getting the lane sanded, staff got to work then the weather got mild and melted away all the ice and remaining snow. Seemed like a lot of work to keep mother nature at bay for a few hours.

Remember to make every day an adventure, stay positive and treat others with respect and dignity. Please help me pray for cold weather.

As always, we appreciate your support.

Peter Rivers

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