Sunk tractor 7

Over Easter Janet and I spent a couple of weeks in England having some great family and friends time. On our drive back home to our quinta through Spain we stopped to look at a waterfall we hadn’t seen before. A Spanish man stopped a minute later to look too, and he told Janet there was a lot of rain over the previous three days. The next five days were rainy with only short dry spells and in total we had five inches of rain; this has been a record wet month. In one interval I was able to mow the 12”high weed patch at the front of the house so it would look a bit like a lawn – it took two hours! The rain stopped on Wednesday morning and the sun came out. Janet was out with a friend so I decided to mow the vineyard before the rain returned.

I attached the corta-mato (topper) and mowed the weedy veg gardens as a mulch then in the sunny dry afternoon headed off to the vineyard. There was surface water all over which was to be expected. The job went smoothly and by 4pm I was on the last line of mowing, feeling very pleased with myself. The tractor suddenly slowed moving forward so I shifted it into neutral and looked down to see that the left back wheel had sunk into a patch of mud. I reversed out of it but the wheel just turned and sank. I tried forwards more slowly and the wheels just turned and sank some more, and the mud now covered the depth of the tyre and water oozed over the wheel rSunk tractor 2im.

I looked away from the wheel to see that the tractor was now tilted sideways at quite an angle -this was looking serious- and the tilt was quickly getting worse. I shoved the mower hydraulics downwards to try and take weight off the wheel but nothing improved. In fact it was sinking quickly and was now in almost to the axle. The right front wheel was off the ground and abandoning the tractor was a balancing act at that slope.

Sunk tractor 1Janet arrived home and, after a cup of tea, we went down to put a pine pole and planks under the wheel; with a dose of optimism, four wheel drive and diff lock it should be out.

“Oh,” we thought when we saw it. “No. Not looking good at all”.

Janet said, “You can’t get that out. We need help”.

“No, we’ll give it a go”. And we did, and it dug itself into the very deep mud. It was a fluidised mudhole. We needed help.

I rang the garage where I get my agricultural diesel fuel. He was sympathetic and said he’d send his mechanic round at 8am tomorrow. It began to rain again. I reluctantly left the tractor embedded in the mud as night drew in.

Sunk tractor 3Sunrise, tractor sunk deeper now, then 8am, then 9am and still no mechanic.

I rang again, “You need a light bulb?” he asked.

“What? No, my tractor is sunk in mud and I need it pulling out”

“My lad hasn’t turned up to work. Isn’t there anyone near you with a tractor?”

“No, one neighbour’s at work and the other isn’t there today. Wasn’t yesterday either.”

“Ring me after lunch and I’ll see what I can do.”

Well that was less hopeful than yesterday. Janet suggested we ask our friend N for the phone number of the builders he used who have a JCB. He rang us and said they were round at his place this morning but to go soon as they would leave at lunchtime. I was off like a shot. It was raining when I arrived and the guys had already loaded their small JCB and were packed up for the day as it was too wet for them to continue. They looked at the photographs I’d taken and doubted that their small digger would be able to do the job. Their large digger was in a village an hour’s drive away. I convinced them to come and look anyway.

Sunk tractor 4Sunk tractor 5They followed me to our quinta and did the same as Janet and I the previous day. Then they dug a ramp for the tractor to climb out but had to disconnect the corta-mato to make the tractor lighter. They unloaded the digger off the lorry, I brought a chain and they attached their towing strap. Running in low gear, with a pine pole levering against the sunken wheel and the little JCB tugging hard, they were able to pull the tractor out. Yaaaay!Sunk tractor 7

Sunk tractor 10Then they dragged the corta-mato out (oops! I hadn’t realised that to put it away I’d have to reverse up to it, back into the mud). The pine pole near the centre of the picture is over seven feet long. The fact that less than three feet of it is visible shows the mudhole is liquified to at least four feet depth, enough to submerge the whole tractor wheel. It isn’t wide enough to take the tractor, though, I think. They told me (afterwards, thankfully) that they had attempted to do another like this previously but this one was buried to the same depth with both back wheels stuck – ours had only one. They had tried by hand and failed, then brought in a JCB a month later when the ground was less sodden but the JCB sank in the same place. They had to leave both vehicles for another month until the ground was dry before trying again with another JCB which also sank (!!!) and finally a third JCB which was able to extract the other two and the tractor.

Sunk tractor 11The saving grace for us was the fact that the mud pool was on the very edge of the vineyard, and N’s quick response was so helpful. For the workmen (Nelson, Paulo and Jaime) the whole procedure including transit time was just over an hour which was an impressive achievement –thanks, guys!

 

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. . . and I’m not rolling along.

We are having work done by our third set of builders and on Friday afternoon I was shifting boulders to use in building stone walls at the entrance to the quinta. Suddenly the front right wheel locked. Carefully and slowly I had to shift the tractor off our road, with horrible grinding noises coming from the wheel bearings. It sounded expensive. I phoned the mechanic, who came and helped me to remove the front loader and to make the tractor drive on three wheels back to its garage. Alfredo was unhappy with my limping green Agrokid and promised to come back the next morning to diagnose the problem.

  

He reckons the lower ballrace failed and a fragment moved into the drive cogs, where it caused a tooth to shear off. This bit of gearwheel then smashed off more teeth from two cogs as I drove the vehicle off the road. We are waiting to hear the situation for replacement parts.

Leatherhead it ain’t.

Picture taken from our land at midnight. Three days earlier there was a forest fire a few miles to the west of our quinta. These are worrying because we have strong and hot winds at this time of the year so a fire can become voracious and move quickly to devastate the land. These fires are too intense for people to approach and have to be dealt with by powerful hoses on fire engines – provided water is available. We have a drought now following rainfall of only a few centimetres in the whole of last winter. We went to bed with smoke and ash in the air and an orange glow on the horizon.

On the kitchen floor, next to our bedroom, was this little fellow – newly dead. Our neighbour tells of her friend’s child who got into bed and was stung by a scorpion in the sheets. Writhing in pain from the venom, the child had to go to hospital where she was sedated and anaesthetised for two days, sweating and moaning in pain under her coma. Janet said she thought there was another which ran under the fridge. Just to be sure I pulled it out and in the corner was the other scorpion, tail high ready to sting. Clearly the winner of a fight. I killed him – little ones grow into big ones and make lots more. We didn’t have this problem, nor the fires, in Surrey.

Dec 07

Reality kicks in when I start weeding and feeding what is to become the kitchen garden beside the house. A neighbour brings the manure in a transport box on the back of his tractor. By wheelbarrow from the village, it would take me ten trips each of half an hour, with a break for lunch it would take all day. Now, our quinta has three olive groves spread over six acres, a citrus orchard, an acre of vineyard which is not wired in neat rows, a six-acre cereal field, and fifteen acres of woodland and scrub. It is one thing to own a patch of land, but it is quite another to resurrect and transform it into a working farm. Agriculture on this scale is not veggie-garden digging; my two spades, a garden fork and a trowel seem hopelessly inadequate.

What is needed is a tractor. As I know nothing at all about tractors, we call at Agrifundão on the way home from our next shopping trip, in April. The salesman tells me that to clear around the olive trees he has just the thing, a mini-tractor will be ideal, sixteen horsepower.

After a test drive and a tour of the workshops, armed with info and a special good price just for me, only €12,000, we return to the farm and contemplate how much easier it will be with a tractor. After a week we get to thinking, at least, it will be good for working on the olives, vines, and veg garden. But what about hauling dead trees out of the burnt-out hillside north of the house? We need to consider something a bit bigger, maybe 21 HorsePower.

The previous owner of the quinta wants to set us on the right path, so in May he joins us in a trip to Fundão, where he introduces us to his agro supplier. Then we visit a tractor business started by a man he used to hunt with, His daughter M is his successor, a lovely lady and a sharp businesswoman.

No problem with a 21HP minitractor, on the right is the New Holland model ideal for you. She can do me a special deal as a friend of Don Manel. The one on the left is 35HP, much more a real tractor. I am daunted. It is Rather Big.

Back at the quinta one day in late May, as we arrived so did a sales rep from Fundão, his boss had quoted me a good price for a Yanmar tractor and he was in the area seeing another client. He said he’d like to look over the farm and discuss which tractor would best suit my needs. Two hours later and another quote (this time for a Kioti 30HP and full set of attachments) he left, promising a return visit as part of their policy of looking after clients. More a threat than a promise . .

secondhand Goldoni

Some weeks later it’s June, the plants are growing fast and I’m thinking that maybe we should seriously consider second-hand, as around £12,000 is a lot of money. So as we return from shopping we call in at two likely-looking places offering used Mitsubishi, and a used Goldoni 30HP, only done 1300hrs. It will soon be as good as new, special price to you.

Does M have any used tractors? Yes, but a used Massey-Ferguson is €7,500 and a brand new Ferrari tractor (no kidding!), the Vivid 300, is €12,500.

Well, suppose we want to use the farm to the full and sow the field with cereal? A larger tractor would cover that area in 2/3 the time, and could even move earth around more effectively in a larger rear box.

C on New Holland 31

By now I´m open to even traditional methods of ploughing and sowing!

Talking with the workers whilst having the water boreholes drilled during September, one of them suggests visiting his friend Gonçalo to look at second-hand machines. Weeks later, on the market in Fundão we encounter a man selling rotovators, his employer is Gonçalagro, and he books us in to see a used tractor at their workshops the next day.

We find the enterprise and it is huge, specialising in irrigation for commercial growers. The tractor in question is in excellent condition but only 21HP. Gonçalo asks if we have considered a new tractor. Little does he know that by now he´s the only tractor vendor in Fundão that isn’t on first name terms with me! He sells tractors up to 200HP.

The smallest tractor he does is 35HP, bigger than I want, but “please to have a look.” Well, love at first sight! I decided not to even sit in it or I´d buy it there and then! Nice machine, German design and look at the size of the fields they have. Good ground clearance, designed to run up slopes like those on our farm with decent-sized front tyres and 4-wheel drive. Double set of auxiliary hydraulics. He gave us a price only €3,000 higher than the 16HP Yanmar I originally looked at.

Clive on Agrokid 35

I considered a John Deere tractor which is top-of –the-range, but as the price of the 35HP Millenio was €4000 higher than Gonçalo’s I rejected it.  A week later a phone call “Its your friend from Fundão! When are you coming over to see me?” I had to explain to Gonçalo that we live on the other side of the country, but would call in on our next trip, which was a week later. By chance(?!), the market salesman was passing when we next went to the quinta. He looked over our land and priced the attachments we would need.

Clive's tractor with front loader

Sr Gonçalo came to our quinta in mid-November. We agreed to buy the Deutz-Fahr tractor and a plough,a scarifier, a rear box, a chain brushcutter, a rotovator, and a seed-sower.  The tractor will be modified to take a front-loader with a bucket, so after brush-cutting I can clear roads around the quinta. He agreed to spray-paint all the accessories green to match the tractor, nice . . . !  It’s a big investment, well over €20,000, but a necessary one.

Delivery will be in the first week of January.