Saturday, August 30, 2014

More Fish Habitats - a Fake Hollow Log, Hopefully Bass-Attracting Barrel Structure

The Angler's United website I talked about back in my previous post about building a fish habitat/structure out of a plastic barrel also had what they called a Bass Bungalow built out of rolled up snow fence.  Some snow fence rolled up into a 6 ft. long, 16 inch diameter cylinder sounded almost exactly the same size as two 30 gal. barrels bolted together with some holes drilled in the sides.

It was a quick process to cut the tops and bottoms out of my two barrels with a Sawzall (I'm still trying to figure out what I can do with those cut out pieces). 

Cutting the tops out of two barrels

Cutting the bottoms out of two barrels, don't forget to leave that lip!
Before I got too far ahead of myself, I did remember to leave enough of a lip on the bottoms so I can actually bolt these barrels to each other, as it's kinda hard to have a structure built out of two barrels bolted together if you can't actually bolt them together.

Now I had to drill the actual holes to bolt these two barrels together, I needed at least three bolts to hold these together, but the way I saw it, no matter how carefully I measured there was almost no way all three would end up matching.  I'd been hard at work for almost 5 minutes by this time, so I sat down in an almost comfy lawn chair to rest while I thought about how I was going to drill those holes.

After some intense lawn-chair-sitting-thinkerating, I decided to start by drilling three holes in one barrel, then I would eyeball the first hole in the other barrel, put the first bolt in, and drill the other two holes.
Drilling a hole so I can try to bolt these two barrels together
Drilling those holes was a quick job, but now the problem was how the heck was I gonna bolt two barrels together when the bolt hole was three feet down in the barrel?  Since I didn't have a little kid handy that I could try to convince to crawl in there ("I swear, it's the coolest thing ever to crawl through barrels, just don't tell your mom"), it looked like I was going to have to crawl in there myself.
Getting ready to crawl/pull/drag myself into the barrel to bolt it all together after I drill a couple more holes
After blocking the barrels so I wouldn't roll down a hill or something, and making sure there wasn't anyone around that would see my feet sticking out of these barrels and would get the idea to kick the blocks out of the way and roll me down a hill, I crawled and pulled my way into the barrels to finish drilling the holes and bolting it all together.   It turns out I spent more time thinking on the subject than actually doing it (that seems to happen more than it should), and after I'd crawled/drug myself out and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn't managed to roll down a hill while stuck inside a barrel, it was time to drill a bunch of holes in the sides with a hole saw.
All bolted together with a bunch of  holes drilled in the sides
I was thinking that the bass and their fry might need some shade, so I drilled three rows of holes on the sides (inside the barn this time so I didn't go barrel-blind from the glare off of the white barrel), left the top solid for shade, and the bottom solid so it wouldn't sink down into the mud as quick.

After I build a couple more fish barrel habitats, I'll have a fish barrel habitat sinking fest on the farm ponds, then I can start taking credit for each and every fish caught out of the ponds from now to doomsday.

My fishing mantra from now on is going to be, "Don't forget, if it wasn't for all those barrel habitats I put in the ponds back in '14, there wouldn't be any fish in these ponds today."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Family Farm - the Prequel to the Story

In the comments of my post Building Fences and Wondering What Might Have Been, Pat asked about the long version of how I got from just thinking about farming and actually farming.

My great-grandparents bought the quarter-section (160 ac.) of land that's called the Home Place in about 1925, which makes up part of the land I'm farming. 

A few years later, my great-grandfather died and my great-grandmother was left a widow with 6 young children, of which my grandfather was the oldest at about 11 years old.  Somehow they managed to hold onto the farm through the Great Depression, and the drought years of the Thirties (I don't think the Dust Bowl actually happened around here, but it was dry). 

I have no way of knowing how or what they were farming in that time period, but I happen to have a farm ledger from 1937, (which must have been saved because it was supposedly the worst of the drought years) when they were growing cotton, wheat, oats, grain sorghum, and also baling sudangrass/pea and oats for hay.   They mainly had dairy cows (about 8), broiler chickens (I'm not sure if they sold any of those), layer chickens, and six horses rounded out the rest of the livestock on the farm.  I'd guess that the farm was about the same more or less in 1927 as it was in 1937 (although they might have scaled back in 1937 due to the droughts).

After World War II, Grandpa and a couple of his brothers were still farming in the area, and that's about the time they started buying their own land,  which was when Grandpa bought the other quarter-section I'm farming right now.  

Then, the droughts in the fifties started, and according to Dad, they almost lost everything because back then almost all that they owned was put up as collateral to mortgage any new farmland (I'm not sure if that's entirely true, but I've looked at the deeds and all the land Grandpa owned was used as collateral to mortgage that quarter-section).  

The droughts in the fifties were supposed to have been worse than the Dirty Thirties, and Dad said that they were so desperate that they were baling the ditches along the roads trying to get enough hay to make it through the winter, and the hay was so thin that the baler had to follow right behind the rake so it could be baled before it blew away.  It finally started raining in the late-50's and the worst of the droughts were over.

When my great-grandmother died, my grandfather inherited 1/6 of the Home Place and then he bought the rest from his brothers and sisters. At that point, he owned 800 acres and was renting at least 320 more acres.   

We lived close to the farm until I was about 8 years old, with Dad still helping around the farm, then we moved about 25 miles away when he got a new job.  Dad still helped on the farm even after we moved, but by the late-70's, Grandpa was starting to think about retiring due to health reasons (his knees were going out, etc.), the price of cattle and grain had been going down for awhile, his equipment was starting to wear out, and he didn't want to spend a bunch of money at that stage of his life replacing everything.  

He semi-retired in about 1980, renting out most of the farm, but keeping a small herd of cattle, which were the cattle I was mostly exposed to as a kid on a hands on basis.  Then his health got worse, and he sold the last of the cattle about 4-5 years later.   

He and Grandma still lived on the farm, so I was still around the farm even after he retired, but I was mainly interested in hunting and fishing instead of farming.  I was more interested in managing land for wildlife, planting food plots for deer and turkey, leaving wheat stubble for dove hunting and quail habitat, planting a field of alfalfa so I could grow big deer instead of baling piles of hay, etc. One of my life goals at the time was to own my own piece of land and manage it for deer, turkey, quail, and whatever else I could hunt.

I went to college, then Grandpa died soon after I graduated, and Grandma still lived on the farm. 

I liked college and engineering, but always had a nagging feeling that I was somehow getting farther and farther away from owning any of my own land, or just being able to just go outdoors any time I wanted to.   

I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree, wasn't really satisfied with the type of work that was available, so I went back to get a Master's Degree. Then at the start of my second semester, I decided working the rest of my life as an engineer didn't really suit me, so I just quit college and engineering completely.  One of the happiest days of my life was the day I walked off of that campus, never to return (I swear the sun shone brighter, I had a bounce in my step, and I was grinning ear to ear on that day). 

I burned every bridge in sight, salted the earth, and never looked back (well, I might have questioned my sanity a few times), then I started trying to figure out once again what I was going to do with my life.  It was both one of the stupidest and smartest things I've ever done in my life.  Take my advice and don't try this at home, I'm not a professional.

By that time, I had a vague idea that I wanted to be self-employed, and I began to think that I might be able to make a living raising cattle and farming, so that I could be self-employed and could also still do all the things outdoors that I wanted to do.  But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to try renting land from my Grandma because as much of a screw-up as I was at the time, I didn't want to screw-up her life by failing at farming and also failing her.   So, I continued to stumble through life, doing this and that to make a little money, stayed out of debt, somehow managed to save some money, and started to think more and more that maybe I should have toughed it out as an engineer (after all, you gotta do what you gotta do and all that).

About this time a tornado hit the farm, which was at least a half-mile wide and it destroyed every building on my grandmother's farm, including her house, two hay barns, three equipment sheds, loafing sheds, a lot of the trees, and most of the fences in its path.   I spent almost a year off and on cleaning up the debris, fixing fences, and finally figuring out that I might actually be able to make a life for myself as a farmer.  That was easier said than done, so for a few years, I spent a lot of time observing, reading, saving, and learning how to do as much as I could.

A number of years later, my grandmother died.  All the land was divided up among my father and his sisters, and after my father bought part of the land from his sisters he owned 400 acres of the original farm. At this point, I was almost desperate since I thought that any chance I might of had of ever farming was slipping away, and then I actually talked to my family about farming this land (which I hadn't really done up until this point).  

It was harder than I would have guessed to ask for that help, but with some probably undeserved help and some work, I eventually went from thinking about farming to being a farmer. Although I still don't know if I should call myself a farmer, rancher, stockman, gamekeeper, or something else (which is a whole other story).

The ending to this long rambling post and this part of the story is that I'm able to farm because I'm leasing the land from my parents (FWIW, I'm also renting another quarter-section down the road).

Some people might argue with me, but farming either inherited or family-owned land has certain disadvantages from my experience.  My great-grandparents, grandparents, great-uncles, and parents all had to struggle through farm-ending droughts and some of them spent a lot of money to keep the farm intact so that I can have a chance at farming it today.

Sometimes there's a lot of pressure to live up to the unprovable expectations of people long gone.
When I get around to it, I'll try to explain how I went from having access to some land and actually farming it.    

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trying to Improve the Fishing in Stock Ponds

Over the years I've often thought about improving the fishing in the ponds around the farm.  Right now there are three ponds that have fish in them (there's one more pond that dried up completely in 2012, so I doubt if there are very many fish in that pond anymore).  There are decent numbers of bass, a lot of bluegill, and a few catfish in all three ponds, and a handful of crappie in one pond. 

From what I understand, for decent fishing a pond needs a few trees on the banks for shading, the banks should have good grass cover to catch any sediment that might flow into the pond, fertilizing and liming can be useful to improve the fishing, and there should be some structures or habitat in the water for the fish to do all their fish hanging-out activities and such. 

In the past, there used to be scattered trees around the banks of all three ponds, but a combination of ravenous, vandalous beavers (nature's engineer my foot!?!) and tornadoes left two of the ponds without any trees big enough to shade the edges of the pond.

The trees (small pecan, honey locust, and willow trees) around one of the ponds are slowly starting to regrow which is encouraging, but the other pond hasn't seen that much regrowth of trees yet (mainly because that's the pasture where I usually winter the cows and cattle seem to be really hard on trees over the winter and into spring).  I've been thinking about fencing off part of that pond and possibly planting some trees along the bank to recreate the way it used to look, but I've also been thinking about that for years, so who knows if that will ever get done. 

Since switching to no-till and ending all the typical tillage operations we used to do on the cropland, it seems like the ponds have really cleared up and instead of having "moss" growing along the banks like there used to be, there are different kinds of "water plants" growing now (I'm not a marine plant guy, so that's as good of a description as I can give).  I'm not sure how the fish feel about the whole moss vs. water plant situation, but my gut tells me "water plants" are preferable to fish, people, and cattle. Besides that gut feeling I don't really know.

Building some sort of fish habitat has always been hard to accomplish. About eight years ago, I was clearing some cedars near one of the ponds and since the water level was lower due to a drought (does it ever rain around here!?) I drug cedar trees down to the edge of the water to build a huge brush pile for the fish.  But building that brush pile was such gut-busting work that I thought I was going to collapse at any moment and my bleached bones would also become fish habitat.   Unless I could find a barge to float in the pond, using a small boat to haul cedar trees out into a pond and then sinking them to build some sort of fish structure that was big enough to do any good seemed almost impossible.

I also tried building a smaller "artificial cedar tree" out of a bucket and a bunch of flexible 1" tubing and PVC I had laying around.  I carefully arranged the tubing in the bucket, poured a little concrete in the bottom to keep my careful arrangement of tubing still carefully arranged, found out the tubing wasn't secure enough so I needed to add a little more concrete. Then, the tubing still wasn't anchored, so I kept pouring even more concrete in the bucket until I had a 80 lb. chunk of concrete in a hard to handle bucket with a bunch of stuff sticking out every which way.  

After almost flipping the boat upside down trying to throw it overboard, I scrapped that idea until I could figure out something better.  I was also kinda bummed for a few days after that because if I couldn't even throw 80 lb. of concrete-filled bucket overboard without almost sinking the boat, how the heck was I gonna haul an alligator into my boat if I ever decided to take up alligator fishing for a living?  

I never would have thought that simply trying to build an artificial cedar tree would also lead to a shorter list of future career options.  After I finally figured out that I simply needed to get a bigger boat if I ever decided to switch to catching alligators as a career, all was right with the world once again, but I still didn't have a good way to create more fish habitat in the ponds. 

A few weeks ago, I was looking online for fish structure/habitat ideas and came across the Anglers United website which had a few ideas for building some fish habitats out of snow fence

Since I usually find that I'm allergic to spending money if I don't absolutely, positively need to spend money, and I didn't have any snow fence laying around, I looked around and found some 30 gal. barrels.  I had originally planned to build an experimental compost tea brewer out these barrels, but after I came to my senses and started to question some of the outlandish claims made about the magical powers of compost tea, that project got put on the back burner. 

Those 30 gal. barrels were about 16" in dia. and about 36" tall, so they looked like they would make good substitutes for some rolled up snow fence if I drilled a few holes in them with a hole saw.  So I started out by making my version of the Crappie Condo (hopefully it'll also work as a Crappie/lBluegill/Perch Condo) talked about on the Angler's United website.
30 gallon barrel with a bunch of randomly placed potential holes drawn all over it
Using a 3" hole saw and my carefully calibrated eyeballs to eyeball the spacing, I drilled a series of holes up, down, and around the barrel, and soon had my fish habitat ready to drop off the boat (after wiring a couple of bricks or something on it to sink it).
Finished fish habitat with a bunch of carefully placed drilled holes
Of course, I picked a day when it was over 100 degrees outside to drill all these holes, was amazed at how bright a white barrel can get when you are looking right at it and the sun is overhead (I need to wear sunglasses next time), and was quickly reminded a number of times about how much torque an electric drill has when a hole saw binds up in a chunk of thick plastic (make sure there aren't any little kids or old ladies around if you are prone to descriptive, detailed cussing).   Other than that, it was much easier and cheaper to build this structure than dragging a bunch of cedar trees into a pile or filling a bucket up with concrete and PVC.

Now the question is, should I add some pieces of tubing crosswise to simulate the branches of a tree? I have some 2" black tubing that would be almost perfect to build fake cedar tree limbs out of.

Next I need to build a few more of these and some Bass Bungalows, sink them in the pond without sinking the boat, and then start reeling in the fish.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Building Fences and Wondering What Might Have Been

I've been working on this section of fence for about a week or so, a few hours at a time every day or so. I try not to work too hard when it's as hot and humid as it's been lately, so don't give me any grief about how long it's taking.

Using my little bulldozer, I can build a halfway decent looking fence pretty quick, first taking down all the old wire, then going down the line pulling posts (just weld a hook on the back of the blade to hook a chain to and it's an easy job), and after a few passes to smooth everything out I'm ready to start building the new fence.

For what it's worth, I typically try to build a 5-wire barb wire fence with an offset high-tensile electric wire as my standard fence.  Corner posts are 10-12" posts (if I can find them) set as deep as I can set them (typically 4 foot deep).

About fifteen years ago, a tornado came through here and knocked down or tore up most of the fences on the farm (among other damage) and this was one of the first fences I repaired back then.  I wasn't farming at the time, but I spent most of that summer rebuilding fences and cleaning up all the debris off the farm and while I was doing all that work, I started thinking even more seriously about farming as a job, vocation, career, life's work, or whatever you choose to call it.  It did take a little time and effort to go from those first thoughts about farming and actually doing it (which is a story in itself) , but rebuilding all those fences way back when played an important role in my getting to the actual doing it part.

I'm not sure if I'd even be farming right now if that tornado hadn't ripped through and destroyed so much.  Of course, it's much more complicated and involved than that and dealing with all that destruction was pretty devastating at times (I think it was much, much harder on my Grandmother), but things definitely would have been different for me if that tornado hadn't hit the farm.

It's funny how things work out sometimes, and working on that fence, I was wondering where I would be or what I'd be doing if that tornado hadn't went over the farm fifteen years ago.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sorghum-Sudangrass Update after Three Weeks

In the past, when I've grown sorghum-sudangrass it's usually turned hot or dry soon after I've planted it. Under those conditions, it still grows, but if it gets too dry or hot it will just sit there waiting for moisture, then it will have a sudden burst of growth.  That tendency for a burst of growth after a little rain has saved me a couple of times during drought years when I was able to finally cut it for hay late in the summer or early in the fall after toughing it out over a long summer while worrying about having enough hay to get through winter.  You still need to worry about nitrate levels, etc. during a drought, so do your homework if you plan on trying to plant something like sorghum-sudangrass.

This summer has been a little different compared to previous summers because it's been a little less hot, and we've had a little bit more rain, plus I think my organic matter (OM) levels are finally starting to increase a little in the cropland due to switching to no-till and growing crops like grain sorghum and sorghum-sudangrass.  All of that has given me a better stand of sorghum-sudangrass this summer than I've seen before. 

I planted this field on July 22 and approximately 3 weeks after emergence, it is already almost 24" tall, seems to be a relatively uniform stand across the field, and the only fertilizer I've applied is what I top dressed on the wheat back in late-February.  Right now, it looks like sorghum-sudangrass with it's deeper and denser roots might be much better at scavenging nitrogen than crabgrass is (it figures, since I just shot my mouth off about how great crabgrass was).  

For $12-13 per acre for seed, sorghum-sudangrass might work even better than crabgrass if I ever tried any of the grand plans for the future I talked about in the previous post, it probably catches much more than $12 worth of NPK, and in the long run it might help create more OM.  Plus, a field of sorghum-sudangrass is a little bit more impressive and looks like I'm a honest-to-goodness farmer with a honest-to-goodness plan compared to just growing a field of volunteer crabgrass.

Since photos seem to help me remember how things looked when they were growing, I took a series of photos from different positions.  For comparison, this is also where I took my wheat growth pictures back in April and May.
Looking South East - Haygrazer 21 Days After Emergence
Looking South - Haygrazer 21 Days After Emergence
Looking West - Haygrazer 21 Days After Emergence

At this point, seeing how good this field of sorghum-sudangrass is growing, it's getting more and more tempting to cut this field for hay sometime in the next month or so instead of grazing the winter-killed forage over the winter, but so far I'm resisting that urge.  In the long run, it would be much better to treat this sorghum-sudangrass as a cover-crop and/or graze it, leaving all the organic material on the field instead of baling it and taking it off of the field.  

But, even though I know all the benefits of cover cropping, every time I drive by, I still have to keep telling myself,  I. MUST. NOT. BALE. THIS. FIELD.   It's a little tougher than I thought it would be to feed the soil instead of baling it for hay.

So, if you get the chance, try and remind me not to bale this field and that I should stick to my original plan.
Driving South on the old oil field road along the property line - Haygrazer 21 Days After Emergence

In the last photo, you can see the neighbor's field (gosh, that dirt  in the road and field sure looks red, doesn't it?).   Nowadays, I'd much rather pull a drill and plant something, than pull a plow, disc, or cultivator over a field.

For the amount of money I used to spend on fuel pulling tillage implements, I could have planted a heck of a lot of different cover crops and I could have fed a lot of cattle.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Baling Crabgrass Hay and Coming Up With Grand Plans

I've been working off and on for the last couple of days baling about 45 acres of crabgrass hay.  The more I grow and bale crabgrass, the more I like it.  It's been about 60 days since wheat harvest, I have a volunteer stand of crabgrass that is utilizing the fertilizer left from the wheat crop, I don't have much invested in this hay crop besides a little extra fertilizer on about half of this field, and I'm ending up with a decent amount of hay. 

If I applied a lot more fertilizer and/or got more aggressive about controlling weeds, I could probably grow a lot more hay or up the quality and protein levels of the hay, but then I'd be moving into an area of more risk and expense.

As a bonus, from what I've seen, the crabgrass residue also seems to be inhibiting the growth of annual ryegrass (which can be tough to control) in the wheat.  I haven't done any double blind, replicated, random, overly-complicated trials on that subject, so apply that idea for controlling ryegrass to your own wheat fields at your own risk.  I've also found that I couldn't get a decent stand of crabgrass until the ryegrass was sort of controlled in my wheat (mainly through later planting and crop canopy).  In other words, crabgrass residue stops ryegrass from growing and ryegrass residue stops crabgrass from growing (that's almost a chicken or the egg conundrum to puzzle over).

For anybody interested in more information about growing crabgrass for either hay or grazing, I'd suggest going to the Noble Foundation's online publication about crabgrass and how they developed an improved crabgrass called 'Red River' Crabgrass.

For those that are interested, I took a couple of photos along the lane I talked about when I was clearing out the fenceline back in April.
Heading South Along the Lane Between Pastures
Looking Back North
Almost Done Baling

I like baling hay on this field because it has nice, straight, long stretches to cut (somewhere around 2100 feet long). I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm a lot more efficient and make quicker work of the job when I'm going in a straight line instead of dealing with a bunch of turns like my typical hay meadows are laid out.  It also gives me a lot more time to plan and scheme for the future when I'm driving the tractor in a straight line. 

I usually come up with a ton of great ideas to save the world, and make the farm much more profitable or easier to run, then almost immediately forget all those ideas as soon as I park the tractor and quit for the day.  But this year, I have the advantage of this blog, so I'm going to actually try to write some of those ideas down, so I won't immediately forget them (I'll just forget them a couple of weeks from now instead).

Growing crops in the summer around here is a hit-or-miss proposition.  Between drought problems and weed pressure, I'm beginning to understand why almost everyone went to continuous wheat about 50 years ago.  

Compared to growing grain sorghum or soybeans, it's easy to grow crabgrass as a double crop with wheat, and when sorghum drops to $3.00-$3.50/bu. it would almost be more profitable to sell hay if I was inclined to sell hay.  I'm still going to beat my head against the wall trying to figure out how to grow grain sorghum and get some respectable yields, but it's nice to have options if I ever decide to stop trying to grow it.

Along that line of thinking, it would be even more profitable to feed that grass to cattle instead of baling it.  

Grazing would also be better for building my soil's fertility. Fertilizing, rotational grazing, then mowing to clip seed heads and control any weeds might help build my soil's fertility (by creating a layer of mulch, etc.). That particular idea might just help justify buying a bat-wing mower which I've been contemplating for awhile.

If I'm going to graze my crabgrass, it might be better to graze stockers instead of cows and calves, so if I had both a fall-calving herd and a spring-calving herd I could graze those weaned fall calves on that crabgrass.  

If I moved some of the cows to a fall-calving season, I might only need one bull instead of two bulls. Although having two bulls is a bit of an insurance policy if something happens to one of them on the job.  

If I only need one bull, I could replace bulls more often and could improve my herd's genetics a little quicker Saving replacement heifers might or might not be a headache with only one bull.

By adding a fall-calving season, I could wait to breed replacement heifers so that they calve at 30 months old instead of 24 months old  (I'm not entirely convinced about that idea and I would probably still need two bulls).

As you can see from my almost rambling statements, I came up with a few ideas about changing a lot of stuff around the farm while baling this hay, I'm not sure if any of it will ever see the light of day, but at least I didn't forget it all as quickly as I usually do.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My New Favorite Piece of Equipment; a Hay Trailer

I was hauling hay off of the farm I rent about 4 miles away and was reminded once again how much I like the new hay trailer I bought last fall.  It takes less than ten minutes to load, about 10 seconds to unload, and I wish I'd bought one a few years ago.

For years I hauled hay with a couple of trailers, a flatbed trailer that would haul 8 bales at a time and a smaller one that would hold 3.  You needed a tractor to load and unload, it took two or three people to manage all the trailers and the tractor, and you had to haul a ten foot wide load down the road.  But, I was of the mindset that I didn't want to spend money on "frivolous" things like hay trailers that only served one purpose, so I toughed it out and refused to waste money on a hay trailer while I was still "building the business".

I don't bale a tremendous amount of hay compared to some of the bigger farms, but last summer I hauled over 300 bales of hay (150-170 tons of hay) and I finally reached the limit of how much I was willing to suffer for the sake of not spending any money.  So I splurged on a hay trailer and now I wish I had bought one years ago.

Loading It Up, One Bale at a Time

Loaded in Record Time and Ready to Hit the Road
After years of saving money, trying to reduce spending, and making do with what I had, it's more difficult that I would have guessed to actually start spending some money to make it easier or more efficient to do some of the work on the farm.

The money I spent on that hay trailer was money well spent, and now I'm wondering if it might be worth it to spend some more money on some other stuff to make my life a little bit easier (I'll need to hunt up a crowbar to pry open my billfold first). 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Everybody Oughta Own a Jeep Sometime During Their Life

I posted about my '83 Chevy pickup back in May, and down in the comments Pat brought up the subject of Jeeps so I thought I'd tell the story about the Jeep I owned back when I was about 18 years old (which seems like both yesterday and a hundred years ago at the same time, funny how that works isn't it?).

My Jeep was a 1975 CJ5 that I (with a lot of help) eventually modified to the point that it had a 304 V8, a HD 4spd, 3" suspension lift, and 33" mud tires along with a bunch of little things like power steering, bumpers, a roll cage, etc.. Building that Jeep taught me a lot about being a mechanic, the world of salvage yards and the people that run them, welding, painting, etc..
An iPhone photo of a 35mm photo of my '75 Jeep
With that 304 and the Jeep's light weight, it was scary-fast, and with the steering characteristics of your typical short wheelbase Jeep, it was scary-dangerous trying to keep it going in a straight line down the road.  

It was really made for one thing, and that was driving off-road, down muddy roads, or up a rocky Jeep trail back in the mountains.   When I drove it, it was almost like I was wearing or riding it instead of driving it, it felt like an extension of my body, and I was one with the Jeep and the terrain (or something like that).  I was a member of the Jeep cult and proud of it.

I eventually ended up selling it because I was almost broke and didn't need or want two vehicles any more.  My head told me to sell it, but my heart kept trying to tell me not to sell it. In the end, my head won the argument, so I tuned it up and got it ready to sell.

I quickly found out that the secret to selling something is to have the attitude that you don't really want to sell it.  Everybody that looked at it was interested in buying it, it soon sold for more than I thought it was worth, and it was gone. On a positive note, I used the money to pay off my credit cards, and that also was the last time I had credit card debt (Thanks Jeep!).

You would think that that would be the end of the story about my Jeep, but years later, I wrote a story about my Jeep and entered it into a writing contest put on by The Dallas Morning News about "Lemon Cars".

I can't find the original story, which was pretty funny from what I was told, but the condensed version was a story about how the parking brake didn't work right and I detailed how the Jeep snuck up on me one day and tried to run me over when I got out to check a creek crossing before driving across (it included a bunch of details about the engine revving as it got closer, and how I had to wrestle it to the ground before I could jump into the driver's seat and stop it).  Another part was about how I had to make sure to carry extra underwear anytime I decided to drive it on the highway because it refused to stay in one lane and was always trying to swerve into oncoming traffic whenever I drove faster than 35 MPH .   I wish I still had the original entry to share, because it was much funnier.

A couple of months after submitting my entry, I got an email saying that after all the voting, I had won the contest and would be getting a $1000 check in the mail shortly (so technically, I can sorta say I'm either a paid writer, or a professional writer).   Even when my Jeep was gone, it was still looking out for me.

My Jeep taught me how to be a mechanic, how to dream about faraway places, helped make me debt free, made me some money as a "writer", and allowed me to be a part of the Jeep cult.  Would an Oldsmobile have done all that for me?

If everybody had a Jeep sometime during their life, I think the world would be a much better place (of course, since "real" Jeeps are getting rarer as time goes by, that's going to be harder and harder for that to happen).