PTO shaft from Ol’ Bessie

PTO shaft from Ol' Bessie

This used to be one piece.

Winter continues to bring forth its challenges. Consider what happened to me over last weekend. Friday, my day off. Cold but not too bad. I decided to take Ol’ Bessie out and do some maintenance on the driveway. There were some drifts on the hilltop that needed to be blown off and also about three inches of fresh snow to deal with. I had just started in with the snowblower, maybe twenty or thirty feet when the blower stopped blowing. You know it happens because the engine will “unload” for a brief second before the governor takes over. I looked back at the snowblower. I saw the PTO shaft laying in the snow, still attatched to the blower but unattached to the tractor. “That’s odd”, I thought. Maybe the coupler came off the shaft, rare but it happens. So I stopped the tractor, got off and had a look. That’s when I discovered that the PTO shaft on the tractor had snapped right off at the housing. A sinking feeling came over me. The same type of feeling you have right before the tornado hits your house, or when your car leaves the roadway at highway speed. This was bad. Winter was barely half over. We needed Ol’ Bessie to be in working order for at least another three months! I had a lot of snow to move and with the ditches being full, the best way to move it is with the snowblower, which was now inoperable. I remounted the tractor, turned around and proceeded to push snow with the front mounted snow blade. It was not nearly as efficient as the blower but at least our driveway would be passable, for now. The problem with blading snow is that eventually, like now, the snow builds up on the sides of the road and then when the wind comes, those snowbanks act like a snowfence and any blowing snow piles up right where you don’t want it, on your driveway. The forecast was for high winds and extreme cold starting on Sunday. That meant that I had about a day and a half to get this situation rectified before all hell broke loose. I got the driveway as clean as possible and even managed to deploy my “poor man’s snow fence”. This is done by taking Ol’ Bessie out into the field adjacent to our driveway and with the blade down, push a clear path parallel with the driveway for a distance of roughly one hundred yards. This clear path makes snowbanks on either side of it that trap the blowing snow, temporarily, so that it won’t deposit snow where you don’t want it, which is on the driveway. This manuever is a last ditch effort and a one time shot all rolled into one. Desperation? You bet! After that was done, I headed for the shop. A little finaggling and I had Ol’ Bessie in the warm shop and ready to be worked on. I made a phone call to my buddy Steve, who just happens to be a Farmall guru, of sorts. Meaning that he has had experience taking things like this PTO drive apart. I told him my dilema, he suggested calling an outfit in central Wisconsin called Downing Tractor Parts. They have lots of parts for old beasts like Bessie. The only trouble was they are located a two hour drive from me, on a good day. Since it was Friday night by this time, they were closed and their hours on Saturday were from 7:30 til noon. I would have to call them early on and then, if they had the part, hop in my truck and make the trek before they closed. It would be tight but it was doable. Oh, yeah, and he told me the part would be expensive. How bad, I asked? Maybe five or six hundred bucks. Ouch! But what choice did I have, really? Ol’ Bessie is sixty years old now and not exactly a spring chicken. I would have to just grin and bear it.
The next morning, Saturday, I got up bright and early, made the call to Downing Tractor. The guy said he would have to check “downstairs” to see if they had the part and he would call right back. So I waited. A half hour went by. I started getting nervous. In order for my plan to work, the guy would have to confirm that they had the part and I would have to hit the road in short order. I made a call to the International Dealer in Plainview. The parts guy there assured me that all the parts in the PTO housing area for Ol’ Bessie were obsolete but he did give me the number of a guy in Potsdam who worked on old tractors and maybe he might have the part I needed. So I called the Potsdam guy. He told me that no, he had no such part but that a guy in Zumbro Falls might and gave me his number. This was getting interesting, in a wild goose chase sort of way. Turns out that the Zumbro Falls guy was none other than Nick Graves. I used to do business with his dad, Al, who is something of a Farmall guru himself and I even repaired young Nicks Honda ATC70 way back when he was just a lad. Anyway, I got ahold of Nick and he told me that he had the part I needed but that it was still in a PTO housing he had and that he wanted one hundred bucks for it. I asked him how soon could I get it? He was on his way to Missouri, probably on a buying trip, but he told me his partner could meet me at his shop in about an hour. I hung up the phone and made a beeline for Nicks’ shop in Zumbro Falls. His partner already had the PTO housing removed from the donor tractor and sitting in the shop when I got there. I paid the man, we lugged the part to my truck and I headed home, thankful that I was able to get the much needed part so quick and without spending most of the day on a road trip to Wisconsin.
After getting home with the hundred pound PTO housing, I proceeded to take it apart and removed the shaft that I needed and installed it in Ol’ Bessies’ housing. I was able to wrap up the project by about 3:30pm. Just in time to get ready for church. The next morning, bright and early, I fired up Ol’ Bessie, drove her out of the garage and remounted the snowblower. There were a couple trouble spots on the driveway that needed attention and they would be a good test for the old girl. I could tell right away she was back to her old self and even seemed to run a bit smoother as well. That old shaft must have had a bit of a wobble to it before it broke.
I finished up the snowblowing and parked Ol’ Bessie in the shed, just in time, too. By early afternoon that cold front came roaring through, bringing with it white-out conditions and sub zero temps, just like the weatherman had said would happen. At that point it didn’t matter, Ol’ Bessie was back in working order and I was confident that together we could clean up any drifting left over by the winds. Yep, winter on the farm is not without challenges, don’tcha know.

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Bike show blues

Last Friday I took my annual trip to the Twin Towns to attend the bike show at the Convention Center. Even though I left somewhat earlier this year I still got in a bit of rush hour traffic on 494 and 35W. Man, you couldn’t pay me enough to live up there and deal with that everyday. The roads were clear and dry too, I can’t imagine how bad it would be with some snow and ice added into the mix. Anyway, I made it to the show without missing my exit this year, unlike last year when it took an extra forty five minutes to get back to where I needed to be. 

 I met up with my brother and his buddy near the Harley-Davidson exhibit and we proceeded to wander around  checking out various displays. It’s always nice to see the new iron but then sticker shock rears its ugly head and reality sets in. Guess I will just run my old bike another season as it’s paid for. The styling on some of the new stuff leaves something to be desired, as well. There seems to be a trend towards dual headlights sticking out of the front ends that make some bikes look like bug-eyed freaks of nature that really turns me off. The custom bikes are a sight to see as well. Seems the builders don’t really take into account that some poeple like to actually ride their showbikes, not just trailer them around.

 I was amazed at the number of side by side four wheelers that were represented. Seems that all the major manufacturers have jumped on that bandwagon as well. Kawasaki started something over twenty years ago that is just now really taking off. With prices approaching that of a new pickup truck, I wonder how much longer this trend will last.

We stumbled around, watched the stunt rider guys try to put on a show with limited space and traction. It was entertaining to a point until one of them stepped off while trying to wheelie and go around in circles at the same time. He was unhurt, thankfully, but it took the wind out of his sails, if only for a little while, then he was right back to it. There were a bunch of kids playing rock music  on a stage set up right next to the stunt area. They did a good job of singing/playing but they were competing with the stunt announcer during their set and I felt a bit sorry for them. As an occaisional performer, I can sympathize with anyone trying to perform while another distraction is going on.

We finally found the vintage display and spent a bit of time there reliving the glory days, (the ’70s). It seems that I had personal experience either riding or fixing every bike that was on display. Guess that makes me an old-timer, for sure. It was much more interesting looking at old iron rather than the new. The new stuff is nice, I guess, but the styling can be a distraction and there is always the “unkown factor” when buying a never before produced model. You just never know how reliable that first year model will be. Whereas, with the old stuff, it is a known quantity. 

After looking at the vintage stuff for a while, hunger and thirst took its toll and so we wandered over to the food court area. They were selling burritos for eight dollars a pop so I opted for a bag of natchos, chocolate-chip cookie and a bottle of water. Even that meager selection cost me nine bucks, ouch! 

One more loop around the outside of the show area and we had pretty much seen it all, just in time too as it was nearing closing time. My brother and his friend said their goodbyes and  headed to their vehicle while I went to the parking ramp and found my truck. It cost me another nine bucks to get out of there and back onto 35W South. The bike show is always a fun time but seems to get more expensive every year. Or maybe I’m just getting older and cheaper. Whatever.    

Geo-trike, the Epilog

more dents than a golf ball

more dents than a golf ball

The aftermath of an off road excursion.

The aftermath of an off road excursion.

Last Sunday dawned warm and a bit windy. I had a jam session to attend in Kasson so I thought it would be a good day to drive the Geo-trike. The forecast was for temps in the mid-forties, the roads were dry and the Geo-trike hadn’t been driven for a couple months, so I figured it would be no problem. Wrong-O!

I left home and headed south on 57, made a stop in Kasson at the local Kwik Trip for some donuts to share at the jam session. Resuming my journey southward, I started to encounter pockets of slush on the roadway. Apparently, there had been some drifting in the morning and now the snow had started to melt. Drivers of normal cars made tracks through the slush but the Geo-trike makes three tracks, whereas normal cars make only two. This meant that I had to concentrate on avoiding large areas of slush if possible. All was well until I was about a mile from my destination, South Zumbro Lutheran Church. I was traveling at a reduced speed, avoiding the slush when  possible when I came upon a large patch of slush. I had nearly cleared the patch when that back wheel caught, hydroplaned and sent the Geo-trike completely sideways in the road. I was fighting the steering wheel like it was an octopus as the Geo-trike veered hard left, across the oncoming lane and into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. I remember seeing the front end plowing into the deep snow and then a sliding, tumbling sensation. I had closed my eyes shortly after impact, partly because I could not believe what was happening and mostly because I did not want to see, either. The tumbling continued, at one point the drivers side window broke, sending shards of safety glass everywhere. And then the sliding, crunching sounds stopped. The engine had killed, the only sound was the radio playing. I unbuckled my seat belt, good thing I was wearing that! Then I opened the door, which actually opened without too much trouble, and tumbled out into the snow to survey the damage. The Geo-trike had landed on her wheels, although it was facing the opposite direction than when she entered the ditch. I was a bit disoriented and was not able to figure out which way I had come from or which way I was headed. That’s when I realized that I had rolled the Geo-trike. Wow. First time I have ever rolled a vehicle, unless you count the many dirt bikes and a couple of streetbikes I have “rolled” in years past. Good thing there was at least two feet of soft snow in the ditch where I went in, it made for a soft landing. It was, as the body shop guys would say, a “light roll”. A large truck approached, one of those LP delivery tankers, I think. The driver asked if I was alright and if I needed a tow. I replied that yes, I was fine and asked did he have any kind of strap or chain on his truck? He told me no but that he lived about a mile away and had a tractor that would easily pull the Geo-trike out of this predicament. I thanked him for his offer and off he went to retrieve his tractor. While I waited, I got on the cell phone and called a couple of other musicians that I knew would be at this jam. I was able to get ahold of one couple, Mel and Jane. They were on the road and only a few minutes behind me. I debated calling my wife and then decided against it. She was thirty or so miles away and there was not much she could do, other than worry. Since I was in good shape and had a tow coming, I saw no need to cause her any consternation. Also while waiting I had a closer look at the wreck that used to be the Geo-trike. Both mirrors had been torn off and were half buried in the loose snow. There was shattered safety glass all over the interior and even some outside in the snow. The roof was dented in, the rear hatch stuck out to the left a couple of inches and the windshield had some spiderweb cracks in it. My instruments were piled in the back window and I hoped they were not damaged in any way, particularly my fiddle which is nearly one hundred years old. The toolbox I carry in the back was turned completely upside down and the box of donuts I had just purchased that was sitting on the front seat was now in the backseat area on the floor. I turned the key and the Geo-trike started up and settled into an idle like nothing had happened at all. Even the exhaust sounded quiet so I knew everything was good in that department as well. By now Mel and Jane had arrived and so I sat in their car to keep warm. They were a bit concerned about my welfare but I assured them that I was fine, just a bit shaken up on the play. A few more of my fellow musician friends drove up and stopped to make sure I was OK. After a long twenty minutes or so the tractor guy showed up with a newer looking four-wheel drive Massey Ferguson with a large snowblower on the back. He proceeded to drive down into the field where the Geo-trike sat patiently waiting and I followed him on foot. I attached the log chain he had brought to the rear strut and he commenced pulling the Geo-trike out of the deep snow and into the field. He manuevered his tractor towards the front of the Geo-trike and I reattached the chain to a tow hook in the front. I got in and he slowly pulled the wounded Geo-trike up and out of the field and back onto solid pavement. I offered him a twenty dollar bill for his trouble and he accepted, reluctantly. With the Geo-trike back on the road and running, there was just one thing left to do. Head to the jam. It was only a mile away and I thought it would be a good test run to see if the drive train on the Geo-trike had suffered any damage. The thing drove just fine on the way, although it was a bit breezy without a drivers side window. I stayed at the jam for a couple of hours and then headed for home. I wanted to get as far as possible before darkness settled in, just in case the Geo-trikes headlights did not work anymore. Mel and Jane offered to follow me at least as far as Wanamingo and I accepted. The thirty mile trip home was no picnic. I turned the heater up full blast so my feet stayed warm but that cold blast coming through the open window was not much fun to experience. At least it was not too cold outside, still barely above freezing. I had to avoid slush piles again and this time I went extra slow whenever I encountered one. I made it home just after dark. Turns out that the lights worked just fine, even the blinkers and tailights. The thing drove normal as well with no weird wobbles or pulling to one side, well, as normal as a Geo-trike can drive, I guess. So now I have to decide if the thing will go off to the crusher or can I get it back on the road without too much expense. It really just needs a drivers door and window. Maybe a windshield too and I could probably just pound out some of the dents. I may just part it out and start with a new project. I have my eye out for a Honda Civic hatchback, ’92-00 years. I think one of those would make a good trike. They sit fairly low and have a wide stance. Now I just need to find one, cheap. So what have I learned from this episode, you ask? Only this: three wheeled cars should only be driven when the roads are clear, ice, snow and slush free, much like a motorcycle.

79 CR125

DSCF0091DSCF0090So I made a decision a while back to liquidate a few of my toys. The Nighthawk was the first to go last spring and the latest victim was going to be my prized ’79 Honda CR125R Elsinore. A bike that I restored some six years back but never have started or ridden since. I would like to maybe ride it someday, but then again it would have to be the right day. Has to be warm out, green grass growing, dry green grass for sure and it would take me a bit to get motivated for a maiden voyage on the old girl. The bike is probably the nicest thing I own at this point and that’s one reason why I have not been in a hurry to fire it up. The thing is soo cherry that I don’t want to get it dirty. Another concern is that if I go to put gas in the tank I might spill a bit on the perfect paint job and that would just not do.
Last week I put the bike up for sale on Ebay. My reasoning was that if I could get top dollar for such a fine piece then I would have a bit of jing to use for something more practical, like a big bore dual sport bike, like a Honda XR650L, something I have been drooling over for a while now. The Nighthawk proceeds were supposed to go towards a dual sport, instead they were used mostly to fund my trip to Mid-Ohio last summer, and to buy my “new” truck. Anyway, the bidding started out fast and furious for those first couple of days on Ebay. Since it was only a five day auction, I figured the sale would be quick and painless. By day four the bidding had topped two grand. Yes! We were well on our way to meeting my reserve price and one step closer to that new dual sport bike! But, day five came and the bidding had all but stopped. There wasn’t even any last minute frenzy like usually happens. The result was an auction that didn’t meet the reserve price so, basically, no sale. That’s how it goes. You put it out there and take your chances. Maybe it was the wrong time of year. Maybe it will go better closer to springtime. Maybe I will try Craigslist at some point in the near future and see if that works better. Or maybe the piece will just go back into my collection and hide out under a dust cover for a while longer.