Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning Experiences Part 1

Learning Experiences
Everyone has learning experiences. It's what happens when you make a mistake, and gain something from it. By sharing our doubtless substantial number of learning experiences, hopefully others can avoid making the same mistakes. I'd like to note that many of these will be learning experiences in progress, so we'd love input.
                                         Stock Photo

Of Tractors and Other Tools
Everyone knows that each job has its tools that you need to have to function properly. For writing it is a computer and a dictionary, for IT it is Google and your box of gadgets, etc. Before you move into a house you are warned that there are things you need for a house. It's almost like a whole other job based on the tool set you need. If you are going to be homesteading and trying to take care of things on your own, it's an even bigger tool set.

There are any number of lists of tools that are vital for homesteading, and I'll probably go into these various tools at some point in the future when I've experienced more. For now though I'm going to stick to my personal experiences and talk about the first major tool that has been an issue.

We needed a tractor, and we knew we would. We thought we'd need it for plowing the driveway in the winter, and I'm sure that a tractor would work well for that. We actually thought ahead on this one. In the negotiation we made the tractor on the property coming with the property, and being a working tractor part of the negotiation. Sadly as I am not an expert on tractors, and nor is the lady of the house we didn't know what to look for. The tractor came into our possession along with the house, as is but working. Sadly, working is not at all how this tractor can be described. Things to know in the future, diesel tractors, and engines must not be started with ether. Not saying they can't be, it will however do damage to the engine. Long and short, tractor wasn't working and could only be scrapped.

Ok, so we need to get a plow truck, that isn't too terrible. Well, aside from the cost of a plow truck (about $2,500 used is what they seem to run for a beater), there is the cost of not having a tractor. To illustrate this I'm going to just list some of the moments I've thought how useful a tractor would be.

* A tree fell in the way, and is too heavy to move by hand.
* I want to level our stone stairs leading up to the house, but at least half are too heavy to move by hand.
* Carrying split firewood by hand is a pain when you have a lot of it.
* Wood stoves weigh about enough to make me cry when I think I'm going to have to move one. A tractor could help for much of the way.
* A grader can be put on a tractor which would reduce our driveway problem significantly.
                                                   Copyright Michelle Vigeant 2011
* Etc.

So we'd suggest when you get a house, if you have land and are doing things that require a tractor, get a tractor that you know to be reliable. There are a few ways to do this, none of which are necessarily to get the one that was at the house before.

1: Buy a new tractor.

* You know for a fact that the tractor is going to work, and have a guarantee if it doesn't work correctly.
* There are experts selling it that can help you learn to use it and show you what you need to maintain it.
* Given the construction of tractors if you follow those instructions you can expect it to last the length of your mortgage.

* High price tag. In our case it would be $18,000ish to get what we need, and you can easily be looking at a $40,000 investment.
* Tractors need a decent amount of work relatively early on. If I recall correctly at 100 hours it needs to be worked on as a break in cost beyond what you're initially paying.

All in all I love the idea of a new tractor, if as you're starting to homestead you happen to have the capital or credit lying around to pull it off. If you're going to do this I'd strongly recommend finding the local tractor dealership that has a good recommendation. It's well worth asking around on this because in any given rural area there will be a few, and just like car dealerships not all are created equal.

2: Used from a dealership.

* You know it will work, and if it doesn't work properly there's a place you can go to ask them about it and see what you can do to get it working given that they've had to vet and maintain it to sell it.
* Lower cost than a new tractor.
* As long as you pay attention and buy from a reputable dealership you can expect it to last you a good long time.
* You have experts who can instruct you on the care and feeding of the tractor.

* Shorter life span than a new tractor.
* Even if you do buy from a reputable dealer, sometimes bad things happen unexpectedly and it's more likely with a used tractor.
* You don't necessarily have the whole picture on the maitainence history and so you don't know as well what you need to do with preventative maintenance.
* What you want won't always be available and you may have to wait a while.

This is the option I'd probably go for if I were to do it again. You can end up with a very good  value this way, and it is more likely to be in your price range than a brand new tractor when you are also looking at the other numerous start up costs of getting into a new house. As with buying new, it's a good idea to establish an idea of the character of the local dealerships and find one with a good reputation.

3: Buy used privately.

* Likely to be the lowest price of the options.
* You can find an absolute gem as someone is trying to unload for some reason or another.
* You can in theory get a personal walk through of the tractor with all of its quirks from the previous owner.
* You can see where it was used and the condition of the other vehicles in the area which can give an idea of the quality of care it actually got before it went up for sale.

* Recourse is likely non existent both legally and otherwise in this kind of transaction if some hidden flaw is not disclosed and suddenly shows up.
* Has not been professionally vetted and maintained as with a dealership.
* Transport is likely your problem, and if you don't have the right equipment that can get pricey fast.
* Private individuals, not having a sellers reputation have the greatest reason to lie to you.
* Even if they don't lie, people aren't trained to remember and disclose all details when under stress, like trying to sell a multiple thousand dollar piece of equipment.
* Again, they may not have what you need when, and it's harder to find out.

If you choose to go this route, I'd recommend to do it with someone you know the reputation of. If you can't do that due to either not being familiar with the area, find and bring a mechanic that is reputable. Honestly, even if you do you probably should. Have them do a look at the vehicle, and check it over for problems. They will know what to look for. This is very much a category with a lot of risk so pay attention.

Research Before You Buy!
Probably something that's going to come up a lot in this blog, research. I don't know enough about tractors to know what to tell you to look for. I did enough research to know what I needed, but that isn't enough to advise others. What I did learn from research.

Horsepower: This is obviously very important, don't expect the kinds of numbers you get in cars. A 40 horse power tractor is enough for quite a lot of work.
Fuel source: Diesel tends to be more reliable and last a bit longer, gas costs less (where I am) and is easier to obtain.
PTO: Power take-off, it's what you run things off the back of your tractor with from mowers to back hoes and everything else. Something you need to know about and what it works with.
Loader: The bucket on the front, I didn't know before I did research that not all tractors come with one, costs a bit extra, but for many things it's needed.
Greasing: So there are all kinds of joints that move on a tractor. There are tractors you have to hand grease, and ones that auto grease. Sounds like a luxury, but for an inexperienced user it could be a huge money saver in the end if you don't know how to properly maintain your machine and something freezes up.
Transmission: There are manual and automatic transmissions on tractors just like cars. That said, tractors are more complex than cars because of more moving parts, and generally a lot more gears. Something to look into.

All in all, there is a lot to tractors, and it's worth talking to knowledgeable people before purchasing one.

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