True confession: Riding my John Deere up a creek, without a paddle
Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest On a recent Sunday after church, three farmer friends asked me to divulge the true identity of “Mitch” in my column published in the June edition of Ohio Country Journal. Chuckling, they went on to ask what pseudonym I planned to use to protect my own identity, if I were to write about a personal calamity they had learned about (thanks to one of my “disloyal” employees, who posted an incriminating photo on Facebook).Since that cat was well out of the bag, I had no choice but to tell all. I showed them other photographic evidence, stored on my ironically named smartphone, and gave them the full narrative of my — well, I guess I might as well say it — my idiocy. You’re going to be saying it by the time you finish reading this column, anyway.Here goes.It all began with me deciding to clear brush and debris out of Anderson Creek, which meanders through my farm. I hired Jack, a drainage contractor, to start the project last winter. He finally completed the job near soybean planting time this spring.Once newly seeded grass adorned the banks and filter strips, the bubbling, free-flowing stream looked fit for a painter’s canvas until one day when I discovered that a beaver had dammed up the works. Yes, near the upper end of my portion of the creek, a beaver had erected a mighty effective display of natural engineering. In front of the dam, the water was about eight inches deep. Behind the dam, it was about 30 inches deep. I marveled at how one beaver could be such an efficient engineer.The little guy had felled trees on the banks, strategically landing them in place for his mighty bulwark. He filled in leaky spots with leaves, branches and mud.I called Jack to report this new development and ask for advice.“You need to tear his dam down,” Jack said. “It probably is just one young beaver, or there would be several dams, not just one.”“How do I tear it down?” I asked, picturing in my mind dynamite and a demolition crew.“Drive your tractor and loader down to the far end of the creek, where the crossover ramp is. Ford the stream and drive your tractor upstream to the dam. Then tear out the center of it with your loader. The backed up water will do the rest.”“Is that safe?”“Your creek has a gravel bottom and your tractor has front-wheel assist, correct?”“Yes, do you warrant this will be safe?”“Yes, we do this all the time with a backhoe in creeks that have a gravel bottom, just like yours.”“Will you come and pull me out if I get stuck?”“Yes, we will pull you out if you get stuck,” Jack said, his patience straining.The following day I started out on my mission. I drove the tractor beside the creek, a half mile down to the south end of the field, and entered the stream at the crossover, as Jack directed.Slowly, I skippered the tractor upstream through the oncoming water. In spite of my trepidation, this cruise seemed pleasant enough. Water slipped smoothly around the tires. The diesel engine throbbed monotonously and the noisy green monster startled a small flock of ducks into flight.As Jack had predicted, wiping out the dam was an easy task. About three thrusts of the loader allowed the water to rip through and clear away the beaver’s handiwork. The demolition went off as smoothly as the bombing mission in the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai.” I kind of expected a beaver to peer out at me, but apparently he was too clever. He had to know I was out for vengeance.Slowly, I backed the tractor away from the demolition site. And the eight inches of water I had driven through suddenly rose to 30 inches. Apparently the water had been backed up several miles upstream.The tracks left by my tractor on the way upstream were no longer visible. As I started back downstream, the tractor dropped suddenly into a silt bed, sinking to the level of the operator platform.I attempted to back out of this predicament, but the tractor wallowed in deeper. Water splashed off the blades of the radiator fan. Then the engine hammered for five seconds. The exhaust pipe belched a cloud of white smoke. And the tractor went silent.I was in a state of shock. My nearly new tractor was sunk. As I stepped off the platform, I expected I would need to swim — or that at least the water would be chest deep. But I stepped off on solid footing in knee-deep water.After scrambling up the bank, I called Jack to remind him of his warranty. He answered immediately, but said he was about to enter a church — for his nephew’s wedding in Pittsburgh. Some warranty!But Jack said he would call one of his sons, Jack Jr., to assist me. Jack called me back right away to say that Junior was on his way.Junior arrived in just over an hour. He unloaded his backhoe, confidently driving it down the steep bank to position it behind my tractor. Then Junior promptly got his rig stuck. By maneuvering the machine’s retractable hoe, however, he managed to push it forward then pull it backward up onto the gravel sandbars, then drive back up on the bank.From there, with several lengths of chain, he pulled my tractor out of the silt hole and up on the bank. For my benefit, Junior spoke optimistically about the number of times he or his father had submerged their equipment in streams and suck holes, retrieved it and returned it to working order after cleaning the filters and changing the oil.He advised against running the tractor until the oil had been drained and replaced, with a thorough “going-over” by a mechanic.In any event, the dam was gone.The beaver was nowhere to be seen, although I suspect he watched the whole operation with some glee like his furry cousin, Alvin the chipmunk, would. I told my wife, Kris, afterwards that there was only one thing left to do: Go out to lunch and celebrate that we were still in one piece — and the tractor probably could be fixed.Within 24 hours, the beaver rebuilt his dam. My mechanic, after evaluating the tractor, has redirected the discussion to the cost of rebuilding the tractor engine and hydraulics versus buying a new tractor. In the meantime, I’d really like a beaver skin hat.