Monday, March 23, 2009

Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world

Give me a lever long enough and a strong enough fulcrum and I will move the world. . . or at least a wayward tractor.

There is nothing quite so pleasing as a plan that works straightforwardly since plans mostly don't work without a great deal of fussing, if they work at all. The other day my dumb tractor went and got itself stuck over in the sewer easement just before Linda and I needed to get ready to go up to Pottstown to watch the dance demos and then strut our somewhat less impressive waltz, rumba, foxtrot, jitterbug and west coast swing stuff at the Ballroom on High. As a result the tractor spent its first night all alone in the woods in twenty five years, pitched down at about a 40% angle with its front wheels half buried in mud. Why the darn thing let me drive it down that slope is a mystery. It should have known it wouldn't have the traction to pull itself back up that muddy slope.

Anyway, it was the first time I've ever failed to retrieve the thing from its folly on my own. After past incidents I've always managed to get it out of trouble with a mere hour or two, or four, of individual effort, even that time it got itself wedged under. . . well, perhaps I'd best not go into that. . . Linda reads this blog.

Anyway, I went over to Sears while Linda was cooking dinner to get a second come-along. I already have a come-along that's rated at a ton; but that one ton rating presumes a certain amount of arm strength to apply to the 18 inch or so long lever. Back in the old days, when I used to do real pushups instead of sissy from the knee pushups, me and the come-along probably pulled a ton; but now maybe not so much. And I don't have a pipe that will fit over the handle lever. Memo to self - get a 36 inch length of pipe with an inside diameter greater than two inches. Faced with half the arm strength, one must double the lever length. Maybe I ought to look for a 48 inch long pipe. The ability to project future conditions and plan for them is the very height of what makes us human.

Anyway go figure, the Sears Hardware store up on Route 29 no longer sells come-alongs. What good is a hardware store that doesn't sell essential pieces of hardware? They still sell one and two ton car jacks for surprisingly reasonable prices. Even given that I would have also had to buy a second long length of chain to use with the car jack the total would still have been lots less than the cost of hiring someone with a four wheel drive tow truck capable of getting to where the tractor spent the night. But using a car jack in tandem with the come-along would have meant a lot of carrying of stuff out into the woods and a lot of careful fussing with the rigging because of the push rather than pull design of a car jack, and because of its very short working travel. A lot of fussing.

So I bit the bullet and asked Jas to come over on Sunday morning for a try at doing it the straightforward way with the one come-along. By great good luck there was a decent sized tree across the sewer easement directly behind and not more than thirty feet from the rear of the tractor. An easy reach for my existing length of chain and the cable of the come-along.

Lo and behold, with a skeptical Jas working the come-along and me running the tractor after jamming a couple of lengths of rug under its rear wheels, we retrieved the beast from the muck and mire within fifteen minutes or so.

"That's a real lesson in applied physics," Jas commented. When something works cleanly it's really satisfying. We celebrated over coffee and talked of the ballroom dance demos of the night before. Have I mentioned that Jas and Kathy wowed the crowd with their Bolero demo? There were flashier, much more athletic and choreographed pairs; but Jas and Kathy and a few others showed what ordinary people can do if they practice, practice, practice.

Jas and I also talked about our Saturday morning pinochle game with Sam. And we talked about Al R, and Florida home prices, and the news I heard that one of my acquaintances, a seemingly judicious fellow, on the fancy neighborhood side is suddenly facing bankruptcy because he got himself overextended in real estate development, and the upcoming trip to The Villages in late April early May. Sam was meanwhile out on the golf course, no doubt blissfully unaware that the handle of a golf club is nothing but a long lever and all the club heads are wedges of varying pitch.
Later in the day I successfully guided the much chastened and distinctly less adventurous tractor over to the old house on Route 29 where I ran into Dan K. I mentioned to Dan that my third option had been to call him and ask if he has a come-along, which it turns out he does, of course, like any sensible person. How do people get through life without essential tools? What do they do after they pick themselves up and check their extremities and their heart stops pounding to find that the tractor has not been so lucky and is a bit wedged under the tree that perversely fell the wrong way?

Anyway, Dan proudly showed me his growing pile of firewood, maybe ten cords so far. Top quality stuff because he's been cutting big oaks and cherries and chestnuts. He's also been been
patiently splitting, doing real yeoman work, ever since he got laid off a couple of months ago, with the work accelerating since his brother got laid off a couple of weeks ago. He also ripped a few really impressive quarter sawn slabs from the four foot or so in diameter oak at the back of their property. Those slabs should be worth a pretty penny if there is still anyone around here who does real furniture making.

Dan told me cured firewood is already up to over $200 per cord. I reiterated that he's welcome to cut at will along the tree line dividing our properties. There are three pretty big trees, one maple, one cherry and one chestnut, up there along the border near Route 29 that are ripe for taking. I suspect he's going to get even more than $200 a cord next year when the wood is cured, maybe a lot more if the government is insane enough to pass some version of cap and trade in the middle of a recession. Cap and trade will drive up electricity, oil and gas prices maybe thirty or forty percent.

Dan has also increased the size of his garden maybe fivefold for this year. He has me wondering whether I should increase the diameter of my garden. The S's who live in Mom and Pop's old house have a pretty good sized pile of horse manure that's there for the taking. Next weekend I'll retrieve a scoop load for my garden and one or two loads to drop off for Dan. Maybe I'll deliver the loads to Dan first. The tractor route across the marshland will get iffy once we start getting spring rains which are late this year. In a pinch I can take the tractor around the long way to Dan's via the roads; which does have the advantage of irritating and shocking the impatient yuppy drivers, especially when one does it with a load like manure which tends to dribble out of the tractor bucket a bit.

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