Saturday, January 25, 2014

Big Dog Needed

We decided that being killed on a tractor would not be much fun.

Our old 1952 Ford 8N, a wonderful machine once you accept its limitations, needs to come home to pull a wagon around for my work clearing brush, moving wood, and other light work. It's just NOT the machine for cutting fields when the terrain gets hilly, no more than our 1950 John Deere M that now does gentle mowing on flat spots. The Ford is certainly not the machine to grade a half-mile long dirty-and-gravel road, though I've pressed it into service for that purpose.  It lacks a roll bar and seat belt, features I consider mandatory for work on slopes.

Enter the 50 hp Allis-Chalmers tractor pictured above, a machine we just purchased. The owner, a slow-talking, relaxed cattle farmer, showed me around the vehicle recently and I ran it out of the barn to check the hydraulics and brakes. It's a good one that has not been abused, and I've spent long enough on and around tractors to check hoses, tires, suspension, and motor. I know what a well-maintained diesel sounds like now.

A rural landowner who maintains multiple properties faces the tough decision of buying a big trailer to move heavy equipment (and maybe an expensive truck to pull that load) or looking for used farm tractors to leave "up the road" for occasional use.

We opted for the latter, and I stick with my contention that one can buy outstanding and safe equipment for under $10k. We needed a farm tractor with a loader to replace a John Deere diesel tractor with a loader and backhoe attachment, soon coming back home to Goochland (where we move a lot of dirt and gravel) as well as the 8N.

For the past couple of days, we drove down Virginia's Blue Highways, from the Shenandoah Valley to the Piedmont north of Charlottesville, looking at used machines.  What a delight that has been; there's a farm revival going on in America, and it's small stakeholders as well as the big boys. We have met folks raising grass-fed beef without hormones. We've met small merchants supplying the needs of DIYers going back to the land.

You can get cheated by rural folk as fast as by anyone in town, but I know honesty when I hear it. A guy at a dealership put it clearly, and I'll sum it up here for would-be ruralists. There are three grades of used utility tractors around. Around $10K buys a good machine that's clean, around $7K buys one that has got some wear and will work for occasional use, and under $5K buys a machine that is going to be rough or old, or both.

Everything I've seen bears this out.

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