Thursday, July 7, 2011


            There are precious few ranches left where a man just cowboy.  In fact, there are darn few ranches left where a fellow can cowboy at all.  On the typical Montana ranch a fellow does a multitude of jobs in between the times he can get ahorseback, and one of those jobs is welding.
            A hundred years ago hay was put up with horse-drawn equipment and pitchforks.  A lot of labor was required by both man and animal – the barn was full of horses and the dinner table was crowded with men.  Now the work is mostly done with a few machines.
            These few machines, however, require constant attention.  A bigger ranch might have a designated mechanic, but the average rancher must do the repair work himself.  So often do two pieces of steel need to be joined – or re-joined - that every ranch has a welder.
Most years we start haying right after the fourth of July at our altitude on the West Boulder.  And most years we have already irrigated the hay once, and usually twice before we cut it.  But with all the rain we had this spring we are going to get a terrific first cutting before we turn on the water.  And the cold wet spring set the hay back a few days in maturity.  That gave us a few extra days for other projects.
My son Ted and I are of good German stock.  We northern Europeans are better adapted to tolerate the cold winters than the hot summers.  We only put up a few hundred tons of hay a year, and can’t afford to have the newest and best equipment with air-conditioned cabs.  The tractor we use for mowing leaves the driver right out in the direct sunshine.  One day last week I noticed the teeth on the load rack of an old worn-out balewagon, and an idea sprouted.
It took a day of welding to convert those teeth into a roof for that tractor.  It may still be hot outside, but even the movement of the tractor stirs a little breeze, and a guy can now sit in the shade.

The project was really quite satisfying.  The cost was only my time and some welding rod – the tubular steel teeth were perfect for the uprights, and the same used-up machine had a pair of nice tapered rails that were ideal for the horizontal stringers.
I will work as hard as I need to, in any kind of weather, to get the job done.  But I’d rather work smarter when I can.  I did all my welding in the shade of the shop, and now the swather-man can work in the shade also.

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