Sometimes you have to improvise

May 26, 2013 By Randy Tucker

An aging Inter-national tractor brings out my creative side.

It is perhaps the essence of humanity -- the interaction of man with the environment surrounding him.

In the modern world, sadly, many people have lost touch with the land, but here in the arid Mountain West, with our unpredictable weather, most of us still have an intricate love/hate relationship with Mother Nature.

In "Doctor Zhivago," Russian novelist Boris Pasternak touched on this reality succinctly in describing the relationship between his characters and the even harsher environment of Russia.

"Nature hit you in the eye so plainly and grabbed you so fiercely and so tangibly by the scruff of the neck that perhaps it really was still full of gods," he wrote.

Technology insulates us to a degree from the ravages that nature can bring, but there are still myriad examples of nature swatting aside anything man can devise.

It wasn't exactly the sweeping scale of Czarist Russia, but the last two weeks have been an interesting interaction with the forces of nature and my feeble attempts at guiding it in a beneficial way.

Reporting on regional and state track meets takes a lot of time, and they always coincide with irrigation water arriving in the LeClair ditch, so time is of the essence.

The firing up of my aging International tractor each May is a rite unto itself, but this year the old girl came to life with surprising ease. Charge the batteries, check the oil, anti-freeze and hydraulic fluid, get a couple of cans of starting fluid, and see if the four cylinder diesel has another season left.

It fired right up but as it warmed up a frost plug went flying off the engine block. A quick replacement, and white smoke billowed from the exhaust for a few minutes as it threw off the winter hibernation.

Then it was off to hook up the ditcher. The ground was nearly perfect a little over a week ago, and two passes opened the familiar route for the upcoming summer irrigation. On the final pass I looked down and saw that the left front tire had kicked out to the side. The tie rod came loose at the pivot joint. Two miles from home on a Wednesday afternoon when everyone else was at work created a perplexing problem, and the only tool on the tractor was an eight inch adjustable wrench. I found a rock and pounded the joint back together but it didn't hold.

A dilemma -- walk home to get the truck and tools, or improvise?

Breaking off a couple of strands of barbed wire from a nearby stretch post gave me just enough wire to, I hoped, hold the steering together for the trip back home. I held the tie rod up with my knee, pounded the joint back together, and wrapped it with two strands of wire.

It held long enough to pull the remainder of the ditch and to make the drive back home.

A cutting torch, a grade-8 bolt and some creative bushings made out of oversized nuts, and the tractor was nearly as good as new.

Improvisation is something most people only consider in comedy routines today. Come to think of it, anyone watching me would have found the entire process humorous.

A week later the phone woke me sometime after 11 p.m. It was the Fremont County Sheriff's Office. Before I answered, I suspected yet another drunk had crashed through our fence along North 8th West north of Riverton and that our cows were on the road, but this was different.

"Do you have a white-faced cow with a yellow ear tag?" the dispatcher asked.

"No, ours have orange tags," I replied.

"Are you sure? It's been running up and down North 8th and Webbwood for the last hour," he said.

My answer was still no.

After a few seconds he went on to say, "OK, we know it's not your cow, it belongs to..."

"What do you want me for?" I asked.

"Can the deputy put in your pasture for the night while we locate the owner out on the reservation?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Good, the deputy already has it in your pasture," he replied.

Already in my pasture... Not my cow... and they're calling me late at night. Hmmm...

It was time to investigate. There she was, milling in that unique bovine social manner that occurs when a new cow enters a herd. The deputy drove up and spotlighted the cows so we could count them.

No problem, except she wouldn't quit bawling -- the kind of bawling that only comes from a cow with a missing calf. After a few minutes of listening to this, it was off in the truck again to locate the calf. I drove the periphery of our place, but truck lights aren't the best way to find cows at night. The moon was bright, so I switched the lights off and on as I searched the pasture.

A run up Webbwood and farther up North 8th produced nothing.

By the time the forlorn search was over and the truck was parked, she quit bawling.

A scant five hours later the sun was up, and so was I, but the cow was long gone. I had to leave for the state track meet in Casper.

On Monday after our "million dollar rain" had stopped, I found her escape route: a broken top wire, two stretched middle wires, and a broken bottom strand where she caught her foot during her flight. A few minutes with the fence stretcher and some wire and the damage was repaired.

The farming gods were smiling on this one. A little lost sleep, nearly an inch and a half of rain, the tractor repaired, and the herd back to its usual grazing complacency.

Not a bad start to the summer.

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