For the love of a machine
By CHRISTINE TAILER
Years ago, I would never have imagined that I could have this strange
love affair with a machine, and a loud machine at that.
Even now, living off
the grid, heating with wood, and often reading by the gentle glow of an oil
lamp, I find it hard to explain my joy in firing up the giant yellow beast.
For one, she is amazingly reliable. On colder days, a shot from aerosol
starter fluid is all it takes to get her diesel engine roaring.
Just today, Greg sprayed the aerosol into her intake and I cranked the
ignition. She fired to life without any hesitation. I gently raised the
front-end loader bucket off of the pole barn’s gravel floor, put her into
gear, and with just a touch of throttle we trundled out the barn door and up
the hill to the goat yard.
The goats are temporarily sharing their yard with two small horses,
while we build a horse shelter down in the lower pasture. We also believe
that it is easier to train the little horses in the smaller goat yard, but
this means that every week I have to rake out the straw and manure from the
horse’s side of the yard, and spread out a new layer of sweet smelling straw
for the little equines.
As the big yellow beast and I rolled up to the horses’ fence, they
looked up from their browsing, but not for long. They have quickly become
accustomed to this creek way of life. I parked the machine, with her front
end loader raised, and then slowly lowered the loader bucket so that it was
perched just inside the fence.
This made it easy to rake up the old straw and pitch it right into the
bucket. I could see the welds where Greg had mended tears in the loader’s
thick metal. The little horses seemed oblivious.
Some of the old machine’s pins may be a bit worn and loose, and she
rattles a bit, but every part of her still does everything that it was
originally intended to do. She is now four decades old, older than my oldest
Greg has also had to replace a hydraulic line or two, and now that I
think of it, he also replaced the starter.
Her yellow paint may be a bit faded, and even worn through in spots, but
her thick metal is strong and solid, and completely rust free. I have no
doubt that she is thankful to be snugly parked every evening inside the pole
barn, among all of our other farm machines.
After finishing up with the horses, I realized that there was still room
in the loader bucket. I backed the big machine away from the goat yard,
after carefully raising the loader bucket over the fence, and moved the gear
shift lever into its forward slot. The old girl and I trundled down the
slight hill to the chicken coop.
It had been a while since I had cleaned out the bird’s deep bedding. I
climbed down from the machine, pitchfork once again in hand, and leaned into
the coop. I pulled out six heaping fork loads of nitrogen rich straw, thanks
to the chickens.
The loader bucket was then filled to overflowing. As I spread the new
layer of straw I was eagerly looking forward to the next task. I put the
pitchfork in the backhoe bucket and climbed back up to my seat.
I felt as though I was riding a tall mythical beast as the big machine and I
slowly lurched our way down the steep driveway to the creek road.
We turned left at the tobacco barn, and with boom and bucket rattling,
headed across the summer’s squash and pumpkin patch to the compost pile.
The nearby chickens were oblivious to our presence and continued picking their
way through what goodies were left in the now bushhogged summer garden.
I raised the loader bucket high, drove right up to the base of the
eight-foot tall compost pile, and dumped the rich load across its top,
knowing that I would see the pile’s cooking heat swirling up from its crown
on my next morning walk.
I put the old girl into reverse and we backed away from the pile, day’s
She almost lured me to take a drive down the road, past the barn, but
dinner called and I planned to bake a pumpkin pie, so we headed back up to
the pole barn. She backed perfectly into place, in front of the old seed
drill and between the still older gray tractor and the tool room. I shut her
off and silently lowered the loader bucket. I swung down from my high seat
and gathered my pitchfork and shovel from the backhoe bucket.
As I carried the tools to put them away, I passed by the old girl’s
front end. I reached out and ran my fingers along the smooth surface of the
loader’s rounded bucket edge. It felt warm from working outside in the
afternoon sun. “Thanks,” I half thought, half whispered.
No doubt about it. This old machine is one of my prized friends. She
works as hard as I ask, and is always eager to get out and get the job done.
I have never heard a complaint from my sweet, faded yellow, 580 D backhoe. I
smiled as I headed up the hill to bake that pie.
Christine Tailer is a columnist for The Highland County Press.