Thursday, August 18, 2022

Ready for my solar-powered hovercraft

The latest weather events got Steve Wyn-Harris thinking about winters in general.
After Soda the horse and before the four-wheeler, these were what kept the tractor moving in the wet.

I’ve just had a look at NIWA’s soil moisture graphs for the country after the latest weather event and, not surprisingly, except for an area inland from Dunedin, the rest of us are now officially at field capacity. 

I was only surprised that vast swathes of the country weren’t in the category above it at the top, which is water surplus, given the immense amount of rain that has fallen over recent weeks and months.

Many of you are dealing with floods that have taken out infrastructure and, heartbreakingly, gone through homes and buildings, making access difficult and keeping animals fed very tricky.

This is not easy and if it’s a repeat experience even tougher, so we are thinking of you.

Further up the coast from here, the big rain events have seen country moving and consequently taking out infrastructure, and again making access challenging.

It’s been bloody wet here as well, but my problems are not as bad as in many other areas, so I’ve got little to complain about.

Wet winters on these heavy clay soils with pans were a feature in my teenage years of the 1970s and for my first decade or two farming in the 1980s and ’90s. 

Since then, the winters have not only gradually become warmer but on average drier.

After several autumn droughts and dry winters, this is our first really wet one for a long time and I’d forgotten what a challenge they are.

It was only this time last year that I was finally able to put some nitrogen on after moisture at last arrived – and that was done by truck, which was extraordinary.

When we bought the property in 1963, the previous owners used horses alone, which was the norm just 60 years ago. 

Read: Heavy rains top up the tank

The farm came with a horse, but Soda died within a couple of years so the old man bought himself a second-hand Ford tractor.

Leaning against an old gum tree for the past 50 years have been a set of impressive iron circles with spikes. These were bolted onto the rear wheels and helped drag the two-wheel-drive tractor through the mud.

I can still remember as a kid watching these things go around as I stood on the tray throwing out hay.

I’ve kept them as a historical oddity and am surprised Jane has never commandeered them for the garden. 

My successors will probably immediately take them to the scrap merchant and buy a box of beer or some other necessary item on the proceeds.

Two-wheel motorbikes made an appearance later in the ’60s, when dealers realised they could modify road bikes to suit farmers. 

Except for when it was very wet, they revolutionised farming. 

But they would often break down and it wasn’t uncommon out on the farm to be taking out the spark plug to clean the oil off it to get it going again.

Then three-wheelers with their balloon tyres turned up and they were wonderful when it was wet.

I had a nasty experience once when going down a hill: my legging-clad legs got pulled under the wheels and suddenly it was now on sleds. It took off, pulling me hard down onto the seat.

The only option I had to avoid breaking the land speed record was rolling it over, which worked out well in the end.

I’d been told they floated and tried that once, only to prove it wasn’t true.

I was late to getting a four-wheeler but that is obviously brilliant when it is wet.

Given the advances just in my lifetime, a solar-powered hovercraft for my wet flats is just around the corner, or a nifty antigravity all-terrain vehicle.

My current problem is that I have two properties and when the four-wheeler is at one farm, I’m consigned to the two-wheeler at the other.

The other day I was struggling to get the two-wheeler up a hill to move some sheep.

I was beside it, pushing and coaxing it to get us to our goal.

The realisation came to me that I’m now 63 and too old for this nonsense, and financially well off enough to buy a side-by-side.

Next day I was in town so I went to see my motorbike dealer.

Twenty-three grand for a modest one, he told me, but it was a moot point due to the covid supply challenges as I’d be waiting many months for one.

I asked about a second-hand one but unsurprisingly, because few were getting a new bike, good second-hand ones are like hen’s teeth.

I went home convincing myself that pushing two-wheelers up hills was good for my cardiovascular system and cheaper than a gym membership.

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