St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Manning up on the Farm -- Silo Filling

You better try to find the cutoff fork tines in the silo” Dad said as he frowned at me and looking both irritated and worried.  “If a cow swallows those pointed metal tips eating silage, it could puncture the stomach and kill her.” 
A farm silo near Atlas WI tells a story. When a farmer had a stave silo built, the silo company offered the choice of a checker board white stave finish at the top for decoration. This farmer chose it, and then later had the silo extended higher. It would have cost much more to undo the first decoration and move it up than to just add a new one. Dad didn't decorate his silo as he expected with 4 boys that it would have to be extended much taller as the boys all joined the farm operation. It never happened -- farming wasn't in our blood I guess (except for Byron who did try it for a few years).

 Dad had an even, calm demeanor and when I saw him worried, I worried too, not about me, but about the cows, our livelihood on the dairy farm and my role trying to be a man in the harvest crew. 
I was 13 years old and helping out on the farm during silo filling time. In the days before field choppers and self unloading wagons, silo filling was one of those neighborhood events where neighbors went from farm to farm filling each farmer’s silo. A farm boy looked forward to threshing, shredding and silo filling as the end of summer events and longed to be a useful part of each. I had even taken a few days off from rural school to help out.    

Marv and Russ with the small Rumely before hooking up to the silo. The barnyard was always muddy in the fall and it was messy to get things lined up -- filler and belt to tractor.  
Before Grandpa drove into the yard with his big Rumely Oil Pull tractor pulling the silo filler, all on steel wheels, clanking their way to line up at the silo, raising the pipes to the top of the silo and hooking up the belt from tractor to filler, each farmer had already used a corn binder to cut the corn, bind it into bundles left in rows in the corn field.
This Rochester (MN) brand silo has a distinctive white-green pattern at the top.
Each farmer’s silo was filled in rotation based somewhat on the field conditions with our clay hills needing a few dry days to be navigable.  When our turn came, the silo filling ring members showed up with their tractors and hay racks ready to spend a few days filling our two silos. 
Mom and Grandma prided themselves on the meals they served the crew with meat and potatoes and pies with fall vegetables – all home raised food.  To eat at the men’s table, you had to work just like the men, and this year was my first chance to do it.  I was big enough to toss the bundles and responsible enough to do it right, at least I thought so.
My job was to help pitch the heavy green corn bundles neatly on the hayrack, piling them as high as I could throw them. It was hard work and I tried to match the rhythm and ease of Uncle Maurice as he seemed to effortlessly toss them into a neat load.
  Four or five wagons loaded up and each in turn unloaded at the filler where Uncle Chan fed it, brother Marv leveled in the silo between loads and Grandpa tended the Rumely, a temperamental beast, and oiled and greased the filler deciding each night whether to unbolt the blades and take them home to sharpen. 
  I was proud to be considered big enough to hold my own on pitching bundles with the men and looked forward to their stories at the dinner table.   
The silage pipes are in place permanently on these two silos. The tripod at the top held the motorized silo unloader that lowered down the silo as it chewed and dumped silage down the chute to the barn where sometimes a conveyer moved it to the cows, but more likely a farmer with a silage cart spread it out.
After loading the wagon for the first time, a somewhat straggly load,  I tossed the three-time fork onto the top of the load and brother Ev, my driver, hauled it to the filler, pulling the Farmall F-14 tractor and wagon to the unloading spot. Uncle Chan pitched the bundles one at a time into the filler. Normally, I as the loader, would unloaded too, but worrying I might not keep an even load on the filler the first time, and throw the belt or kill the Rumely, Uncle Chan stepped in to do it as I watched to learn the process.  I already knew this, but watched carefully hoping to unload next time. 
The filler was a metal slatted conveyor belt running to a large enclosed whirling set of sharp steel blades on a big wheel that chopped the corn stalks into half-inch long pieces of stalk and little disks of corn ears and then blew it all up the pipes and showered down into the silo. 
The green corn fermented into a brown savory aromatic silage preserving it for the whole winter.  Cows loved silage, and as it made use of the whole corn stalk and ear in a form that was easily digestible, was a mainstay of winter cow feed.    
Uncle Chan didn’t see my load-top fork as he pitched in the bundles and only when the blade made a kerchunk and had cut off a half-inch of the tines did yank back the conveyor shutoff  before it made a second cut and whirl them into the silo too.  He held up the shortened fork for inspection.  
Dad had the next wagon behind and came over to see what was wrong. I got sent inside the silo to try to find tines in the silage stack while Grandpa shut down the belt pully and inspected the blades for damage.  After 10 minutes and several of us hunting fruitlessly, and Grandpa deciding the blades were OK for the rest of the day—just a few small dents in the sharp edge,   Dad decided we couldn’t hold up the crew anymore, and we went back to work, me with the shortened dull pointed fork as a reminder.
All winter, I worried about cows with punctured stomachs, and took the responsibility to pitch down the silage each day carefully inspecting each forkful, especially as we got down to the level where the tines should have been.

An empty farm.  The barn will go first and the silo likely stand until someone decides to pull it down. 
One time showed up in the manger as the cow chose not to eat it and the other two never appeared.  No cows got sick, and so the episode passed except for my own memory of a mistake that caused much worry and some kidding at the dinner table that changed to stories of snakes, stones, and other items being ground up for silage on older days in farming and it appeared to me that others may have had some missteps on their way to being farm men. 
Where is the barn?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Farmalls, Tractors and Repairs

Dad was a Farmall tractor man all of his life.   He grew up on a farm near Barron, WI, one of 8 children, six of them boys and a father, Pearl Herbert (PH) Hanson who preferred machines over horses.  
Brother Ev tinkers with the carb

Pull start works!

It runs on its own for a while.  The hood and muffler are off for quick servicing.  I think it is about 1958 model.  The newest tractor on the farm!

Grandpa PH bought his first Rumely Oil Pull tractor probably about the time Dad was born, 1915.  After that right up to the time he died in the 1960s he always had one or more Rumelys, and various other tractors.  When he died in his early 80s, he had a Rumely, two John Deeres (including a B that he had just overhauled and spent his last day disking in the field) and I think an old F-12 Farmall on steel used for clearing brush in his cow pasture "so I don't have to worry about flat tires."

 Dad farmed with his father and tractors were always there.  Of course he learned how to use horses too, but probably more so on a neighbor's farm where he worked during the summer of 1936.  

  When Dad went into farming on his own in 1941 (he had rented his father's farm for a few years first), he couldn't afford a tractor, and so bought a team of horses.  He hired his neighbor, Bert's son, to bring Bert's John Deere over to plow the clay hills and sometimes borrowed his father's John Deere too, but mostly used the horses.  As WWII got underway, it became difficult and costly to buy a tractor, even used, and most of the money went to make payments on the farm.  In 1942 he married mom, and 2 years later Marv came along and then in 1946, me. 

   By war's end, manufacturers quit making tanks, ships, jeeps and guns and got back into cars and tractors.  In 1947 (or 8) Dad bought his first tractor.  It was a B Farmall from the local International dealer, Nickie (Clarence) Jensen of Cushing.  It wasn't quite what he wanted, but it was all that was available.  It was brand new.  

  He got rid of the horses and claimed "I can go out at night with the 1 bottom plow B tractor and lights and plow more in 3 hours than all day long with the team of horses.  I don't feel worried about overworking the tractor and the tractor doesn't eat hay and oats when it is not working!"

   The B was too small, so he traded it in on a 1951 Super C Farmall at Jensen's.  The mounted two-fourteen bottom plow was twice as fast in the field; the cultivator with spring teeth excellent; and the bigger rear wheels and tires gave much more traction.  It was his last brand new tractor.  

    A few years later as we boys got old enough to drive tractor, he bought an old Farmall F-14 from Uncle Chan.  We used it for the light work -- dragging the fields, raking and hauling hay.  It too had big rear wheels, but was underpowered for heavy work.  
Dad bought a used F-14 (slightly bigger than this F-12) from Uncle Chan for $100 and used it as a second tractor when we were kids.  We parked it on the hillside to coast it off to start -- no starter.  Hand brakes, and much more traction than power, it worked pretty good when the magneto behaved.  No battery needed.  He traded it in for a 10 year old Jubliee Ford in 1963 and got the $100 back on the deal.  I rather liked the old F-14.  No road gear, so it stayed home most of the time.  

   The F-14 got traded in on a Jubilee Ford with a front end loader.  Farming with a loader meant a great deal less work -- loading manure piles, cleaning the big youngstock barn on the north farm, and with more power than the C, it became the hay baler tractor too. 

   Along the way, Dad started accumulating tractors.  A Farmall 450 diesel for the heavy work.  The B Allis for light work so the loader could stay on the Ford.  The last tractor was the 350 Farmall.  Big rear tires for traction, power everything (steering, live power, live hydraulics, etc).  It replaced the 450 which had a bad habit of cracking its head every couple of years.  

   This summer I have been attempting to get the 350 back in use.  It got parked when Dad's parkinson disease got to the point where he no longer could drive a tractor -- probably about 2000.  It got used a little by the nephews, but somewhere along the way started using a quart of oil per hour and lost power -- when it went into a heavy pull, it sort of made an explosion and died.  

   After replacing points, battery, and clearing out a squirrel nest under the dash, the spark seemed OK.  With the help of Brother Everett, a real mechanic, we pulled off the manifold, carburetor, and cleaned it all.  The gas tank is very rusty inside, but the rust is not coming into the sediment bowl (probably will if I drive it around and rattle it loose).  The two plates, choke and throttle were sticking and needed loosening and oiling to function normally.  

   Yesterday, we stuck things together, pull started it and got it running.  It is not charging the battery; it ran for a while and then seemed to plug up in the carburetor.  
Marvin on the Farmall B in about 1950.  Brothers Ev and Marv each have a Farmall B in their garages.  Neither use them, but both are in pretty good shape.  They are a cultivating tractor with the driver seated to the side overlooking the row underneath.  A wide tractor that as brother Ev says "doesn't sneak through the woods."  Dad used this one for 3 years or so as his horse replacement until he traded it in on the Super C Farmall.  

   We borrowed nephew Bryce's compression tester.  The compression seems fine (110-120) on each of the four cylinders. The spark plugs are somewhat fouled and need replacing, but fired fine and smoothly.  One hydraulic connection at the power steering is dripping oil.  The gas lever needs a new roll pin to attach it to the shaft.  

   So we sort of have it running again, but once we run it a while and fix up the minor things, we are still left with trying to understand why it uses so much oil and lacks power.  Brother Ev says maybe the oil rings are a problem with the oil burning, but that wouldn't explain the lack of power. We are timidly hopeful that it won't need new rings and that we can explain and fix the big problem some other way, but unsure what is wrong.  

   The power steering works and is so pleasant to steer!  My hope is to get it running good and put the loader from the WD (in our MN Pine Island home) on this tractor and have a loader tractor.  

   Mechanic Chuck who rents our fields, has almost got the 1948 Cletrac crawler running again (it runs but the starter had broken and needed welding -- think it was from a 12 volt battery on a 6-volt machine when I was trying to start it last year).  With a loader and dozer, there is really no limit to how much I can rearrange nature here on the farm!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

October's Bright Blue Weather

Finding a new born calf, hidden by her mother in the wooded cow pasture was an adventure.  Sometimes stumbling around the darkening evening brought surprises the next morning

Cows were normally separated out and brought to the youngstock barn to give birth, so we could make sure things went OK and they didn't try to hide the calf in the woods. 

Dad and Mom tried to have their cows all give birth in October, after the fall harvest, so the cows were dry in the harvest time and gave milk all winter long

Harvest was not just for the animals.  Mrs Everhart above has a piece of watermelon and the Hughes boys below (cousins of V.R. Hanson) show off the squash and pumpkins 

"Betsy didn't come home from the pasture tonight," said Dad in a worried tone, "I knew she was close to freshening (having a calf restarted the milk supply -- called freshening by dairy farmers).    " "Will you boys take the tractor and trailer and go up there and find her and the calf?" asked Dad, knowing we would enjoy the adventure of searching the 60 acres of rolling woodlands for a cow and her hidden calf.  

  As it was only an hour before dark, we hooked up the Super C Farmall to the farm trailer, threw in a few hay bales and drove the 1/2 mile up the road where for 40 years, Dad drove his cows back and forth from farm to pasture each morning and evening.  The farm was divided by neighbors who wouldn't sell their land so the cows had a leisurely stroll each morning and evening along the dirt road, grazing the ditches as they ambled along.  

   We parked the tractor in the field on top of the hill and fanned out following the cow trails down into the pasture.  Some of the pasture was open and accessible, but much was wooded and other swampland with heavy cover, favored by a dairy cow reverting to her instinctual behavior where you hid the calf from everyone and everything and defended the territory by charging anyone or thing that approached. 

  We had Lucky, our German Shepherd dog along.  He was excellent for herding cows to and from places, but had never caught on to finding the cows.  He quickly forgot about our mission as he treed a gray squirrel trying to bark it to death.  

   "You go along the south fence all the way to Wolf Creek and then double back around the big swamp and follow the ridge north," Captain and oldest brother Marv told Everett. "Byron, you go straight north along the field to the fenceline and head west to Wolf Creek and cover the hillside, Tamarack swamp and then come back a little south of the fence. Russ, you take the top of the north ridge and follow it to Wolf Creek and double back to the south and I will poke around between you and Ev.   Holler if you find her. We will meet back here after we go over and back"

   Thirty minutes later we gathered at the tractor, as dusk began to fall.  "We have time for one more pass, so let's try again, this time just walk around and poke into every little brush patch, swamp, and cover you can find.  When the sun sets, and you can't see meet back here again."

   Twenty minutes later, "Here she is," we heard Byron yell and headed towards the sound.  We converged on a tiny brush patch on the ridge between two swamps in the middle of the pasture, where Betsy was charging Byron as he dodged behind trees to avoid her rushes.  

   The calf was up and past the wobbly stage, and frisked around too.  "You keep distracting Betsy, Byron and I'll get a rope on the calf," yelled Marvin who had carried the rope with the lasso. 

  We cornered the calf, got a rope around its neck and tied it to a tree.  "Russ, you bring the tractor and trailer down here through the north field."  A few minutes later I had it there. 
The north pasture had a few fields that were very hilly and kept into hay to keep from washing.  Here the Super C Farmall mows the hay and the Jubilee Ford (with umbrella) follows behind crushing the hay stems to dry it faster.  The closely eaten cow pasture is in the foreground.  When Dad bought another farm 2 miles north, he turned these fields into cow pasture too. 

   Betsy had calmed down a little, and we tossed the calf into the trailer between some hay bales, but at the very back where Betsy could see her baby bull clearly.  I slowly drove the tractor, lights on now to see in the late evening shadows, as the other boys sat on hay bales and Betsy followed her calf close behind the trailer.  

   A slow trip down the road and then into the barnyard, then we brought the calf into the barn, Betsy following closely.  We tied the calf in the manger in front of Betsy's stall as she moved in and poked her head through the stanchion and we locked it in place.  

   The calf and mother calmed down and after a half hour, we put some grain and fresh alfalfa in front of Betsy to distract her.  Then we moved the calf to the walk behind the cows (our two rows of cows faced each other across the manger with walkways behind them and rings to tie a calf to along the wall side of the walk way.  

   We had two goals in mind; keeping Betsy calm knowing her calf was nearby, and preventing the calf from nursing.  We tried to immediately feed our calves by pail or nipple pail so they didn't get used to nursing, otherwise as they got older and shared the pasture with the cows, they might start nursing long after they were on regular food.  

   After milking the other cows, Dad milked Betsy and then took the pail of fresh colostrum (rich antibody laden "first milk" of the mother that was needed to keep the calf healthy) and attempted to teach the calf to drink from a pail.  
Many farmers shared their barns with the barn swallows.  As long as they nested somewhere away from the milking areas they were welcome, but milk inspectors frowned on birds near the milking operation.  The haymow floor beams were taken from the old log barn on the farm and reused in the new (1912?) barn.  We don't know when the barn was built, but think it was sometime between 1900 and 1920 when Ole Nelson split his farm between his two sons Axel and John.  Each built new buildings on their 40 acres.  
     The process was usually easy.  Hold the pail in front of the calf, and stick your hand into the milk, fingers up and get the calf to start sucking your fingers.  They looked enough like a cow's teats the calf started automatically sucking them.  Then lower the fingers into the pail so the calf's nose and mouth were submerged.  

  Usually after a few snorts the calf learned to stop breathing and suck the fingers and thus started sucking up milk.  Gradually you removed the fingers and most of the time the calf continued drinking and was thus weaned in a few minutes.  Some didn't so then you brought out the pail with the rubber teat nipple on the side and that always worked.  

   After a few days when Betsy's milk had returned to normal, we saved the milk for sending to the creamery and added the calf to the twice daily feeding of a pail of milk replacer -- powder mixed with warm water that was the "formula" for calves.  Eventually, many months later, the calf would gradually shift to grain and hay.  

  Dad liked to have his cows all freshen in the fall.  Before having the calves, each cow would "dry up" for a couple of months.  That meant August and September could be devoted to the fall harvest as the cows took a break from milking and their milk supply was internally used for the calves.  
Buzzing wood was what folks called cutting long pieces of trees or in this case, slabs from the sawmill, into short pieces that would fit into the wood stove.  Brother Ev's 1939 (?) John Deere and front mounted buzz saw with Dad and Byron doing the sawing and Scott throwing it onto the wagon. 

  Then when the harvest was nearly over, a flush of baby calves, and heavy milk flows for the winter months when field farming was done, and taking care of the cows and calves got full attention. 

  Most of the cows had their calves in a separate barn where lots of room and straw was provided in a birthing stall.  Dad could tell when it was close to calving and removed the mother from the herd.  However, a few times each fall, he missed the signs and we boys went on a calf hunt--an adventure that still brings memories of charging cows, hidden calves and stumbling through the woods on a darkening, cooling evening in October. 

  The bawling of calves separated from their mothers is a prevalent on the farm these autumn days, mixed with the honks of geese veeing about the country.  Beef cows have calves each year and the calves have to be weaned from mothers to let the cow grow a new calf inside.  The calves suckle and in the fall, calves and mothers are separated and for weeks, the bellowing of mothers and calves looking for each other filters through the hills and valleys of farm country.  This morning, the lowing sounds brought back memories of lost youth in many ways. 


Friday, October 2, 2015

Squirrely Furnace

Since last winter we have been having furnace problems.  The Olsen oil furnace has run OK, heated OK, but since last December been smelling of fuel oil   A new nozzle and cleaning did nothing and talking on the phone to the repairman he suggested maybe we needed to go with a power-vent chimney instead of the regular one that may not draw well enough. 

That got me thinking.  The furnace has been in for 15 years or more and most of that time worked fine and if it didn't a cleaning and nozzle fixed it (other than when the controller type stuff went out).  Could the chimney be plugged?   No, looked fine with the stainless steel liner in the old brick chimney looking just like new after 30 years.  

Wondering if the smell was in the basement, I turned up the thermostat, left the basement door open and went down to watch things in hopes of having a light-bulb moment.  The furnace started, heated up and on came the fan.  No smell at all.  While down there I decided to bring in the water hose stuck through a small opening in the window frame.  A rush of cold air from the outside came through as I removed the hose.  "Must be windy out there," I thought.  

No oil smell upstairs either and no wind.  Got me to thinking. The furnace takes air through a floor opening with grill from the main floor to circulate it back to the basement.  What if it was not getting enough air?   So as an experiment, I propped the basement door open a little to let air return that way too.  

So two days later and no oil smells, I think I have figured out the problem -- not enough return air from upstairs to basement furnace.  Why after years would this have started up last winter?   

Thinking more over my morning cup of coffee, I remembered my squirrel fight of last December.   A red squirrel rattled through the living room wall and settled in each evening and again in the morning-- actually going inside the walls.  I spent a lot of time stalking the beast, and finally managed a clean shot with my old single shot 22.  Then I decided to close up the holes around the basement where the tracks showed the squirrel had made a big hole around an old basement window frame.  I poked and sprayed insulation wherever I felt a cold breeze.  I even plugged the hole under the dryer that Dad used to divert the dryer hot air output to the basement in the winter after a red squirrel came up and ran about the bathroom 

Well, the furnace was depending on the leaks to get enough air to function.  Without the air, and not enough from the cold air return, it was sucking some of the smoke back down the chimney and mixing it in the air sent through the pipes to heat the house.  

With the basement door open, no smell other than the mustiness of a basement without a dehumidifier.  The old cold air return was big enough for the old wood furnace, but the oil furnace with a much bigger fan needed the squirrel holes to function efficiently.  

Sadly, I have "cleaned out"  (euphemism)  all of the red squirrels in the yard, so have to solve this problem myself.  A hole in the floor? Maybe a hole in the basement door with a screen put on it would work.  I don't want to bring in outside air as that is too cold unless I go with an expensive heat exchanger.   Maybe the easiest solution is to go under the bed and drill a hundred holes 1/2 inch diameter (too small for the mice) and vacuum regularly so the dust bunnies don't clog them.   Need a few more cups of coffee to explore the alternatives, in the meantime the basement door is propped slightly open. 

After some more coffee, I think I will buy an antique floor register about 18x18 inches, cut a hole in the floor and install this in the living room (where the hole from the old temporary toilet was cut back when Grandma used it for her bedroom at age 100).   A trip to the recycle store seems in order if Frieberg's Gone Green doesn't have anything there.