Friday, January 18, 2008

Field ready

By Kevin Duling

Winter is the time for farmers to catch up on their equipment maintenance. Most farmers have a goal for each piece of equipment to be “field ready” before the spring work begins. I’ve always had a dream of having the equipment ready by mid-January so I can ski through winter’s end, but that is only a dream.

Winter is also a great time for farmers to shop for new and used equipment to update their fleets. Through farm sales, classified ads, and the Internet, farmers will spend hours looking for the right machine. Through the years I’ve been a farmer, I’ve noticed that “field ready” for some is not field ready to all.

A few years ago, we found a slightly used baler at a well established dealership. The baler had only been used two seasons on a small hobby farm. The price seemed fair and the hours were low, making the sale go quickly, especially since it was labeled “field ready.”

After three years of toil, cursing, fluffy bales, log bales, banana bales, and a few good bales, the baler is now what we would phrase as “field ready.” Since the dealership was the culprit on the false advertising, we still considered the “field ready” phrase as somewhat sincere if a fellow farmer used it.

Our next great winter drive for lunch included the possibility of purchasing a slightly used grain auger from a dairyman. The ad in the paper coined the machine as “like new.” Used augers are usually completely worn, so the idea of one “like new” seemed worth the 200 mile journey.

While parked by an old, rusted beast of an auger directed into a silo, we speculated on where the dairyman would take us to view the advertised one. Concern rose as the man shut his pickup off and closed the door behind him.

After brief introductions, I cautiously asked where the auger was so we could have a look. With a puzzled look, he slowly pointed at the rusted beast just to my left. With Dad trying not to laugh, I had to find the appropriate words that would not turn the man’s puzzlement to hostility.

“Let me turn it on for you,” he said. “It may look rough, but it handles the wet feed as if it were brand new. Just watch!”

With the auger swaying back and forth like a snake in the water, I had to fake a stomach sickness causing me to run behind the silo to get out of sight. This time I let Dad keep the straight face and come up with the excuse for not purchasing it.

The next trip for lunch involved going to look at an eight wheel tractor with low hours and a low price. The obvious question of “What’s wrong with it?” was racing through our minds on the trip down.

Upon entering the farmer’s equipment yard, we felt guilty about driving a dirty pickup onto this finely manicured lot. The farmer, dressed in semi-formal attire, introduced himself and led us to the shop. Inside the shop were three tractors. Of the three, two had men waxing and polishing them, as if preparing for an exhibit at an auto show.

His only statement concerning the third tractor, the one for sale, was how he demanded his employees keep every piece of equipment clean enough to eat off the floor. He mentioned how he fired a man for leaving mud on the floor of the cab.

While visiting about the tractor, his wife entered the shop with a small tray full of freshly baked chocolates. After we raved about the chocolates, the man stated, “She’s been a great wife for me; kind of like this tractor. I will miss this tractor.”

With the purchase agreement and a handshake, we headed for home. My brother asked me if I quizzed the farmer about transmission noises, the hydraulic system, or engine performance.

My reply, “Well, no, he said it was field ready!”

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer from Maupin, Ore. His columns are posted on the Capital Press blog on Fridays. Comments are welcomed at There will not be a column posted on Jan. 25.

Copyright, January 2008, Kevin Duling

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