28 Oct A Bad Week At the Farm

Here’s a schadenfreude buffet about our latest farm adventures:

1) We’ve been without water for five days so far. Our well pump broke on Saturday. The pump was only two months old, installed by a company that “raised” our well. This company gave us a new pump because they broke the old one. When I phoned the company to inform them of the new pump’s failure, the owner told me that the replaced pump had no warranty and the company would make no concessions about installation: I’d have to pay for another new pump and labor. WTF?

So I called the plumber who’s been servicing this farm for two generations. He discovered that the previous company didn’t break the old pump but, rather, had dropped it into the well and wasn’t able to extract it. So they gave me a smaller pump and set it only halfway down the well, just above the dropped pump. Not good.

My plumber tried for most the day to extract the dropped pump but finally had no luck. He’s a master plumber, by the way. How much does a master plumber make hourly? More than I do, you can be sure.

At the end of the day, he said we’d have to hire a well driller to come in and “bore” our well in order to extract the broken, wedged-in-place old pump. Last night I bought 24 gallons of bottled water.

We knew this time was coming–that phase of old-house ownership where (as with a ruined septic tank) the shit rises to the surface and, for a while, we’re knee-deep in it. So here’s more:

2) ) Jill is laid up with a strained knee. She was trying to yank a rogue vine from a tree when she came down wrong on one leg. She’s hobbling around in great pain. I tell her she’ll have to use one of the canes we found in the farmhouse closet. She’s not happy about this. We suspect she’s pulled a tendon. She’ll see the doctor in a couple of days.

3) The guy I hired to haul away a mountain of tree debris at the back of the property has disappeared. I gave him half his pay in advance. And now he’s gone. He won’t return my calls. I’m trying to figure out how I can get his attention. I mean, he’s in business — he even has a very nice business card. Surely, he’ll come through?

Late harvest

4) My tractor broke again. This time, one of the front wheels fell off. It’s fixed now. You can get anything fixed, if you’ve got the money. Lucky for me, we live near a John Deere dealership whose mechanics make house calls. Unfortunately for me, I’ve called the tractor doctor to the farm four times now.

This is what comes of buying used equipment. Everything we own we have purchased from auctions and yard sales and Craigslist. Our world is cobbled-together with duct tape and mud and rusty staples.

5) The guy I hired to paint the barn roof (we have two barns) supplied me with two laborers, then abandoned the job. So I ended up supervising and watch-dogging these two guys. This defeated the idea of hiring somebody else to do the job, obviously. The contractor got $660 for doing nothing (it’s common practice to give your contractor 1/3 down before the job starts). Had I needed laborers, I could have found them readily enough without paying an exorbitant finder’s fee.

The one thing I really wanted the contractor to do was install the cupola on the barn. But, two days later, there I was, wedged between my two burly laborers, forty feet off the ground, all three of us grappling with the cupola, which I bolted into the roof. It had taken me most of the day to get the thing painted, cut, and ready. All things said, it looks pretty darned good.

6) I used my rented “man-lift” (like a cherry picker, a huge machine that costs $250 a day and worth every penny) to repair the louvered wooden awnings outside the barn apartment windows. That is, I thought I’d be able to repair them but found, instead, that they were thoroughly rotted. Apparently the builders of this fancy apartment used untreated lumber for these special awnings. I spent the day removing them, then caulking and painting the eleven windows.

When I get time (and money) I’ll remake the awnings from something more resilient.

Looking down on the “manlift”

7) Because I’m using lots of paints, solvents, fuels, and caulk, I’ve got eczema on my face — my body’s reaction to the toxins in my bloodstream.

My sprained thumb (fall from a tree our first week here) has not healed properly. The joint protrudes in an odd way and the thumb remains weaker than I’d like and still sore. I suspect this will pester me when I’m an old man.

Speaking of old, Jill and I went to an auction recently to get old lumber (lots to build!). We had the opportunity to talk with the retired farmer himself. He and his wife raised four kids on their historic farm, which stretched westward as far as we could see. As he spoke, I noticed his was missing half of his left thumb. Farm accident. Then I recalled that farming is the most dangerous job because you’re working around a variety of machines all the time. Every day I remind myself of this.

8) I spent weeks digging out the house’s stone foundation to keep water out of the basement. It was the biggest job so far, repairing the foundation holes with mortar and concrete, pouring a concrete perimeter around the base of the foundation, then tarring the foundation to keep water out, then pouring gravel around that, then setting a drain tile on top of that. And still there’s water in the basement.

9) I haven’t read the New York Times in two months. We can’t get delivery out here. Jill got excited when she saw a Times delivery box by someone’s mailbox down the road. But I told her it was only the Carroll County Times, which uses the same Gothic font for its title.

I haven’t gone to the gym in three weeks. And so it goes. Every free minute of every day is for the farm.

Mind you, we may be exhausted and bummed out but we’re not daunted. A week like this is simply a part of the process. In fact, we are making tremendous progress, but I don’t want to be unrealistic about our undertaking either and let you think that every week is blissful.