Monday, April 6, 2009

Heckuva Start to the Season

We loaded up the sled at the top of the hill near the folks' new house, and headed out on the the freshly groomed snowmobile trail, and I knew we had some trouble as soon as we hit the first soft spot.

Jack and Julie don't have any trouble pulling what amounts to their own weight or even more, on a trail, or even through a foot of snow, unless their feet start breaking through the frozen surface into the mud, and where there's running water from springs and creeks, or swampy areas where there's standing water in mossy soil. Even long after freeze-up, that "post-holing" can be real hard on them when pulling a load. Likewise in the spring, when water starts to run under a frozen trail that's thawing, it can get dangerous for the horses the same way.

I could see right away that there were such spots, but what I didn't know was that where we were headed, the power company had been out rooting around all summer with their big trucks and heavy equipment in the cedar swamp, clearing the right-of-way and installing poles on the power-line, and I had no idea that there was a snow-covered section of rutted-up mud that was completely un-frozen.

When the rear set of runners sank down in the mud, the reach broke, which is the connector between the front and rear set of runners. The journey continued past that point only because the runners and the bunks on top of them are loosely connected by the hay rack itself. When we got to the top of the hill about a hundred yards from home, the swing-bunk split out and the whole front end of the running-gear came out. The front end of the hay rack, with its whole load of people dropped down in the snow. I jumped down off the driver's seat which I suddenly had to leave, jumping over the foot-board, down onto the trail to follow the team, turn and stop them on the side of the trail.

As I began un-hitching them from the eveners, tongue and yoke, I announced the end of the ride to the passengers, who scurried down the trail and declined the offer of campfire and cocoa which awaited them on the way to their van. I had rides scheduled for the next Tuesday and Thursday, but I knew that this was a major repair that would be required, so I canceled the Tuesday rides right away.

First there was a little excursion with the welcome help of Grant (who seemed to be a glutton for such punishment) and the ever-available-when-needed-most dear Solveig to jack up the rack and lash the broken bunk to the stringers under the rack. We tried pulling the empty sled home with two snow machines hitched like horses, but the tracks on those just spun. I went out and pulled it in with the team next day. I dug up the 25 year-old 6X6 white oak timbers I had still covered with a plastic tarp and a foot and a half of snow already at home. I hewed out a new tapered swing-bunk five feet long to fit up with the bearing-plate and four 1-1/2 inch pegs with through-bolts, as well as a new 3x6"x 4' reach. The reach had to be notched, bolted and glued at a right angle onto the roller, also made of wood, which holds the rear runners 4' apart and is fastened to the runners by means of a 3/4"x 10" pin with a hole drifted out in the end of it for a keeper-bolt which goes through the roller. I built the new reach first, using the old pieces of the broken one for a pattern, and that took a couple of eight-hour days. As the repairs progressed, I saw that I needed to cancel the two or three rides already booked for Thursday evening. That cost money, as well as the time and materials the repairs cost.

Christmas Eve, a day I had planned to take off, came and went with work in and out of the Cascade garage. Christmas Day, I made the campfire in time to put the kingpin which had a bend in it from the accident in there to soak while I tracked the trail down with a snow machine. The kingpin is a 1-1/8"x 10" steel pin upon which the swing-bunk swivels as the runners and beam turn beneath them. Everything was ready, and I was able to drop the rack back down on the running gear at five minutes after four. Then I realized I had forgotten to notch out the swing-bunk for passage of the pins that stick up from the runner-knees. So I crawled underneath the rack, and standing both myself and the chainsaw on our heads, I was able to cut the notches out. By 4:30, I was ready to hitch the team, get the cocoa, and maybe a bite to eat before a full schedule of three Christmas night rides.
(You can read some more of this gripping narrative if you want to, but you'll probably have to wait until I write it in my next post)