The Farm Report: The Nature of The Beast

My weekend on the farm consisted of fixing stuff, hacking down stuff, and blowing stuff up.  Or as I like to call it, Getting In Touch With My Inner Male.

The fixing-stuff phase started on Saturday.  After Chareva and I spent part of the day working on the book, she reminded me that one of the big drawers in her dresser had fallen apart.  The pieces were sitting on the bedroom floor.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now we have to replace that dresser!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  So I took the pieces of the drawer into my workshop and started tinkering.

I had attempted to fix the drawer once before, and it actually held together for a few months.  Trouble is, I used the same skinny nails the manufacturer had used.  Probably not a good idea, since those nails had already demonstrated a talent for working themselves loose.  So this time I decided to use wood screws.  I figured if the screws split the wood, well, I’m no worse off.

The wood managed to take the screws without splitting, and at the end of the job, I had a solid drawer in my hands.  I high-fived myself and considered beating my chest while doing a Tarzan yell, but thought better of it.  I moved on to re-installing a toilet-paper dispenser that had fallen off the wall in the girls’ bathroom.  You know, real guy stuff.

On Saturday night, I blew stuff up … namely, the fireworks we didn’t get to set off on the Fourth of July because of thunderstorms.  I had hoped to post a video like this on the Fourth, but better late than never.  The other adult male you see and hear in the video is our neighbor Brian, who came over to enjoy the show with us.

Back in March, I wrote about tilling the ground in the old chicken yard with our new tiller.  The yard looked like this when I was done:

After tilling, I pretty much ignored that patch of ground.  Oops.  Here’s what a patch of ground in rural Tennessee looks like if you ignore it for three-and-a-half months:

Clearly, it was time to feed The Beast.  So on Sunday afternoon, I cleaned up the mess from the fireworks show, then played 18 holes of disc golf, then steered The Beast into the old chicken yard.

I’d knocked down about a third of the jungle when The Beast started smoking and refusing to whack any more weeds.  I shut it off and smelled burned rubber.  That meant the belt that turns the blades had snapped.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now I have to hoist this heavy @#$% into the van and take it to a repair shop!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  In fact, I was pretty sure I’d changed the belt once before and even had the good sense at the time to buy a spare.  So I wheeled The Beast back to the garage.

I believe in giving manufacturers props if they build a good product, so I’m going to post a few pictures to explain how impressed I am with the Swisher Predator – a.k.a. The Beast.

Actually, I’ll start by explaining why I’m not as impressed with my Toro lawn mower.  Yeah, it cuts the grass just fine, but changing the belt (which I’ve only had to do once, thankfully) is a royal pain in the @$$.  You have to turn the thing over and unscrew screws that can barely be reached.  Then you realize it’s impossible to change the belt without using four hands.  I had to recruit Sara to hold back a spring-loaded part with a screwdriver while I worked the new belt into place — which was no easy task.  I’m pretty sure I expanded Sara’s vocabulary during the process.

The Beast, on the other hand, was designed for easy access.  To get to the belt drive, I just had to unscrew a few bolts – which are right there on the top of the thing, no less – and remove a cover.  (As you can see, the belt had definitely snapped.)

To release the old belt, I only had to unscrew one clip that holds it in place. And then, easy peasy, I wrapped the new belt around the belt-drive assembly and screwed the clip back into position.  (The clip is surrounded in red in the picture below).

The whole job took maybe 15 minutes – including the five minutes I took to sit inside and drink a glass of ice water.

So with The Beast back in Beast mode, I finished taking down the jungle in the chicken yard.  I got as close to the barn as I dared, since it’s become a condo building for wasps.  Then I gave the yard a once-over with the lawn mower to knock it down another few inches.

This is the chicken yard afterwards:

With that out of the way, Chareva and I took the garbage and recyclables to the county recycling center, then went to the hardware store to buy another couple of belts for The Beast … because I’m a born-again Tool Guy now, and I know enough to keep some spare parts around.


27 thoughts on “The Farm Report: The Nature of The Beast

  1. Dianne

    Y’all sure know how to have fun! But when you titled this Farm Report “The Nature of the Beast” I thought for a moment that you’d identified your most recent chicken killer. Any progress there?

    1. anne

      Tom, you may know that the reason people keep harping on no till farming, everytime you post about your beast, is because tilling disturbs the microbiome of the soil close to the surface. The beneficial bacteria and funguses have a symbiotic relationship with the plants that grow there and produce all kinds of vitamins and enzymes that are missing from our modern food supply.

      On the other hand you enjoy the power of the beast and the great workout you get when you use it. And after all, this was not a garden bed, but rather, a chicken run.

      Then again, just being an urban farm beginner myself, I wonder if you just plowed under a bunch of free chicken food! I’m. Guessing Chareva follows Justin Rhodes, the bird man, and has her own reasons for doing things the way she likes. So many of us are on a jouney, integrating modern scientific knowledge and old timer know how.

      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        That all makes sense, but the weeds here grow so thick, tilling may be the only reasonable option at times.

        1. Lori Miller

          Where I’m from (the Denver area), most of the soil is heavy clay that a lot of plants simply won’t grow roots in unless the soil is broken up. The soil in my yard here in Indianapolis is about the same, maybe even more dense.

  2. Bruce

    I had to replace the drive belt on my Toro. What a pain. I think they make the new mowers so that they look like they are aerodynamic or something, instead of making it easy to repair. Luckily, youtube usually has a video on how to repair some of these things. The owners manual doesn’t explain how to replace any of the parts, or even tell you what the number is for the air filters.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I wonder if they design their lawn mowers to make sure you go to a repair shop for any little thing.

  3. James H.

    re: screws over nails

    Yes indeed. After watching my father-in-law, a master carpenter, build a workbench I hardly ever use nails now. He used small nails for trim work, etc., but if the finished project was going to be subjected to any amount of stress he used wood glue and screws. (As well as the more complicated joint-cuts if required.)

    He also had a pretty neat trick for those screw holes that had “wallered out” to the point that a screw failed to hold but the wood was still good enough to forego replacement: he would take a wooden matchstick, coat it in wood glue, and stuff it into the oversized hole. He immediately inserted the screw, the soft wood of the matchstick compressing, allowing the screw to go all the way in without splitting the old wood. The glue of course locked-in the matchstick and screw. Simple and elegant.

  4. Mary D

    You’re a farmer now, Tom! We ruralites learn to keep a veritable hardware store in our out-buildings. Needing to add a couple of runs of barbed wire to our New Zealand fence to “encourage” the deer to not hop between the first and second (and second and third!) electric wires, my spouse recalled that we had some of the requisite parts, but called me from town (25 miles away) to have me go do a quick inventory while he was still near the farm supply store.

    Come to find out, all we needed were some more fence nails. 🙂 $2 and ten minutes.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, when you live in the sticks, making a return trip to the hardware store for a forgotten part can eat your day.

  5. Tom H.

    Wasps or bees? If bees, find a removal company to do a cut-out. We need bees.
    If wasps, bomb the bejeesus out of them. Wasps may serve some purpose in the web of life, but there are plenty of them elsewhere.

  6. Deb

    I smile whenever I see one of your farm reports! I was wondering if, with all your “raw material”, you have ever considered trying Hugelkulture? The RichSoil website has a nice explanation and great photos and videos. And just think, no watering or irrigation!! I live in a subdivision where it would be frowned upon, but I’ve always had a hankering to try it; if you did it and posted it in your farm reports, I could enjoy it vicariously, LOL!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Now you made me look up “Hugelkulture.” It’s a good idea, and Chareva already does something similar with wood chips. We received quite a pile of them from the same nice guys who gave us the trees they had to cut down. We of course turned those into firewood.

  7. Bob Weaver

    Greetings from a city boy engineer in SF bay area. Grew up tooling around in the Swiss woods. Now just vicariously enjoying your new TN life, chicken coop, weeds and all. Keep up the good writing and my best regards to your family. And thanks.


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