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Month: September 2011

The AgriEase Mower That Couldn’t

The AgriEase Mower That Couldn’t

I remember being about thirteen or fourteen years old and getting really upset because I couldn’t miraculously do something by instinct in my Dad’s garage workshop. What that something was is lost in the murk that’s become my sleep-deprived memory, but I never forgot that as I slammed down the tools in a proper teenage huff, my Dad repeated the old adage: “A bad workman always blames his tools.”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not gifted when it comes to hands-on practical workshop stuff and have a tendency to perform Oscar-winning paddys when my tools are less than perfectly cooperative. My track record, it must be said, is not without blemish. Especially as it relates to weed-whackers or other powered instruments. I can’t blame genetics, since my Dad and brother are both highly capable. Me…I’m the sole inventor of the (patent pending) Expandable, Foldable, Portable Dog Basket.

That beauty was my college project. It would have been a success if only I’d put the hinges on the right side so it could fold. And it didn’t weigh in at around 100 lbs which hampered it’s portability for everyone except say Giant Haystacks or the BFG. Oh, and if only it didn’t collapse when expanded. But otherwise it was pure genius and until this day, I’ve never shared my crushing disappointment that even my faithful old Golden Retriever wouldn’t set so much as a paw in it.

It’s true that my next invention, the Portable Vibrating Sunshade, also had a number of design challenges. Aside from the difficulty of wheeling around a 7ft sunlounger with integrated glass canopy housing carbon fiber rods designed to vibrate at 60 hertz, the admittedly difficult task of finding a 240V power supply at the beach and of course the unnerving hum it made when operating, what other options do the five people who are allergic to sun cream have?

Anyway, those early projects aside, I think I’m fully justified in having a complete, righteous, red-faced whinge-fest about the piece of junk that is my 6′ AgriEase bushhog mower. This hunk of scrap makes my college mishaps look like works of engineering precision and genius. It’s so shitty that I’m actually embarrassed for it. Two other old adages leap to mind when I think about it. First, “act in haste, repent in leisure” which pretty much sums up this purchase. Secondly, “buy shit, get shit” which might not be a recognised adage as such, but it should be.

Ok, here’s my whinge. You might want to skip to the bit about sheep below.

The damn thing looks the business, all black and shiny. It claims to be able to mow up to 1″ diameter brush, but I’d advise against trying that unless you’re interested in knowing what the death throes of a Brachiosaurous with severe constipation from eating too many palm trees sounds like.

So far I’ve managed to use it for about 7 or 8 hours on my fields and had a number of bothers:

  • embedded into the mud on the first start (admittedly all my fault)
  • broken shear pin on the second start
  • a warped / twisted left upright which puts so much force on the 3 point-hitch lower link pins it flattened the thread on a 3/4″ diameter steel bolt on the third start. This same problem also prevents the unit from floating properly, compounding the vibration issue.
  • all four gear housing bolts lost their nuts on the fourth start
Now maybe I should have checked those bolts but the unit is almost new and I (incorrectly) assumed they would have been tightened or locked to begin with since there’s no obvious way to reach the nuts. Unfortunately, the stupid design of this thing makes it near impossible to replace them. Without a winch, I had to rig up a chain on my tractor bucket and hoist the thing up. Being from Middlesbrough, I’m a natural pessimist so I put wood struts beneath it just in case. Good thing too, because George The Tractor’s hydraulics are a little asthmatic and the unit dropped 12″ when I kicked them away. If that had happened while I was underneath, I’d have had a sore head and a very embarrassed drive home for a change of pants and a shower.
Back to my nuts. To replace them, you have to remove the whole mowing assembly, which had rusted onto the counter-threaded shaft. Even assuming I had a spanner big enough to fit that (which I didn’t), without anything to lock the blades in place, it was insanely difficult to apply any torque to unscrew it. There’s a tiny hole on the top of the unit to get to the blade bolts which I could just about get my hand into to reach the rear two bolts. The problem was the only way I could then tighten the nuts was to put the new bolts in upside down. Not ideal, as I later found out when they vibrated loose yet again and jammed up the mower. Sigh. The lesson here…nuts, rusty shafts, vibrations and small openings don’t have any place on a hobby farm.
The blades themselves are so dull they don’t so much cut, as pulverise the grass. But to be able to sharpen them, I need a giant-sized socket-set to unbolt them and a vice to hold each blade steady which I don’t have at the land. So again, my frustration continues.
There. Done. That feels better. Whinge is now officially over. Thanks for listening.

Oh and if you’re a representative from AgriEase reading this: please either immediately commit seppuku or try harder to make life a smidge easier for the unfortunates using your products. It really would be rather nice to use something well thought out. Mortal-sized bolts easily available from hardware stores that don’t need super-sized socket sets or spanners, easy access to parts that need tightening / replacing, somewhere to attach hooks to hoist safely, etc. You know, the frickin obvious stuff.

Now, on to sheep. Shetland sheep to be exact.

We’re going to talk to a woman about a starter flock today. Absolutely, definitely, 100% sure we’re not going to buy them. Probably.

Almost certainly.

Um, unless they’re as boss-eyed as these ones because let’s face it, who can say no to the prospect of five boss-eyed wooly ladies that smell of wet blankets and dung. I am, after all, only human.

I mean, we’re almost ready for them. All we need is a barn, lots of fencing, hay and feed, a crash-course in raising sheep and some way to protect them from coyotes, wolves and the occasional marauding AgriEase bushhog.

But other than that, we’re totally ready. Definitely learned our lesson about buying in haste….honest.

Pictures of our adventures to follow in the next post.



I don’t think it would surprise anyone when I say this has been a busy summer.   Busy.  I think the best word I can use to describe our summer season this year is intense.  The weather, the build, the boys…everything has seemed magnified.  It’s been tricky, in amongst all that, to find time for connection, stories, shared ideas.  I’m not sure I’ve managed it well but the one thing I can say is that we’ve used the time we had had as best we can.

I’ve always enjoyed listening to audiobooks and the boys seem to like them too; so it occurred to me at the beginning of the summer, when it became evident that at least an hour of driving a day was in our future (turns out it has often been much, much more) that I would have a very captive audience.  So this summer our car has been, in part, our school.  We have listened to some of the best children’s books every written (read by wonderful actors) in our hours in the car.  As we have clocked up the miles we’ve also absorbed many beautiful books.

Here are some of the ones that stand out:

The Secret Garden  Frances Hodgeson Burnett

The Little House Series (we listened to Farmer Boy twice, back to back) there are 9 books in this series, we’d listened to some before be they are worth a second visit and we enjoyed them all as if they were brand new to us.  We tried to get them sequentially but found it didn’t diminish our enjoyment if we had to skip one and come back to it.    Laura Ingalls Wilder

Anne of Green Gables  L.M Montgomery

Anne of the Island (we skipped book 2 because the narrator sounded like a speak and spell)  L.M Montgomery

The Railway Children   E.N. Nesbitt

The Phoenix and the Carpet  E.N. Nesbitt

Little Men   Louise May Alcott

Various Magic Treehouse stories   Mary Osbourne

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  Mark Twain

What Katy Did     Susan Coolidge

Huwyl has also enjoyed the Geronimo Stilton series but they were listened to at home rather than by all of us.  He’s also enjoyed various stories by Jim Weiss and other collections of fairy tales and folk tales.

The summer has unfolded around us as we’ve made our daily journey back and forth, racking up the miles and watching the season turn around us.  What could have been torturous has instead been a pleasure, ‘down time’ for all of us.

I’m a huge fan of audio books for children (and for myself) for lots of reasons but mainly because I love the way the language will just wash over the listener, allowing for progression where it would otherwise have stalled.  Throughout the summer I’ve heard Huwyl come out with little phrases that he’d picked up from the stories, one day he cried “Mercy on us!” which was the ‘catchphrase’ of Alonzo Wilder’s mother in Farmer Boy.  It was so comical to hear it coming out of this exhuberant boys’ mouth but was also a reminder of just how much children do soak up from the world they are exposed to.

Despite the manic days and weeks our car has been a bit of a safe haven, a world where stories flow and we can relax in each other’s company and be taken away from our current world to a whole new place.  No need for talking or conversation from a tired mummy who’s brain hurts by about 2pm.  Less arguing between crabby siblings who are being more patient than they should have to be.  And the joy of listening to some of the most beautiful stories ever written.

The heat of the summer has waxed and then waned, edging towards autumn.  The rush of our lives has sent us spinning until we were all dizzy, but in the car we were in a world of our own.

Though I will not be sorry when this part of our journey is over and we can finally relax in our home, I will miss our forced captivity and the comforting worlds of Laura, Anne and all the other friend’s we’ve met this summer.  They’ve helped me through some tough times, I look forward to visiting with them again.