Sawmill Visitors and Tractor Repair

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It is almost like someone hit a switch changing the season from a wet spring to a typical dry Ozarks summer. With temperatures in the mid 90s, things tend to slow down in the afternoons.

I have taken a four-week hiatus from sawmilling, since my mill now doubles as a timeshare condo. A pair ofwren 1 wrens has taken over the mill, and I just don’t have the heart to evict the family. Besides, it is amazing to watch the chicks grow.

I spent a very pleasant Sunday afternoon hidden under a makeshift tarp blind watching the pair while they (as I did, some years ago) struggled to feed their growing family. At first, they issued protests and warnings of dire consequences if I didn't leave immediately. After about half an hour, this gave way to a chirping between the pair, which I took to signify something like “I’m taking this bug to the kids. You've got my back… let me know if that guy hiding under the tarp with a camera moves.”

wren 2Patience prevailed, and after an hour, they seemed to be pretty much focused on their brood. Even so, they chirped back and forth before flying to the nest. I believe that one always stays back to keep an eye on things while the other feeds the chicks. It takes about ten days for the chicks to leave the nest, so the sawmill is sitting quietly this week. There are still other projects to work on.

It is time to overhaul the engine on “Henry,” my trusty 1953 8N Ford tractor. My dad, who never bought anything new, bought the tractor back in the early 1960s and put a front-end loader on it. I inherited Henry about 20 years ago, and he has proven to be an ideal tractor to pull logs out of the woods, load the sawmill and perform a number of other tasks around the farm. I remember the winter tradition of going out with a flashlight to drain the radiator when the weatherman predicted subfreezing temperatures. My father didn't see the point in spending good money on antifreeze when he could just send me out to drain the radiator.

At some point (possibly several), the water froze and cracked the cast-iron block. So, last week, I pulled the engine and went on the internet to look for a used block. Surprisingly, I found I could buy another tractor for not much more than a used engine. That tractor also had a cracked block, so now I've got two tractors with cracked engine blocks. I guess, for some reason, people just don’t put antifreeze in old tractors.  A third tractor not only had a good engine block, but a Sherman transmission, which gives the tractor 12 forward and three reverse speeds.

Now I’m in the process of transplanting valves, crankshaft and transmission into Henry. The Ford flathead engines are designed to be repaired with minimal tools. The design is simple but elegant, and the quality of the machining and casting is something you just don’t see in modern equipment. So instead of being up to my knees in sawdust, I’m up to my elbows in grease. By the way, the best grease cleaner I've found is Dawn dishwashing soap— the same one used on the birds after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Meanwhile, I have a fair amount of lumber air-drying, getting ready to either sell or build with. Species on the drying piles include oak, maple, walnut, hickory, pecan, honeylocust, eastern red cedar and sycamore. Some of it is just about ready to use. The post-and-beam shed that I started nearly a year ago is slowly moving up the list of things to do. I have plenty of material to finish it, if I can find the time! And while it is hard to think about firewood when it is 95 degrees Fahrenheit outdoors, this is a prime time for cutting and splitting. Becky (my wife) likes the round firewood piles that we put up last year, but I think the straight rows dry better.

Photos courtesy of Dave Boyt