By Tracy Potter-Fins, County Rail Farm, MT
Last week was sunny and warm. It finally felt like spring in Montana. The forecast for this week, however, looked dim. I decided that I needed to get the barn field plowed before the rain, clouds, and grey skies set in. This meant we could dump a couple truckloads of manure onto the field come the end of this week. It also meant that I got to use the tractor for the first time this year, which is always exciting. When Friday morning came in dry and warm I woke up earlier than usual and got to work. By the time I finished harvesting and sorting the carrots and hopped up on the tractor, clouds were already approaching the farm from the east.
It’s a great feeling to get up on that little John Deer and feel it hum underneath you. As a new farmer, tractors still give me a tingle: they’re exciting and powerful and, as a woman, I want to prove that I can drive one as well as anyone. Most tractors have the same basic mechanisms—wheel, clutch, brakes, gas, implement lift and drop, bucket lift and drop—and so, although I’d driven this one only once before, I knew what I was doing.
The first pass over a field in the spring is usually with a disc-er, unless you’re breaking up new ground or the hardpan isn’t far enough underneath the topsoil. Our hardpan is about a foot down, which is deep enough until we want to plant deep-rooted plants. Though the disc-er is impossible to move alone or even with two people, I got all three points hitched to the tractor. Feeling quite accomplished, I rolled over to the field and went for it: disc-ing like a pro.
At this point I was high on farming. I had broken the first ground of the season, and the straw and veggie residue from last year were ready to decompose. The timing was perfect and soon we would dump a couple truckloads of composted manure onto this field and turn that in to add more organic nutrients to the soil. I was thinking about all of this as I parked the tractor right where I found it: in front of the barn door.
Then the sound of splintering wood cut through my thoughts. My heart skipped and then started to pound. I looked up to see that the bucket on the front of the tractor, which I hadn’t been paying attention to, was half way through the barn door. I swore a couple times before backing out. Embarrassed and pissed, I parked the tractor correctly and turned it off, being very careful not to run into the truck parked behind it. Sheepishly, I followed our landowner, Steve, through and around the barn to look at the damage. The bucket had gone straight through the door, leaving a hole a foot or so wide. The side of the barn was splintered and crushed across three previously pristine wooden panels. The dark clouds began to close in on the farm and my mood. The phrase “She couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn” rolled around my head.
My pride was, and is, severely injured. It has certainly sustained more damage than the barn. My text to Margaret said something like “I just ran the tractor into the barn.” Her response, I’m happy to say, was “OMG are you alright?” instead of “WHAT DID YOU DO YOU MORON,” which is how I felt.
I was angry and completely humiliated, and I wanted it to be over. As if in answer to my eagerness to fix what I’d broken, I remembered that we’re building a new greenhouse on the other side of the barn. That side had been disassembled for construction and we had a dozen extra tongue-and-groove panels that match the barn door: The door, unlike the barn side, would be a simple fix. I had to take apart the door, replace three of the panels, and put the door together again—simple. Simple enough that I thought I could get it done before the rain started, despite the steadily encroaching clouds.
I started unscrewing 30-year-old screws and detaching pieces of wood that have been weathered together for just as long. Steve had left the farm: I expected he wasn’t feeling so good about my little mishap and I didn’t blame him. The ladder I was using is as old as the screws, wooden, and shaky. Small raindrops began speckling the shattered wood on the ground and my jacket. Working at double speed I snapped off more than one old screw, and spent another 15 minutes trying to extract each piece. I managed to get all but one of the broken panels out of the door and put two replacement panels in before it started to pour and I called it a day. Being stupid once that day was enough; I didn’t need to be up on a wooden ladder by myself in the rain as well.
Saturday I was back at it, propping up the door and sawing through old screws that had broken off half way out. It took me all day, but the door is fixed. The side of the barn, however, is going to take a little more ingenuity. For now it’s roughly patched. Most of the time the door covers the damage and makes it look as if nothing has happened, which all of us prefer.
The point of this story is that mistakes happen. As a new farmer, mistakes happen a lot. I expected that there would be things I would screw up: miscalculating the number of seeds we need for red cabbage (which happened) or putting the lettuce starts in the hot-germination room instead of the cool room and watching them fail to germinate (which happened). I didn’t plan on destroying the farm barn. But mistakes happen, and, in the grand scheme of things, at least I didn’t burn it down.
You can see more photos and details about how I fixed the side of the barn on our website: http://countyrailfarm.com/photos/
All photos in this post are by Tracy and Margaret at County Rail.