I’ve been meaning to write a post to continue my information series about composting. And I will get to that soon. But In Balance Equestrian is all about supporting those who have, or want to have, horses in their back yard. To that end, I would like to share how yesterday went for me while doing a few routine maintenance chores here on my small acreage. This is just in case you think country life means sipping coffee on the veranda while looking at your lovely ponies grazing green grass in a beautifully manicured pasture.
As usual, I made my list of marching orders for the day, and identified the next three tasks that needed to be done. These included 1) mowing the little pasture behind the house, 2) replacing a broken hinge on the gate leading to that pasture and 3) picking up hay and feed at the feed store.
I decided to start with the hinge, since a freely-swinging gate was going to make getting in and out of that pasture with the tractor a lot easier.
The gate is the ubiquitous kind of livestock gate that is made up of U-channel metal. The hinges are made of strap metal, folded in half and crimped so that, at the bend, it forms a loop that slips over the hinge pin attached to the fence, and the rest of it slides into the U-channel where it is fastened by a bolt that goes through the fence and the hinge. So, in theory, it’s just a matter of removing the bolt, then the pin, and inserting the new hinge, Luckily, I have a spare gate that has perfectly good hinges and I can just swap out the hinges.
Simple as that sounds, I still had a twinge of apprehension that this, like so many other ranch projects, might not go as smoothly as it should, so in addition to my collection of wrenches (I grabbed all of them because I didn’t know what size I would need), I also grabbed a can of Liquid Wrench as there was the odd chance that the bolt would not come off easily.
Ranch Rule #1: “Odd chance” translates to “Dead certainty.”
After some trial and error, I determined that I needed two 9/16” wrenches: one for the bolt head and one for the nut. I doused the whole thing liberally with Liquid Wrench and proceeded with the simple task.
The first hint that this would not go well is that the hinge was so damaged that the two pieces of hinge that were supposed to be snug against each other had separated so much that one side was bulging up against the bolt head, making it impossible to get the wrench over the nut. Fortunately, one of the wrenches was a combination wrench, with one open end and one closed, and the closed end had sides narrow enough to get at least partially over the bolt. Not ideal, but should work.
The other wrench had to be slid into the U-channel, where the working conditions were cramped and dark. But the end of the wrench finally did get hold of the nut.
The Liquid Wrench apparently had not taken effect just yet because getting that nut to detach from the bolt was like trying to pull up a small tree with your bare hands. It wasn’t budging, and since the wrench’s grip on the bolt head was already precarious, it kept popping off, invariably causing my knuckle to smash against the gate. I’m at the age where any break in the skin causes profuse bleeding, which I was wiping off on my jeans (happily, an old pair of jeans). It didn’t take long before my jeans looked like I had lost a limb instead of scraped my knuckle. Also, the Liquid Wrench was everywhere, including on that knuckle. Not only did it sting, but I was putting that knuckle in my mouth to try to staunch the flow. I don’t know what’s in Liquid Wrench but I suspect it is not healthy to either apply it to an open wound or take it internally.
All this had required several trips back to the garage to get a hammer, pliers and any other tool to try to get this job done.
Ranch Rule #2. Any simple job is going to require multiple trips to the garage and every tool you own.
By now, I had experienced blood, sweat and, yes, tears. I may be willing to tackle just about any task around this place, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be reduced to girly tears when I’m dirty, bloody and sweaty.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
Over the course of the next half hour, I managed to get the nut significantly looser, but not released. The wrench kept slipping off the bolt and eventually, the edges of the bolt rounded off so it was a nearly perfect circle, and at that point the wrench became useless. The bolt declared victory. That hinge was not coming off that gate.
Plan B came into play. Since I had that spare gate, and it was fortuitously the same size and type as the gate with the broken hinge, I could just swap them out. Sadly, the other gate was at the other end of the property. These are ten-foot gates and while they are relatively light-weight, that is not the same thing as actually being light. Also, a ten-foot long, four-foot high gate is an awkward thing to wrestle 200 feet uphill.
This prospect was so daunting that I put it on hold to move on to the next task on the list: mowing the pasture. Since the gate was already off the hinges, I just dragged it off to the side, giving me free access to the pasture that needed mowing.
I always approach my tractor with trepidation. As you may have figured out by now, I’m used to things going not quite according to plan, and to things breaking. But my little John Deere tractor is always up to the challenge. It starts every time, and I haven’t been able to break it yet no matter how hard I try. I do love that tractor, but I’m still always pretty sure that something will go wrong.
But as always, it started right up and I took it through the barn and up to the area that needed mowing. I engaged the PTO and mower and started cutting grass. When I say “grass,” I really mean the dried-out weeds that the horses won’t eat, that are taller than I am, and are now a fire hazard.
At some point I looked back to check the mower height (this is a rear-mount mower and the height needs to be adjusted constantly to allow for uneven ground, badger mounds, etc.) and was startled to see the PTO shaft spinning. This is supposed to have a safety cover on it and somewhere along the line, that cover apparently came off. Operating that PTO without a cover is dangerous. Anything that gets caught on that spinning shaft is toast.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
I finished up the mowing with the exposed spinning shaft. It was not a good idea and I strongly don’t recommend it but I got through it without damaging anything, including myself, and put “find PTO shaft cover” on the never-ending list of things to do.
It was lunch time by now, so I took a little break to eat and reflect on my bad choices in life, like moving to the country.
Back to the gate. This project could not be put on hold at this stage, since the horses couldn’t be turned out without a gate in place. And I was not up for wrestling one gate up the hill to be put into service, and wrestling the old one back down the hill to be stored.
That meant that my truck was going to be recruited for the job. I did set the pasture up to be accessible by vehicles but that doesn’t mean I made it all that easy. I could either drive it through the barn and then through a gate, or go through Cowboy’s paddock, Cowboy was currently occupying the paddock, and the only place to put him to gain access to the paddock was in the pasture that now had no gate, so the barn access won.
I had not actually driven the truck through the barn before. The tractor goes through all the time, but the truck is a LOT bigger than the tractor. So I took a few minutes to clear the center aisle of the barn, open the doors wide and check out the gate to make sure it would swing open wide enough for the truck. The gophers had built up enough dirt behind the gate that it would open enough for the tractor, but was going to require some major shovel work to open it wide enough for the truck.
I grabbed the shovel and started clearing out the dirt and weeds that blocked the gate from swinging freely. By now, I was covered with dust from the mowing, with grease and blood from the gate episode, and was wearing an old T-shirt with a flannel shirt over it and a pink ball cap that smashes my hair and causes the sides of my hair to stick straight out from my face. This is how I usually look when doing the dirty work around here but I don’t care because, generally, nobody sees me.
Except today. I carry my cell phone with me in case something goes seriously wrong and I need to call 911. In the middle of clearing the dirt, the phone made an unaccustomed tweeting sound.
I belong to a mentoring group and had set up a Facebook session with another member, who lives in England. I thought it was set up for 1 o’clock on Sunday but apparently the date was not clear because Lisa was trying to reach me. On Facebook Live Chat. That means video.
Normally I wouldn’t answer but if someone is trying to reach me from England, I really feel they deserve a response. I tossed my plans to be impeccably dressed, coifed and poised for the event and answered the call. After a few minutes of explaining and rescheduling, we said our goodbyes. But now Lisa has seen me at my worst.
The truck did squeeze through the barn and the gate and the gate-swapping went pretty smoothly. So far, it’s the only thing that has gone smoothly.
The new gate does have hinges, but it does not have the bolts that attach the hinges to the gate, The hinges are just tucked into that U-channel. Back to the garage to see if I have any bolts the right size for the job.
No, I did not. I found a few that were close, but too short. But that gave me something to take to the hardware store so I can get the right diameter and length.
Ranch Rule #3. Any task is going to require at least one trip to the hardware store. Usually, it requires a minimum of three trips to the hardware store.
Since I was now going to be clearly visible to other people, I got my morning shower in at last (it was now 2:30 p.m.) and put on relatively clean and tidy clothes. I found what I needed at the hardware store. As a bonus, I happened to be there on “Customer Appreciation Day” and am entered in a drawing. I’m looking forward to winning a nice pair of sunglasses. Although I think the drawing was at the end of the day yesterday and I haven’t heard anything yet.
Back to the gate. I got the hinges attached to the gate with a minimum of difficulty and then tried to slip the hinges over the hinge pins. This seems easy but it is not. The gate is ten feet long and the process requires lining both hinges up over the pins simultaneously. After rounding up a collection of small pieces of 2x4s and landscaping timber, I still couldn’t prop up the far end of the gate enough to get the hinges lined up.
Thankfully, a neighbor was now out and about and I finally gave up and called for help. Even with two of us, that gate put up a good fight, but we finally prevailed.
Ranch Rule #4: You are going to need another pair of hands at some point. Plan accordingly.
Success at last! And it only took me from eight in the morning until half past three in the afternoon.
I figured I deserved to kick back and put my feet up but first I checked the to-do list. Dang. I had forgotten that I need to pick up feed. On top of that, it occurred to me that I had not cleaned stalls and paddocks the day before and the mess had reached critical mass. Since I wasn’t completely out of feed, I put that task off until the next day and tackled the stalls and paddocks. I also needed to set up for the next couple of feedings. Which is not the same as kicking back and putting my feet up.
As I write this, it is 9:30 Sunday morning. The feed store opens at 10:00 so I need to leave shortly so I can pick up that hay and feed, unload it, and be ready for that 1:00 meetup with Lisa. With any luck, I can be back to being tidy and put-together enough to undo the impression she got yesterday. The tears today are from allergies brought on by the mowing. The knuckle has stopped bleeding but is threatening infection. Maybe at some point today I will actually ride one of those horses lounging around in his paddock. Another day here at Rancho Rasmussen.