Tractor Of The Damned: Part V (With A Labor Rant)

After my fiasco trying to pull start an inert lump of metal cleverly disguised as a tractor I came to several important conclusions.

#1:  I just wasn’t smart enough to figure out what was hosed and un-hose it. Someone else, presumably someone cooler than me, would have to do it. I’d known this for a long time but I’d been pussy footing around the truth. My only hope was that I could watch and learn to do better next time.

#2:  The tractor may have been purchased as something like a fun toy but it had become important.  Wood needs to be hauled, snow must be plowed, chicken shit must be shuffled, and the yard…my God the yard was giving me fits.  I don’t mind looking “low class” but I resent looking “crackhouse”.  Nobody should work as hard as I do to have a house that looks like it’s abandoned!  In lieu of a tractor I’d been limping along with ingenuity and denial. It wasn’t enough.  Time to shit or get off the pot.  Fix it or buy something new but get it done now!

#3: Paying someone to fix it, which had heretofore been impossible was once again my best option.  This is exactly where I’d been a couple years ago when the little Ford conked.

Problem #3 was the most maddening.  I was in possession of a broken machine which nobody would fix on my behalf (for pay!).  I’d turned the world upside down and there wasn’t a man (or woman!?!) within a hundred miles that would take money to fix an old tractor.  What’s worse is that the only truck I owned that was large enough to tow the tractor a longer distance (to civilization) was also dead.  Catch 22.

[There is a time and a reason to bitch about things.  The time is now and the reason has to do with my endless searches for a mechanic.  Here goes!]

Our modern self-imposed labor shortage pisses me off.  When some bobblehead on TV tells you the unemployment rate is such and such…it doesn’t mean shit. The reason I know this is that I cannot pay money to get services. No matter how much money I offer.

I get constantly hounded by friends and relatives who do not believe this.  (You know who you are!) But I’m not making it up.  I can wave a big wad of actual real American money in the air and I cannot necessarily hire a job done.

I would understand a little difficulty finding hired help.  I live in the hinterlands so there aren’t many people to start with.  Skilled folks (like mechanics) are rare.  Skilled folks (no matter what hippies and politicians will say) are always in great demand and usually busy people.  You’d expect it to be hard to hire the tractor repaired; but not impossible.  But it is a symptom of a greater uh… vacuum?

Nor is it entirely all about limited skills.  What I’ve found out is that for even the simplest job you cannot pay to have it done, because the jobs I need done are work.

Back in the old days folks did work because they wanted cash.  People payed cash because they wanted stuff done.  There was invariably someone who would do the job if you paid enough.  That is the very definition of a functioning market.

Not so much any more.  You can offer a thousand bucks, a date with a model, and a chocolate birthday cake and that isn’t enough.  You won’t get someone to come to my house to run a fencepost or shovel shit for nearly any amount.  It’s not that a fencepost is impossibly complex.  It’s that doing work for cash is a quaintly outdated idea from former times.  Certainly very few people are willing to go to much (any) effort to chase a dollar.  (I’m not alone in this complaint.  There are unfilled jobs in oilfields in North Dakota and Saskatchewan and multi-generational 25% unemployment in certain neighborhoods.  These two facts should be self-solving.  However, no amount of money offered in an oilfield will alter pockets of “deliberate” unemployment.)

The reason is maddening.  There is a significant (huge) portion of the spectrum that could work.  Many of them have skills (like fixing tractors).  They also have other (apparently better) options; among them unemployment and welfare (and often retirement savings). This is a Curmudgeonly Gem Of Insight so pay attention:

The labor market for low end work (and skilled work like fixing a tractor) has been pounded to death by free money.  It’s nearly over.  There are now jobs that you cannot get done for any amount of money.  Anything anyone says about general financial misery is irrelevant if there are jobs going undone and people unwilling to chase them.

That had been 50% of my motivation to fix the tractor myself.  The other 50% was a voyage of discovery that had long ago run aground.

Scoff if you like but that’s just the way of life in America in 2011 (now 2012).  A score of very skilled tractor mechanics live within an hour’s drive.  All men and most older than dirt.  Fellows that can resurrect a tractor like it’s a gift.  But none, and I mean none, would work on someone else’s tractor.

Several offered to buy my tractor (for parts…nyuk nyuk) and even sell me one of their tractors (many were shiny, rebuilt, and freshly painted).  But that’s it.  That’s the “new labor market”, buy my tractor, rebuild it, and then sell it.  The market for buying and selling things still exists but not the market for labor.

I didn’t want a “new” old tractor.  I’d come a long way with my personal tractor.  There are many like it but this one is mine.  To have it fixed I would have to either tow it several hundred miles (lacking a suitable truck) to places that specialized in “museum quality” restoration.  I didn’t want a  restoration.  I wanted a rebuild.  There’s a big difference.

This Catch 22 persisted until I got a glimmer of hope.  In retrospect I can’t believe what happened.  Like many seemingly good ideas, this one originated in a bar.  I found an ad, scrawled on paper, for a guy who would “fix cars and trucks and things”, pinned on the wall near the can.

Desperate men make desperate moves.  I made the call.  More later…

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About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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11 Responses to Tractor Of The Damned: Part V (With A Labor Rant)

  1. MSgt B says:

    You’re killing me with these cliff-hangers.

  2. Barcs says:

    deliberate unemployment….. I like that. (I am gonna steal it)

    It is a pretty good way to explain why noone will take $20/hr to sit on a tractor that steers itself down a field and you only have to turn around obstacles and at the end.

    Part of it is as you mentioned the oilpatch here in Sask. But when they are offering more than we are…. and there is still (quasi) employable people on insurance???

    I am tired of paying them to not work…. when I have work that I would pay for.

  3. STxRynn says:

    Man, you have a great third eye for this stuff. Down here near Mexico, we get lots of folks who will work. But the quality of their labourers has gone down too.

    The change to “museum class restoration” shows you that folks have too much time and too much money on their hands. I need an anvil in the worst way, and their all “collectables” to sit on a porch or in a garden. I’d pay $1.50 pound for one, but they are in demand, to be painted or lace lined. I need an ugly one I can beat hot metal on. Buy a new one, and I’d have to sell a kid to science to afford it.

    Working tools are so outrageously priced now it’s positively demoralizing. I could use a lathe and a mill, but the boomer hobbyists with deep pockets are scarfing them up at inflated prices. I keep my hopes up, but all I can afford are mental images.

    Good luck on your handy man. If you were closer, I’d be happy to help. Will it run with a gas soaked rag in the intake? That’s how we used to trouble shoot with the old updraft carb. If it has fire, timing, and fuel/air, it oughtta try to run. Keep warm!

  4. Joe in PNG says:

    And THIS is why illegal immigration is such a problem. You have a job that needs to be done, and you want to hire Americans, but…
    -Mike has to be shown every little thing he needs to do, every single time.
    -John shows up late, and if he’s not taking a smoke break, he’s slacking off.
    -And Charlie keeps showing up to drunk to do anything… when he’s not in jail.

    However, Migel, Juan, and Carlos are more than happy to show up at 6am and work- freaking hard- until dark for less than minimum wage.

    So what’s a contractor to do?

  5. Judy says:

    I blame the education system! Every child is expected to go to college! Less than 20% are academia (and I am being nice here). The rest are left with a degree that qualifies them to flip hamburger. The vast majority of people need to be educated in a SKILL that will allow them to earn a living when they exit high school. Okay, I got to quit cause my dander is getting up.

  6. dontbug@me.com says:

    I once phoned every auto repair shop and muffler shop in town, and each one said that they could not replace the muffler on my 40 year old car, because they did not stock “the correct one”.
    Then I started back at the top of the list, and said “I phoned a few minutes ago, and you said you couldn’t replace the muffler on my car. I just want to be clear: Are you really telling me that with your 6 bays, qualified welders, and stock of tubing and mufflers, there is no one on your staff who is smart enough or creative enough to put something together so that i won’t get a ticket for having no muffler?
    That approach worked at the first shop.

  7. MaxDamage says:

    There are shops that will fix the ol’ Ford or Ferguson, but they’re getting fewer and far between. Not because the skills aren’t there, but because the money is better on fixing newer tractors. Fixing a $3000 Fergie for $500 is one thing, but 10% markup on a $2500 radiator for a new Case or Deere valued at $125000 gets half that coin before you even start turning a wrench and the owner doesn’t even blink an eye. Reminds me of the $500 price for headlights in my wife’s car.

    FYI, Yesterday’s Tractors magazine has a fairly decent website, and the forums are full of old guys who fix these things all the time. Lot of valuable troubleshooting tips to be found there. Which, speaking as the owner of a ’50 Fergie TE-20, I’ve had to resort to from time to time.

    – Max

  8. Wolfman says:

    I just found your tale through the gun blog black list… your hinterlands aren’t near NW Oregon are they? Cause right now I have to drive 10 hrs for the privilege of doing ‘work’ at my Dad’s in MT, and if you offer money? deal… He has an 8N of similar vintage…

  9. Pingback: Tractor Repair Reference | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

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