Operator Malfunction

One day while visiting us this summer, my niece Sarah wanted to try her hand at running the Hustler zero-turn mower. I take advantage of help when I have it so, after a short lesson on how to operate the mower, I sectioned off an easy area for her to mow. Once she aced that, she maneuvered around a few trees and I was pleased to see her progressing carefully and with skill as she edged around all sorts of landscaping and flower beds. Soon, she was smiling and enjoying accomplishing something that she’d never done before. Not everyone masters the art of operating a zero-turn mower so quickly, but Sarah seemed to have it down, so I moved on to another area of the yard to tackle some push mowing in areas too tight for the zero-turn. About thirty minutes later, a more nervous yet smiling Sarah came to get me. Perhaps a little over-confident in her operation, she had knocked down my home-spun bird bath and, in her subsequent panic attempting to reverse the machine, she also hooked the picnic table with the rear tire and mower decking. I was just glad she wasn’t hurt, that the mower wasn’t damaged, and that, minor damage aside, she had truly helped me out. Since I meant to take that bird bath down more than a year ago, we had a very good laugh in the end. And with that, Sarah decided she’d had enough mowing for the day.

Sarah looks very confident operating a zero turn mower for the very first time.
I had intended to take this homespun bird bath down for more than a year. Sarah made it happen in just a few seconds!

And just the other day, I was using my new battery-operated chainsaw, busily cutting limbs and thinking about how easy this saw made my work. Compared to the rather rough and jerky cutting of my old chainsaw, this new one was like slicing through soft butter. I could work much faster and get more firewood stacked in half the time. I became so focused on the ease of use that I was surprised when the small limb I was cutting, still attached to the trunk by a thin rope of bark, swung down unexpectedly in a twisting motion and whacked me across the nose. The ease of my new chainsaw had me feeling a little too confident. I was lucky I didn’t break my nose.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, something odd turned up in the slough, which was quickly drying up to a small puddle. I first thought it was a dead duck. But as I inched forward with the buggy, I realized it was actually a duck decoy, apparently left by the previous owner. I did not manage to retrieve the decoy from the slough that day as I couldn’t get close enough by walking out to it, and had nothing to reach out into the murky water to drag it back towards dry land. I mentioned the decoy to FD, who said he’d retrieved another one from that same spot in the past, and that we’d go out to fetch it later in the week.

Here is the duck decoy that started all of the trouble. Is it just me or does it appear to have a smirk on its face?

The following weekend, FD and I finished our work planting new wildlife feed plots and checking fences. It had been hot and tiring work, so we rewarded ourselves with an ice-cold beer and a leisurely trip in the buggy so FD could check out the decoy in the slough. The slough had dried up even more in the past week, which would make it a little easier to reach the decoy. As I drove the buggy over what looked like dry ground at one end of the remaining puddle in the slough, the back of the buggy quickly sunk in tarry mud! We tried using the buggy wench to pull ourselves out but, with the buggy sunk to the frame in the thick mud, the wench just didn’t have the strength required. So, we hiked back to our storage building to get the tractor. But that too proved useless, as the tractor couldn’t get the buggy to budge. And worse still, FD buried the front end of the tractor when trying to cross the slough in an area even farther away from the water hole, and one we had driven the buggy over many times in the past. Apparently, the weight of the tractor was enough to break through what turned out to be just a dry crust on top of a soggy muck underneath. So we hiked back to the storage building yet again, this time for FD’s 4-wheel-drive truck. But that too failed – the Ford just couldn’t budge either of the vehicles from the bog, uselessly spinning its tires on the vegetation lining the slough. At this point, I felt extremely deflated, thinking the “Ford Tough” advertising was just that… a marketing ploy. Finally, we had success after a phone call to a friend who has a bigger rig. He pulled both the buggy and tractor out with ease. FD and I were so thankful, relieved, and a bit elated as we drove back to the house.  Then we spent the next two hours power-washing tarry slough mud from the tractor and buggy.

The weight of eight batteries took the buggy down in the mud quickly. Using the buggy wench only served to bury the rear end deeper. That darned duck can still be seen in the distance!
I think FD and I both felt a bit sick and quite foolish by this time.
Thankfully, our friend arrived quickly and managed to pull both the tractor and buggy out with ease. It only took him about fifteen minutes to get the job done with his big rig!

I have found that the events that make for the best storytelling are often unexpected surprises in life. We have all had moments of astonishment, shock, failure, or flat stupidity that catch us off-guard. The good thing is, at least most of the time, no one gets hurt and we learn from these experiences. I do not think either FD or I will drive across the slough again, even if it does appear to be dry!

© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


32 thoughts on “Operator Malfunction

  1. I hope that was an atypically bad series of accidents. You sure wouldn’t want more of the same. At least, as you said, nobody got badly hurt (though you came close) and there was no serious damage. You must be grateful for your well-equipped neighbor.

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    1. We were so thankful for our friend’s help that day! He was even so gracious as to make little of the situation instead of giving us a good ribbing about it. I bet those tire sink holes last a very long time, reminding us of our foolishness!

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    1. While our friend and FD worked on removing the buggy and tractor, I managed to find a long branch that had fallen from a willow tree and clawed the decoy from the puddle. We’ve been cleaning up debris and trash as the water dwindled in the slough… but I’m not sure retrieving the duck was worth all the trouble involved! Ha ha!

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    1. I learned that slough mud is nothing like regular mud. I think if you added straw to it, you’d have the most airtight and non-penetrating chinking or mortar on the market! That or it would make excellent bricks! It literally took more than two hours to get the buggy cleaned up – that was with FD working on the tractor while I cleaned the buggy.

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  2. Hahaha! I’m laughing with you, not at you. Reminds me of the time Chris got both of our vehicles stuck in the snow (and then the mud underneath the snow) when he used one truck to try to pull out the other. That was an expensive mistake. Up here we call that kind of thing getting “North Forked.” Most of the time Mother Nature wins! Glad you had a neighbor who could help you out. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold, aren’t they?

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  3. Sometimes we are not as country as we think and “stuff happens” if the situation is not thought through, Caked or cracked mud is often not dry all the way down to hard pan. If you had driven on the grass and stopped there you could have roped the decoy or used a long stick, as you later did to dislodge and bring it out of the muck.

    But we all make mistakes and I can bear witness to that, One time I was forced to make a detour in my own yard after a rain and where it was quite muddy, I proceeded to get stuck. Even four wheel drive could not get me out. I put boards in front and behind all the wheels and the wheels were then able to gain traction. I learned that sometimes short cuts just do not work, I should have left the truck near the gate and walked to the house. That episode wore me out.

    I think you were very lucky not to have suffered broken nose or cuts to your face when the limb fell as you used the chain saw. I have been over confident too and I learned that I must be constantly vigilant. Lori, you tackle jobs that few women manage to do and that sets you apart from the average housewife. You are one strong lady.

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    1. These things happen to people all of the time. My sister reminded me that in spring planting and during harvest, farmers get stuck all of the time – usually it just takes something bigger and more powerful to get it out. I think it’s that, “I can DO it” kind of thinking or perhaps, “It won’t happen to me!” attitude that foils us time and again. It’s a good feeling to manage getting ourselves out of a pickle, but it’s also gratifying and deep appreciation in having friends to help when we need them. Humbling is another thought that comes to mind!

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      1. Yes, indeed. I totally agree with you. Country folks are so fortunate to have good neighbors and city folks as well.

        Just last evening I had to call one of my best friends to come to one of my other friend’s house to jump start my truck. I had left my lights on high (so I could see the dashboard when driving). I had gone to the house of another friend to give her cat sub cu fluids and B12. It is a humbling experience because that is not the first time that I have I have let my battery run down. I always vow that I will remember the lights but I seem to be addled brained.

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  4. Whoo-eee! What a day. I gotta tell ya, that duck looked like a genuine Leverite. Did it clean up nice after all that trouble or did you just toss it in the burn pile for punishment? 😉

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    1. She was brave! She makes me laugh a lot when she’s here – I was glad to see Sarah was still smiling after the bird bath went down and she managed to get the picnic table unhooked from the mower.

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  5. One of my former employers was a bit too rough on vehicles. He does not drive much at all, and really dislikes cars. It is a point of contention for us.
    He got the small tractor stuck, and rather than ask for help, he pulled it out with the old Buick. He pulled the tractor out easily. The problem was that there was no one on the tractor to stop it from rolling down the hill. Of course, this was not considered to be a problem. He just stopped it with the rear bumper of the car. Unfortunately, the rear bumper was insufficient for the task. Only the combined efforts of the bumper, tailgate, taillights and everything that was attached to the rear of my once elegant luxury sedan were able to stop the advancing tractor. He put the car back as if I would not notice.
    Someday, I will go back to work for him and live happily every after.

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  6. I laugh only because I’ve been there. Iowa mud, beach sand, prairie muck — and it’s all hard to get out of once you’re in. Of course, that holds true for unintentional trips overboard, too. I’ve managed that three times, in different circumstances, and there’s nothing quite like opening your eyes to barnacle-covered pilings to focus the attention: especially if you’re underwater.

    The truth is, things happen, even to the most experienced and cautious. When there’s no permanent damage done, they do turn into good stories. Maybe it’s time for me to tell the one about my encounter with the Missouri sheriff’s deputy!

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    1. Ha ha ha! I never thought of being pitched overboard unexpectedly! I can imagine your line of work to pose many “balancing” feats, and maybe a lot of far reaching. I’ve fallen off ladders a good bit. Thankfully, I’ve never been hurt. Any day I can think of many things that could happen that don’t. It’s life.

      Oh, goody!! I’m going to look forward to that MO sheriff’s deputy story! You?? In trouble with the law??

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    1. OMGoodness!!!! Exactly the same kind of blunder/stupidity – maybe worse than this! That was one of those friendships where we continually hooked up with someone who wouldn’t listen, knew everything, and could have gotten us all drowned in icy waters! That story has a lot of great tapestry woven into it – it was a whole day of peril and struggle after all. I can think back on several occasions with that couple where everything went bad… but oh what great storytelling it makes!!

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    1. I thought it was a great photo too. I was thankful at the time, that the county had not come by all summer to mow the nearby ditches. The grasses being very tall this time of year, everyone driving down the very busy park road would have seen the blunder and we’d probably have made the newspaper! The very next week the mowers did come, but all anyone can see now, are a couple of deep sink marks in the slough. Hopefully, autumn rains will cover that up too! ha ha!

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    1. Me too… and I think you are more aware of that than anyone! Not that your injuries were “operator malfunction”, but we sure realize that an injury can happen to anyone in the blink of an eye.

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    1. After reading your latest post, I think I’d have my feet propped up and spend lots of time eating good, clean food and catching up on reading… and writing! Ha ha! I’m glad to see you back. I hope you’re back on your feet real soon, Ardys.

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