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More Dogs on Main Street

I finally hit the wall on the Olympics. I’ve seen enough figure skating to last a lifetime. Couldn’t care less about the ice dancing; don’t care about curling. Speed skating looks kind of fun, but I’m tired of the whining among the various team members about who doesn’t play well with others. The ski team flamed out. Mostly, I’m tired of three minutes of content for 12 minutes of commercials.

So I abandoned the Olympics and started channel surfing. There was a great program on RFT-TV about the new John Deere 8030 series tractors. It had all the drama of a documentary from NASA. The new tractor has a computer-controlled system that regulates both the engine and the transmission to keep the tractor pulling with maximum torque and minimum fuel consumption. It has a GPS system built in that will guide the tractor across the field in a perfectly straight line. That eliminates overlapping — saving seed, fuel, and time, according to the John Deere engineer with the plastic pocket protector.

This is a tractor that makes sense if you are cultivating three square miles of soybeans. It’s a little much for plowing the snow out of the driveway. But the longer they went on, the more amazing it became. This thing is as sophisticated as a nuclear submarine. Another computer system would monitor the crop yield at harvest, highlighting places that weren’t up to snuff on a map so the farmer could add fertilizer, water or whatever else there the next season.

They had a panel of engineers explaining this the same way NASA did with the moon landing. Most of the farmers I know are getting on in years, and can fix anything with duct tape and baling wire, but aren’t great with computers. I guess they would pick it up, but none of the engineers even suggested that it would be easy. After an hour of the engineers demonstrating how this marvel of technology worked ("the first tractor of the 21st century," they called it), they opened up the phones for questions.

The first caller was a woman from Arkansas. She wanted to know if they had done anything to improve the cup holders, because the cup holder in her 7000 series John Deere was flimsy and spilled her coffee all over. The engineers appeared to have been struck on the back of the head with a wrench. Yes, he said, we have upgraded the cup holder.

The next caller wanted to know why, if the operator’s seat was so ergonomic and comfortable, the "buddy seat" was still so uncomfortable. The engineer in charge of that explained that they really didn’t design it with the idea of the tractor being a rolling party barge, and didn’t think there would be passengers in there for any significant time.

The calls went on in that vein, ignoring all the technology, for quite a while before I moved on.

The next day, we had a John Deere emergency of our own. After dam breaks and forest fires, the worst thing that can happen out here on the ranch is that the John Deere goes down. The difference between normal life and the Donner Party is the John Deere we depend on to keep the place open all winter. It’s got the loader bucket on front, a seven-foot snow blower on back, and four-wheel drive in between. There are no cup holders. I don’t know when they started putting cup holders on tractors, but this one is old, pre-Starbucks, and caffeine-free. It sprung a leak, and was squirting hydraulic fluid all over the place. The transmission, steering and all the implements work off one big hydraulic system. It died just outside the barn.

Seeing the leak and fixing it are not the same. It was obvious where it was leaking, but not at all clear what to do about it. There was nothing near the leak to put a wrench on. My uncle said to call the John Deere place and they’d tell me exactly what to do. Much to my amazement, they had full tech support for a 40-year-old tractor. Microsoft abandons software (which never really worked in the first place) after five years. John Deere has a full parts list on everything they made since WWII.

What I needed was a couple of rubber O-rings. But since the old ones had gone to O-ring heaven, I couldn’t tell what size. The auto parts store in Kamas has a drawer full of O-rings, but you need to get the precise fit or they won’t seal. I couldn’t describe the leaking connection with any confidence over the phone, so I drove to the John Deere place in Springville. After looking at the schematic drawings of the tractor, we identified the joint and came up with the official part number for the O-rings. There were two, and he had one of them, but not the other. His shop in Nephi had 300 of the other one.

So I ended up driving to Nephi. I had so thoroughly frozen up dismantling the plumbing under the tractor that the four-hour drive was a good chance to warm up. When the guy in the Nephi store heard my tale of woe, he gave me the parts. They were under $2 each. We got it back together, and it should be good for another 40 years.

The guy in line ahead of me at the parts counter was trying to buy the new upgraded cup holder he had seen on TV the night before.


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