Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In Memoriam

(WRONG: MEMORIUM. RIGHT: MEMORIAM. The correct spelling of the Latin phrase is “in memoriam.”

Many folks look forward to the Memorial Day weekend to escape the city and get out into the fresh air where they can enjoy camping and barbecue.  Not so for Montana ranchers. We are usually in the midst of farming and irrigating, and can’t afford the time away from the ranch.  But weather that has been slightly worse than “usual” allowed me a couple of days down country.

The past week at the ranch has been a bit frustrating.  Our priority continues to be completing the farming, but recurring showers have postponed that work indefinitely.  I did get the oats seeded in the new breaking up west, and some rocks picked.  And we did get the big leak in the north ditch sealed up.  I didn’t get to run the packer across the new seeding, however, and we didn’t get anything done more done than discing the field below the house that we still have to level and seed.

We had started irrigating in our two best hayfields despite the showers - which were only enough to shut down field work but not enough to nourish a good hay crop.  By Friday there was snow, and it became just too miserable to be dipping ones hands in the irrigation ditch to change siphon tubes, so we shut the water down for a few days. 

The wet weather at last gave us the opportunity to tear into the pickup we have been using for feeding for the last couple of years.  It had been displaying symptoms of both excessive carbon deposits in the heads, and of a blown head gasket.  So Ted began the task of removing the cylinder heads.  After hours of labor, however, he gave up in disgust.  Even in this old 1985 pickup there were so many tubes, hoses, and wires that he became overwhelmed.
With my encouragement he began anew, slowly disconnecting one tube after another, pitching redundant pieces out onto the ground. After another half day of work, he was able to dig down to the engine itself and remove the manifolds and heads.  We’ll begin reassembly another day.


I bought a new tool for the ranch this spring: a used “side-by-side” ATV that combines the characteristics of the four-wheelers that are now ubiquitous in ranch country with two seats and a box similar to a miniature pickup.  
As we had assumed when we bought the outfit, we use it all day every day for every job on the ranch: checking cattle, feeding small groups of animals, putting out salt, fencing, irrigating, transportation to the farming equipment….
But after two short months it has already fallen victim to West Boulder rocks.  We were checking for poison weeds in an upper field and caught a wheel on a rock buried in the grass.  We limped home with it, where we did our diagnostics: a hammered steering rack & pinion.  Parts are on order.

A newcomer to the area had expressed surprise at the kind of nasty weather we were experiencing this late in May.  That prompted me to visit my blog archives.  Posted for Memorial Day last year was a picture of a snow-level just above the ranch headquarters – just as there was this year!
The main difference is that we had a heavier snowpack last year, so we hadn’t yet been irrigating.  And in fact we didn’t irrigate until July last year, but rather spent most of time between rainstorms in June hauling rocks and dirt to fill gashes in the road left by a torrent of snowmelt. (See  Deluge & Hauling Rocks)

We have water in our ditches again now, and are midway through irrigating our two best hay fields – working on equipment in the shop between sets.

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