Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Muscle and Sweat

Sometimes there is simply no replacement for good old fashioned muscle and sweat. In our pursuit of doing things faster, more efficiently, and with less work we often end up worse off thinking we're doing better. Case in point, my new fences around the family food plot.

For the last few weeks, we've been busy at every opportunity setting fence posts for approximately 600 feet of new field fence. We have been accomplishing this at a pretty decent rate using one of man's greatest inventions; the post hole digger. For those of you who are familiar with this tool, it will rapidly develop bulky triceps, deltoids, and pectorals, especially when used following 5 weeks of minimal rain. The ground has been hard as a rock, so some of these holes have been a bit difficult. But, despite the hard ground we've been making good time and I must say, have dug some of the truest and and most precise fence post holes around.

That brings us to this weekend. With only 10 holes remaining, a neighbor of mine realizes that we are setting fence posts. He tells my wife to have me come to his house and get his tractor with the post hole auger attached. Now my neighbor is a great guy and lets me use whatever I need off his farm. He has every implement and labor saving tool known to modern farming and has 4 tractors with different implements installed so he doesn't have to change them as often. He simply does not understand why anyone would attempt to do something by hand that could be done with a machine. He tells me when I come over, "you can't dig holes in that ground with post hole diggers, ground's just too hard". Now remember, I've already set more than 20 by hand. So, long story short, I agree to take his auger back over to finish. I figure maybe it'll speed things up and I can get my fence stretched a little sooner.

I proceed back to my farm riding on my neighbor's tractor which is missing on at least one cylinder, but in general running well, and head out to the field behind the house. I retrieve two of my sons to assist and we quickly get our last line strung and post positions marked. All we have to do is start drilling. First hole starts well but won't go below a foot or so deep. Being the physics minded guy that I am, I tell son #1, grab a post and use it to apply a little leverage with your weight to force the auger down. Good idea, but he simply doesn't have enough gravy and biscuits in him yet. So we trade places and I apply the weighted leverage, lo and behold down it goes. By the way, I've ridden bulls that were smoother. We pull the auger out, move the tractor and check our hole. There's quite a bit of loose dirt, but easily removed with the post hole diggers. What's this? My hole is crooked. Much to my chagrin, I discover that despite starting plumb, as the auger encounters harder layers of soil, it seeks the path of least resistance and goes that way. I spend 10 minutes plumbing up my hole. With what? You guessed it, post hole diggers. Oh well on to the next hole. This time, the auger won't go past a foot, no matter how much weight we apply. It hit a hardened surface that it won't penetrate. Another 10-15 minutes with the post hole diggers and a little muscle to break up the hard clay and, voila I'm done with the second.

Each of the next three holes offered similar challenges up to and ending with the fifth hole. I say ending with the fifth hole, because this is when the tractor ceases to operate. Despite, my neighbor installing new plugs and messing with it for a half an hour, it won't run. By this time, I've got to stop for the day because of a previous planned event with my family. I must call it a day with my holes not complete and my neighbors tractor parked in my field with the auger still inserted in a hole.

I have no problem with using tractors or implements when it is wise and good for my farm. But, it is not always best to look to avoid work. This day's events left me with several lessons. In this situation, the equipment and technology I was using was not more efficient because of the relatively small size of the job, and the soil conditions were not optimal for this type of auger. My holes were much truer and clean and didn't require any rework, like that of the auger. My body was getting a good workout during hand digging unlike the breathing fumes and doing very little real work while using the tractor. When digging by hand, I enjoyed the quiet of the countryside and either spent time meditating on things or talking to a family member. Using the tractor, I couldn't hear anything and had to constantly yell to communicate with my sons. When all was said and done, this was a job that would have been best left to muscle and sweat. I could have accomplished the task, most likely in less total time, better than the machine, and with greater benefit to my mind and body by hand. There's a lot to be said for doing things the old fashioned way.



Northern Farmer said...

You got it Mike!!
We've one of those tractor mounted post hole diggers and for many years it's buried behind a bunch of junk so we can't use it. I swear, unless a person would live in picture perfect sugar sand they're more work than doing it by hand. Plus the added risk of catching a person and pounding him into sausage and sending him to the great beyond.
All I use now is the hand post hole digger, a bar, and a narrow shovel. Makes muscle, builds caracter, and many times goes faster. Plus I can hear the world around me.
Again, good post!


TNfarmgirl said...

I can just picture all of you....so glad for this post. We have thought of purchasing one of these....I can now round file that item!!


Herrick Kimball said...

Good story Mike.

It's not easy, but there is a real feeling of satisfaction that comes with digging a hole by hand!

TnFullQuiver said...

Yes, hearing nature around me is worth the extra effort.

I agree with not getting one. For most of the relatively small jobs, I don't think it is much benefit. If a person were going to be putting in hundreds of posts often, then it would be worth it to get a really good one that would last and drill consistently accurate holes.

That was something I didn't really touch on much in my post. I was also somewhat disappointed with the holes I drilled, because they weren't as good as those I'd done by hand. It bothered me that I didn't maintain the same level of excellence throughout the whole job.