With the winter rains soaking deeper, evaporating, and draining into the Navarro River, the ground is nearly perfect for digging post holes and setting the timbers. It amazes me how there can be standing water in the packed muck where the cows tread daily and you can still dig a clean post hole three feet deep right next to the puddles.
Most of the fence posts we set these days come from a forest up Lambert Lane southwest of Boonville. The second growth redwoods I cut a few years ago are just now losing their bark. They say if you take propane or some kind of lit gas and char the ends of the posts they will be reluctant to rot, but you need a generous torch to blacken the wood and accomplish the job.
My twelve year-old son recently wound up with a small chainsaw via the Trading Time show on KZYX, and he was chomping at the bit several weeks ago to put it to use. So I said sure we could pull the old stock trailer out to the redwood forest and load it with posts and split rails. The trailer is almost 20 feet long and can lug a few tons of lumber.
Unfortunately the trailer was hitched to the little John Deer 850, and it so happened that the battery on the 850 was dead as a confederate soldier. It was a tombstone. There was no spark.
“Well, there must be a short or something. Let's put the charger on, let it go for a couple days,” I said, not really wanting to harvest redwood posts and timbers that day. I was reading a novel by some author whose name I can't recall, but it was amusing enough to fend off the bullshit of another winter's day. But it wasn't me who had the new chainsaw.
“No, Dad. We're going to do this.”
“Okay, let's fire up the International [tractor] and chain it to the John Deere, pull the John Deere off the trailer, and hitch the International to it.”
“Yeah.” So my son knew what you have to do to start the International. It's a finicky British dude whose motor was built in Japan in 1980. We use a small propane canister, with my son forcing the heavy gas into the air intake while I crank the sluggish starter motor. We have to use propane; otherwise the poor battery winds around like a drunken punk band trying to tune up before the gig, when the gig is actually in another town, in another state.
The International tractor started with no problem, but when I tried to shift into a forward gear it just kept grinding like I wasn't pressing in the clutch. That's funny, I thought, trying over and over again while my son fired up his chainsaw and reared back like a bucking bronco ready for the rodeo. He said he was just making sure it ran. “Shut it off!" I hollered, frustrated because something was awry with the tractor — with BOTH tractors, all of a sudden. I thought it was weird that the clutch would go out bass ackwards, as they say, because really if a clutch goes out it's usually easy to slip into gear, and the problem is it keeps slipping when you let out. I tried detaching the outside mechanisms on the pedal and increasing the distance of the rod, screwing it apart to no avail. “Good God,” I finally said.
My son was agitated but there was nothing we could do. I dug up the operator's manual and found nothing in the way of troubleshooting, though they did explain how to “split the tractor.” That involved all these hoists and complicated disconnections. “Not today,” I thought. “Maybe I should call Rainbow Ag, get a more informed opinion.”
Rainbow Ag is the John Deere dealer in Ukiah. They have a parts and service department. They don't deal in International tractors — now Case-International — but at least the guys in the parts department know what an International tractor IS. At least they know it is the color RED as opposed to John Deere GREEN.
My son was hounding me to come up with some chainsaw activity while I tried to dial the digits for Rainbow Ag. Maybe that’s why I accidentally punched in the numbers for the KZYX studio. KZYX is our local radio station, as you must know. It was the same digits I'd dialed to call Trading Time where we'd found the chainsaw in the first place. The numbers must have been ingrained in my brain. 462-2404 is Rainbow Ag, whereas 895-2448 is KZYX’s studio. I guess the last four digits had a similar ring, or else I was just going nuts.
“Hello, Caller,” said a friendly female voice.
“Yeah, I'm looking for Parts,” I said.
“You have a question for Dan?”
“Is Dan in Parts?”
“Dan Hamburg, running for 5th District Supervisor.”
“Oh, I thought this was Rainbow Ag.”
“You have a question or comment?”
“Yeah. So I have this International tractor that is like 30 years old, and when I last started it up and I tried to put it into gear the clutch wasn't working. The gears just kept grinding. So I don't think the clutch is going out, but there must be some mechanism that is frozen or something.”
“Yes, thank you. I can take this.” It was Dan Hamburg, for crying out loud.
“Boy I hope the clutch isn't messed up. I'd hate to think what a new one would cost, and I sure don't want to split the tractor,” I further explained.
“Well, caller, I've had a problem like this before. It's fairly common in this climate, what with all the humidity in the winter. What you have is a frozen clutch, and what you need to do is start up the tractor, jam it into first gear, and the clutch plates will come apart when you press in on the pedal. It happens all the time.”
“Thank you, caller,” said the person who was running the show.
Just for a second opinion, I actually dialed the number for Rainbow Ag, and described the problem to the fellow who was working in Parts.
“You're going to have to split the tractor,” he said.
Since it was still early March, I talked to a few other folks who encouraged me to try Dan's idea. I was in no hurry to split the tractor and pull the clutch out, especially since that would involve putting everything back together with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker working with sledge hammers. So the other day I tried starting up the machine. After jamming the tractor into first, the clutch plates must have split, and everything worked like a clock. I shifted into fourth low, first high, second high, and then reverse back in low. I put down the lever for the PTO. It worked. Hopefully this year I will not be splitting the tractor.