Farming: Part 6

I was in high spirits. With nothing more than a junk disk (“swamp thing”) and a hand seeder (in tactical camoflage) I’d grown a “crop” (of deer). I planned to expand my skills and be more awesome the next spring. Alas my tractor died. It stayed dead for a while.

Finally, after an interval measured in years, I got it running again. Sadly, my disk practically floated over the thick matted weeds like Aladdin’s carpet. So much for churning the soil. I added weight to the disk. It did no good. Throughout the spring I tried various approaches. None worked. The weeds beat me like a rented mule.

My noble effort had failed.

The Internet explained that a disk will churn soil but what I had was sod. There is a technology for turning over sod; the plow.

If a new disk is expensive, a new plow turns the dial to eleven. Also most modern plows are too large for my tractor anyway. Small ones can be special ordered. All you need is to badger the local farm supply store, sell a kidney for the cash, and wait six weeks. This is why everyone covets old (but serviceable) implements.

To that end I found (after a lengthy search) an antique Dearborn two bottom plow. This small but very solid chunk of metal is a survivor from a different era. Remember when Detroit made strong rugged stuff out of more than plastic and circuit boards? Yeah, well that means you’re old bubba! That time is long gone.

As far as I can tell the plow is over 70 years old. It probably spent most of that time outdoors. It was intended to last. It’s in good shape. It’ll probably outlive western civilization. A good implement like that isn’t uncommon but it takes luck to find one.

The plow is pretty sweet and probably cooler than I deserve. I’m lucky to have found one that’s not missing any parts. It’s ideally sized for my tractor. I believe it’s a model that could have been (and quite likely was) sold to a hypothetical 1940’s farmer when he took delivery of a tractor like mine.

I paid exactly what the seller was asking. Old plows are not cheap and it was worth it. Twenty years from now it’ll still be worth money.

Time for some facts about plows. First of all, plows are as much art as science. You know how a reloader can go on for hours about ballistics charts and boat tail bullet seats while another person jams a round in a rifle and is happy if it goes bang? Plows are an introduction to the reloaders of the old farm implement world.

Here’s what you need to know about plows:

The curvy thing that pacifists are supposed to hammer out of discarded swords are called moldboard plows. (For those in the know, I’m simplifying so go with it.) What looks like a crude wedge is actually a thing of almost feminine curves and angles. It slices into the soil, smoothly cuts it, and gently turns it upside down (ideally leaving the grasses and whatnot underneath). This is not, as you might have mistakenly guessed, a matter of brute force. When it’s working right, it’s almost graceful.

A plow has all sorts of parts that you recognize from literature and analogy but never thought of in an agricultural sense; such as plowshares. All of these things are important and have to be setup just so. If you think you can just hitch the sucker and go you’re sure to mess it up. I know this because I thought I could hitch the sucker and go. Luckly messing up is as good a way to learn the “trade” as anytthing. (Also nothing I read on the subject made sense.)

In addition to begging Google, I asked around looking for details. Suppose you have a 70 year old plow and ask a 70 year old farmer how to properly set it up? The answer will involve vocabulary and analogies you don’t understand “the coulter should be as high as a groundhog’s nutsack” and end with a story about youthful indiscretion in a Studebaker “things got crazy when her bloomers hooked the shifting lever”. It all boils down to “you’re doing it wrong” and “kids these days are idiots.” Now you know all I could learn from careful study. Luckily it does make sense with time.

One more thing. The plow, or plowshares or whatever the hell it is makes a what is called a “furrow”. In the days of oxen and women in long dresses clutching hymnals you’d have one (the plow not the woman) harnessed to a horse/mule/ox and it would dig one furrow. The “furrow”, the strip of soil that’s flopped upside down is about a foot wide (I’m simplifying here). Go look at a 40 acre field and imagine going back and forth cutting one foot strips.

Admit it, you can’t focus long enough to read my post without pausing to check Facebook and they plowed Kansans a foot at time. Talk about an iron will! It’s enough to make you weep in your latte.

For efficiency (and to cut down on farmer suicide), plows were improved to create many furrows simultaneously. Each thingamajig that makes a furrow is called a “bottom”. A rule of thumb is you need ten horsepower per bottom. I have a two bottom plow. The plow is exactly what was meant for my 20 (approximately) horsepower tractor.

Two bottoms will make a pass about 3′ wide. By comparison my neighbor cranks a 16′ wide swath with each pass and he listens to the radio while doing it. Not all technological improvement is bad and he can outperform me 1000% without breaking due to better gear (and bigger payments). Yes, I am jealous.

More in the next installment. Bored yet? Too bad. I’m fascinated by this stuff.


About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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6 Responses to Farming: Part 6

  1. Bored? Heck no. We are right behind you..

  2. abnormalist says:

    FWIW Not bored yet.

    Fascinated. I’ve read through all 6 installments and the history of the undead tractor. Wouldn’t mind hearing how that story ended in a running tractor, but not at the cost of delaying additional installments.

  3. Judy says:

    Are you going to explain about ‘lands-n-furrows’?

  4. cspschofield says:

    By no means bored. [F]rankly, you are joining Lawdog as somebody I wish wrote books.

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