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Dear County Agent Guy

By Staff | Jun 22, 2020

-Submitted photo Jerry Nelson said his John Deere #5 sickle mower is back in grass cutting action after some repairs.

I would often see her sitting there alone, grimy, decrepit, languishing. I would look the other way as I walked by, tying to ignore the wretched castoff in my own backyard.

After all, I thought, it’s just a rickety old sickle mower.

Specifically, it’s a John Deere #5 sickle mower. I had purchased it some years ago to mount on my 1949 John Deere “A” tractor. The phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind.

I don’t know how old the mower actually might be. But when I go to the dealer for repairs, the parts guy will haul out a parts book that consists of archaic hieroglyphics printed on cracked, yellowed papyrus.

I purchased the ancient mower some years ago with the idea that I would use it to trim weeds around the cattle yard and perhaps cut a little hay. This wasn’t based on actual need; it was driven solely by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.

Dad had owned a similar mower when I was growing up on our dairy farm. Each June, he would bolt the mower onto one of our tractors and drive out to our alfalfa field. The way the alfalfa cascaded over the flashing sickle as it chattered through the field seemed magical. But that was the worry-free experience of an outside observer.

It was whole other thing for the mower operator. The #5 would plug the moment it touched one of the million pocket gopher mounds in our field and its sickle would bust whenever it got within 50 feet of a rock. It was impossible to achieve a mowing job that even vaguely resembled the fanciful ideal of well-kept lawn.

Those painful mowing memories, not unlike those of childbirth, faded with time. A burst of nostalgia caused me to buy my #5 mower from a guy who had abandoned it in his grove.

The creaky machine needed a lot of TLC. I fixed her up as best as I could given my limited mechanical abilities.

June came and I hitched the mower to the “A.” I drove to a small field of grass, put the mower in gear and began to drop hay. I had gone approximately 50 feet when the mower’s wooden pitman shattered.

Replacing the pitman required another visit to the parts counter and a judicious sacrifice of knuckle skin. The good thing about having old equipment is that fixing it isn’t exactly rocket science. Almost anything can be repaired with a hammer and a crescent wrench.

I was soon back to mowing again. Things were going swimmingly; grass was tumbling over the sickle like an emerald waterfall. Visions of a golf course-like hay field danced in my head.

Then the sickle plugged, leaving a long streak of uncut grass. No biggie: I’ll just clear the plug and be on my merry way. But then the sickle plugged again. And again.

In the end, my little hay field looked as though it had a bad case of mange. It was a tossup regarding how much grass had been cut and how much had escaped the sickle.

I struggled like that for a few hay seasons. The aggravation began to exceed the pleasure, so I hired a neighbor to cut my patch of grass. He buzzed across the field with his disc mower, cutting hay at speeds that nearly reached Mach 1. It was like going from a sputtering old Model T to a screaming, supercharged Formula 1 racecar.

That familiar feeling of nostalgia recently gripped me once again. Maybe it’s because of the Covid situation or maybe it’s because we’ve recently lost some cherished aunts and uncles.

Once again, I hitched the venerable #5 to the “A.” Inspection revealed that the mower’s pitman bearing was, in mechanic-speak, “shot in the keister.” After some noodling about the situation, I struck upon a way to repair the bearing and bring a small part of the mower into the 21st Century.

It took some doing. As I worked on the mower, it occurred to me that this was no different than giving a person a new knee or a hip replacement. Just because something (or someone) has become old and worn doesn’t mean he or she (or it) should be left in the weeds.

As the grass topples over the chittering sickle, I can see Dad cutting alfalfa in the warm June sunshine. In a few days, he will rake the hay into windrows. A crew of neighborhood farmers will then come to our farm and help us bale it.

And if that isn’t worth a new bearing and some skinned knuckles, I don’t know what is.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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