She thinks my tractor’s sexy.

Wrong. Dumb song. Only appreciated by those who don’t have to repair them out in the field.

Your woman doesn’t care about your tractor. Unless it won’t harrow her riding arena; then expect some whining.

You need a tractor. But how big? Like a small town teenage boy who knows his manhood is measured by the height of his truck and the size of his tires, us men really, really need that tractor that shows our wife, our family and our neighbours what we are made of.

And attachments, it has to have more attachments than that big electric thingy in the front window of the downtown adult superstore.

You know the tractors I’m talking about. We’ve all spent time furtively perusing those hobby farm magazine ads. And just look at those tractor manufacturer websites where you can build your own custom tractor to your needs. Those glossy tractor photos. The pretty fresh faced gal behind the wheel. That’s country porn. Twenty minutes of this and you’ll be nudging the little lady into the bedroom and closing the door.

Yes, I want that compact diesel Kubota in the glossy ads. Certainly would improve my sex life.

But I can’t afford it. It’s that damn ‘to do’ list I make.  If I crossed off most of those projects I could probably afford the down payment. Won’t happen though. Represents the other measure of manhood. Remember I mentioned how we need that chore list? It gives us control. An oversized brand new tractor is like that girl in the bar who helps you spend your paycheck. Lot’s of fun, but you got nowhere.

What I have is a thousand dollar 1982 Allis Chalmers 917 garden tractor.  Bright orange. Manual three-point hitch, no front-end loader and a broken coffee cup holder. Delivers seventeen raw horsepower of inadequacy. I found it on the internet classifieds and my father in law bought it for us as a house-warming present.  Bless him.

It does the job. Sure, I’ve had to do repairs. But this old beater starts in the dead of winter, and the mechanics are basic. The key was to bite the bullet and only get a unit that would do 95% of the work around here a tractor would normally do. It was a difference of thousands of dollars. Yes, I would like a posthole auger. But what is the ratio of use to collecting dust?  It was also a trade off of price to what my mechanical abilities are.

Now if you consider an older basic tractor, a sure fire way to judge its worth is to get on the internet. You see, if something has a motor, us men will form a community around it. Even better, we’ll race it. Just ask the men deeply involved in belt sander racing. They take it seriously, and so should we. It provides a communal bond amongst us men. It’s a solidarity that no woman would understand; and thankfully is not interested in understanding. They just appreciate that these juvenile endeavours get us out from underfoot.

Anyway, there are whole internet communities out there for every brand of tractor you can think of. There are discussion groups, bulletin boards, even classified ads for parts. I bought a rebuilt PTO box from a guy thousands of miles away. He sold it to a fellow “brother in tractors”. Went out of his way to get it to me. Posted a picture of my broken rototiller hook up on the website. In no time I had answers as to what was wrong with it, and how to fix it.

The point is to size up your tractor wants to what you need and what you can afford. Is it something you can fix, or is it going to be winched onto the trailer to take to town every time it breaks down? My 1982 Allis garden tractor is easy to deal with; basic point ignition and a drive train that makes sense. Need a few postholes dug? Get to know your neighbour.

But get on the internet and do your research. Just don’t stray onto the new tractor websites. There’s only two ways to break the vice of that country porn. Either succumb to it at the cost of your wife’s new kitchen curtains for a down payment, and another seventy-one payments to go; or get therapy.

Instead, waste some time on the garden tractor racing websites. Much more fun.

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Want to rule your rural domain? Make a “to do” list.

There’s a lot to be said for making a list of projects around the property. At a mundane level it helps us to organize and schedule. I have a running ‘to do’ list. If it has to get done, no matter what it goes in my notebook list. “Honey, could you look at that plug by the kitchen sink?” “It’s on the list dear”.

An excerpt from my list looks something like this:

Fix outlet by sink

Get hot tub running for summer

Install light on side of shanty

Stop losing list

Repair sprinkler in front field

Move wall in henhouse

Stuff insulation in holes in pump house.

Seems fairly innocuous right? It certainly helps us fellows to keep on top of things.

But there is something deeper here. A ‘to do’ list is the key to being master of your hobby farm; of that pipsqueak property that will become an integral part of your identity as a man.

That identity as a man in control of hobby farm hell will be grounded in the notion of blue jobs and pink jobs.

You see, gender is a fundamental organizing principle of the human condition. Now I have little time for those who argue men are genetically predisposed to certain jobs and women can only do other jobs. That’s a load of hooey. Try explaining that to my sister whose job title is Superintendant of Roads. She can drive anything on wheels or tracks, and the men who work for her respect her for it.

But we do organize by gender. Out in hobby farm country there are the pink jobs and blue jobs. It becomes a division of labour that gets things done, sometimes efficiently. It’s everywhere in the rural environment. Junk strewn all over the property? Things overgrown along the road? Fences down? They judge the man of that property. And I notice the judgements are swift and harsh.

You have to control your identity as a man in the rural environment. That means controlling your environment. It will be connected to tools and dirt, so get intimate with both.

Let me give you two small examples of how women take control of their environment. Does your wife sew? Lots of women like to sew. I imagine that’s why they do it. I tend not to question their motives for sewing. I like having buttons on my shirt. I have also noticed they usually have numerous buckets and boxes full of fabric and patterns.

Here’s a challenge. Go ahead, organize them for her. Haul them out and start sorting and classifying the fabric and patterns. When she comes around the corner I suggest you duck.

One of the first things a woman does when she reaches adulthood and gets her own place is to create the plastic container cupboard from hell. You know the one. You stick your head in it and can never find a lid that matches a container. But she can find them. In no time, with the appropriate condescending sigh and “there you go dear” she plops both on the counter with slightly more force than usual. I advise against re-organizing that cupboard. Believe me, it’s already organized. She’s in control of her domain.

You have to do the same thing.

With a ‘to do’ list, her request “Honey, could you look at that plug by the kitchen sink?” now becomes yours. On the list it goes. You control the priorities of that list. You control the scheduling and resource allocation deriving from that list.

When she asks “did you have a chance to look at that plug?” you have the answer. It is an answer that reflects the best interests of hearth and home. You know the priorities. You know the resource needs. You get to say, “It’s scheduled for Saturday honey”.

Now if she gets uppity and asks why, you pull out that list. With the appropriate sigh and condescending tone, you go over the items on that list and explain the priorities, the resource needs.

But it’s deeper than that. Have children? What do you want your male children to see in you? Are you the dad who gets things done? Do you get to explain to your son how you prioritize the chores; how you organize the resources to get things done? Can your son see why this is important for hearth and home? This is an environment to teach your sons to become good men; men who control their lives and domain. You are creating men who know that others depend on them. These are the men who garner respect in the rural environment.

There is little of this in the urban world. Men do not have control of their environment in the cities. Sons do not see how they connect with the larger world. Taking out the garbage hardly represents role modelling. Neither is time spent watching fight shows.

You control the blue jobs. You are the master of your domain. Your neighbours, especially the men folk will note your common sense. Just stay the hell away from the sewing buckets and container cupboard.

And make that list.

Hello from Hobby Farm Hell

I decided that I must not be the only person who occasionally wonders where his head was in the decision to move from the city in search of the better life for family. Don’t get me wrong. I love what the 6 acres have provided my family. All things considered I would never go back to the 1/2 duplex with the neighbours looking over my fence, dogs pooping on my lawn, kids perennially whining “I have nothing to do” which I have learned is code for “let me sit and do video games all day” and other questionable experiences of urban life.

I hope this blog provides some insight, even inspiration to all of us who have jumped into the hobby farm life. A life complete with dysfunctional animals, barely functional equipment, children now afraid to whine “I have nothing to do” lest you pull out the chore list and your loving spouse who quickly and eagerly realized the benefits of gender role stereotyping (That’s a blue job dear”). Especially when it’s below freezing.

I have learned that definitions of what is a hobby farm are far reaching and diverse. Distilled down though, I believe it should have one or both of the following.

It should have animals on the property that would not go over too well in the city. Have dogs? Big deal. That just makes it a country property. Chickens? More like it. Horses? Perfect. Rest assured that the animals don’t need any utilitarian or pecuniary value, just can’t have them in the city. We have horses; 1200 lb fruit flies that follow me everywhere on the property. Had chickens-in the freezer now. That’s another story. Consider a donkey. Never get away with that racket in the city.

It could also include growing things. A true hobby farm has to be growing enough to make your neighbours and coworkers either delight or cringe when they see the plastic grocery store bags full of strange green things. By the way, the first step to hobby farm life is to stop paying for zucchini. For crying out loud, we can’t give it away fast enough. Find one of us-tell us to lie to you. Then believe us. You’re on your way.

Doesn’t matter what you grow. Just has to be too much of it for the family. A fundamental shift in human social evolution was agrarianism. The ability to grow a surplus beyond subsistence. Helped to feed urban folk. Led to big cities. They need us. Taunt them with your surplus.

This is an exploration of this lifestyle hopefully with two outcomes. One, it may enlighten, even entertain with the foibles of this life. Second, it may provide me with some writing therapy in response to the craziness and irrationality of hobby farm hell.

Anyway, I hope to let you know of the vices and virtues of life on a pretend farm. How can we cope with the frenetic dichotomy of rural life after all day at work in the city? What is needed; what is not needed. What to do with kids and spouses. Admittedly, I will be speaking as a husband and a father; as a male, because that is what I am. This means the fairer sex may at times question my interpretation of reality. Get over it-it’s my reality. I do though hope it may help in understanding the quiet desperation of us men in what at times is an overwhelming venture.

Cheers,

Ron