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Mechanics Corner: You can take it with you ... but you shouldn’t

Andy Overbay Published on 10 December 2013

Thanksgiving and Christmas are bittersweet times around the farm. This November marks the eighth anniversary of my dad’s death in a farm shop accident. I still find myself wanting to share with him some new discovery that I have made, especially in the farm equipment category.

It still makes me feel alone and sad, but I am thankful for the many years of being able to not only know my father as a decent and kind man but also work alongside him as his farming partner. I am thankful I lived on the home farm where my daughter could know and love her grandparents as much as she does.

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Dad was a tractor mechanic and shop foreman of an International Harvester dealership in town for over 25 years. One thing that I learned from Dad’s passing is the lack of truth in the statement, “You can’t take it with you.”

I am here to tell you that this old adage is far from the truth. As our production farming population ages, every day we suffer a “brain drain” of practical knowledge born from necessity and gritty determination. Once it is gone, those years of experience are lost to those left behind.

A friend asked me in passing one day if I knew anyone who had a pull-type lime spreader he could borrow, and I immediately volunteered ours. Ours was a homemade unit but looked anything but.

Dad had built it from the inner workings of an old salt bed purchased from the local highway department and sheet metal from the local salvage yard. An old manure spreader frame supplied the rolling stock, and we were in business.

The second thought I had after loaning the spreader to my friend was: Where exactly is that thing? It’s been a while since I have seen it! I finally located it out in an old barn adjacent to our dry-cow barn, but when I went to retrieve it, I noticed that the front half of the PTO shaft was missing.

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I can only guess exactly what happened to it: It had most likely been damaged on a past job, and Dad had removed it in order to repair it and planned to return it upon its next use.

The problem is that he was killed before he could return it, and I have no earthly idea what he did with it. Most likely, he decided to replace it with a new one, just as I did, but I can’t be sure of that.

For all I know, I may stumble upon it one day. I do know this: Dad would have known exactly where the driveline was or wasn’t. I also know that the lesson learned was that Dad took that knowledge with him when he died.

So when I think about what would make the perfect gift this Christmas season, perhaps the most useful and the most long-lasting are gifts that help organize our farm shops and sheds. As a professional mechanic for over a quarter of a century, Dad had every tool known to mankind, or so it seemed to his youngest son.

As our tool supply grew over the years, one thing that lagged behind was our ability to provide storage space for our newest additions.

Labeling devices, bins and shelves for all manner of tools, parts and pieces, and record-keeping systems (from pen-and-paper versions to computerized ones) would make wonderful gifts, not only for the recipient but also future generations of farmers and mechanics to come.

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For insurance purposes, a video camera used to record the contents of the shop and sheds can pay dividends when disaster strikes and could also provide some fun time making how-to recordings of the rare repair or rebuild job with your children.

One thing is for sure, the greatest assets to the farm are the people who operate them. Those of us who have survived a farm tragedy know the truth of that first-hand. It is also true that there will be difficult times ahead as adjustments are made in the management of the farm.

The more information the survivors have, the better off they will be. Isn’t that what we work for anyway – so that our children have it better than we did? PD

Andy Overbay holds a Ph.D. in ag education and has more than 40 years of hands-on dairy and farming experience.

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Andy Overbay
Extension Agent
Virginia Cooperative Extension

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