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.