Laura Zoeller

The ‘joys’ of farming in winter

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Each season has its own problems on a farm, but the cold we have endured last month may have taken the cake as far as the recent weather history goes. Day after day the bitter cold hung on, making life difficult, mostly for my husband.


As the farmer, he does most of the struggling when weather hampers efforts to take good care of things. By midweek, he was pretty well disgusted with the frozen ground, frozen air and frozen water. The water troughs of all the animals were frozen. The frost-free hydrants were frozen (anyone else think they should have their name changed?). Anything diesel refused to start, including the tractor, the truck and the skid steer.


Even with the block heater on the tractor plugged in overnight, the diesel was gelled enough to prevent fuel from reaching the engine properly. This caused problems because people wanted to come buy round bales of hay from us, and we had no reliable means of loading them.


Typically in a situation like that, we use the torpedo heater to help expedite the thawing process, but it was being used to thaw the cold-water line to my washing machine. (Despite the fact that I arose between 2 and 3 a.m. each morning long enough to wash a load of clothes, the water insisted on turning to ice before sunup.)


As the hour approached for the hay buyer to arrive, my husband became increasingly agitated. With no thawed equipment, he attempted to reschedule for a couple hours later, but the call could not be completed as dialed, suggesting another industry had also succumbed to the cold.


Instead, I borrowed the torpedo heater from the basement and wheeled it to the building where the skid steer hibernated. I returned to the house for the generator because there was no power source. Finally, I grabbed a tarp and went to work.


I fired the generator and then the heater up, and pointed it directly at the skid steer’s open engine compartment. I used pallets, a pry bar and various hand tools to create a room from the tarp inside where the hot air from the torpedo heater could remain. And then I waited.


Every five minutes, I walked completely around the skid steer to ensure that the chaff on the building’s floor wasn’t getting close to combustion. I also checked to make certain that I wasn’t heating the tires up enough to melt.


Then I would run back to the tarp room to make sure it wasn’t going to collapse onto the heater’s glowing orbs and catch on fire, either. With each wind gust, the rake and shovel wall studs swayed back and forth, and the ceiling dipped low.


But God smiled upon me, and the room stood. The diesel warmed, and the engine turned. When I emerged for one of my inspections about an hour into the process, the hay customer had appeared, and along with him, my husband.


Once I knew they had things well in hand, I disappeared back to the house with the heater in tow. I had other work to complete, and fortunately, it was all inside the house – and as near the wood stove as I could reasonably make it.



Laura Zoeller can be reached at zoeller5@hughes.net.


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