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Sometimes I’m afraid of brushcutting

 
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My property gets brushcut sometimes, and I have a cutter and a tractor, and sometimes I’m afraid of doing it. This is what I have learned helps, and I’m hoping to get more people talking about how to do it well, so we can all learn, so it’s less scary and easier to do. I realize a lot of people do it casually, and wouldn’t think my property was bad at all, but some days it’s scary to me, and I suspect there are others who are afraid too. I wasn’t taught to do it, I was told “you’ll pick it up!” and that was pretty much it. Some of this is stuff I learned in my other jobs, some stuff a guy I hired once to cut for me taught me (some by words, some by watching him) and some I have figured out on my own. Take it all with grains of salt, I may be wrong :)

Background (feel free to skip this paragraph) I have been in several car wrecks, one of which did permanent damage to my body, another one of which left me terrified of the feeling of losing control, losing traction, skidding and rolling over. The first tractor I had turned out to have bad brakes, which I didn’t learn until I was pretty scared by the fact that I couldn’t control it. Getting the brakes fixed helped it, but added to my fear as I was trying to learn to do it on my own, not being sure why the tractor was not going to do as you tell it to when it’s doing something scary is not a good learning experience.

I have training and experience in nutrition and exercise, and some of that is worth considering. Panic in the human body is a chemical process, started by the brain, generally, but then amplified by body chemistry. When I know I am going to do something scary, I make sure the night before and that morning to eat a high protein meal, and that morning avoid sugar and keep caffeine down. This lowers the amount of chemicals available to amplify the panic, and makes it far easier to keep in control of it intellectually. I also make sure I have had Vitamin B complex that morning, it helps your body calm stress chemistry down. I drink a lot of water, dehydration does weird stuff to moods too. I have back issues, I wear a back brace, not flinching from pain as I hit bumps helps keep my muscles loose, and that also stops the panic feedback cycle. I am female and need it, so I make sure I have on a good supportive bra, for the same reason.

The property hadn’t been cut in 5-10 years when I got here, and it was a mess. The closest neighbor cuts his hay and sells it, and there was Sericea Lespedeza amok in my field that was beginning to encroach on his land, and it’s an invasive that would lower the value of his hay. He agreed to not start spraying on his side if I’d keep it from invading him, as I’m on his watershed and he knows I don’t want it coming down to me. So I had to cut it.

There was one part that was really scary, steep, and filled with brush and trees and holes, so thick I could almost not walk it, and I was terrified of it. My tractor was small, not a high power machine, and I feared it getting stuck down there. I found someone with a bigger tractor and more experience, and paid him to cut it the first time. I hated paying someone to do something just out of fear, but it was worth it. He told me to go SLOW, and that I had more power going forward, so if I was afraid of an area, lift the cutter, back into it as far as I was comfortable, drop it and pull forward slowly. He told me to cut it in stages, cut it part way down, then come back a second or third time as needed. And I watched him cut himself a path first, in an easy place, so he had somewhere to work from.

I had laid out in my head where I plan to have paths on this property, so I cut them early on, long before I got the bulk cut. I have learned that helps a lot, I never feel like I am going to get totally trapped somewhere. Some days when I do an area that I’m only comfortable going uphill or downhill on, I go till I hit a path, then come back the long way around, and do another swath. Slows me down, costs more in time and gas. But isn’t as frightening.

I learned to mark my known hazards, stumps and such, it’s easy to know where they are as I look out across the field, it’s hard to keep track when I am just doing the next line, or when I am dodging something like a hole, or backing toward it. I use tomato cages with ribbon, white plastic moveable fence posts that are made to just step in with a spike, and bright colored objects.

I hate the feeling of being sideways on a slope, I fear rolling the tractor. My current tractor is fairly stable, but still high, and at this point only has one back tire ballasted. I have learned to cut 90 degrees straight on all slopes I can, even when it means I’m cutting a weird spray pattern, the tractor not tipping around helps immensely. I HATE a slope that doesn’t feel too bad, then I hit a hole or rock I didn’t have marked, and now it feels REALLY bad. The more level I can stay, the more stable I am when I hit weirdness. The pictures below show the basic property with current path layout in purple and topographical lines in green, and a really rough sketch of the cut patterns I do it bright pink, although the hazards are not on there. You can see my weird spray patterns, see how they work with the topographical lines, and how they loop back to my paths.

How many of us are afraid? What do people who are more experienced do? I’d LOVE to learn more about how to do this well.




 
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I have bushogged since I was a kid and it still scares me. Something about spinning blades hitting rocks that just makes a man/woman cringe.

I know some farmers who will not bushhog without a tractor with a cab, but I have never had that luxury, in fact just having brakes is a big step above my old tractor. An over-running clutch is also nice, something I never had on my old tractor either. Today they are on every tractor and half the farmers out there have no clue what I am talking about. All I can say is, it s downright scary to push the clutch in and KNOW the tractor will not stop for another 30 feet due to centrifigal force. You have to REALLY plan your way around a field and hope you never have to stop in an emergency.

I have had some crazy things happen over the years, like breaking blades (never did find it), and I have split more rocks in two then I could ever count. Sliding sideways, and getting pinned upagainst rocks and trees as well.

There is nothing shameful about be wary of bushogging.

Sadly, around here a few toddlers have died when they fell off Dad's or Grampa's tractor and got bushogged to death.

I propose that if you are not at least a little scared of bushogging, you probably should not be doing it.

 
Travis Johnson
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One thing I do here is to bushhog around the outside of my fields before the boys hay it. This not only allows me to keep the field a field, and the woods, well...woods, it allows me to find the rocks with my bushhog instead of their $30,000 Haybine.

It also makes for a very clean looking field when they are done. I try to bushog the corners too so they can really crank around the field, and not have to get the square corners. At over $1000 for a PTO shaft, they appreciate my efforts in the corners.
 
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Yes, I am afraid of slopes myself when on tractor. I never drive sideways on them, even a little bit of incline scares the bejewels out of me.

Luckily, most of the area I need to cut is very gentle sloped, so I can do it with no issues. But I ALWAYS wear the seat belt, and our tractor does have the ROPS, whatever sense of security they might offer.
 
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Pearl, fear is nature’s way of saying be careful!  It is a very healthy thing on a tractor on a slope with holes and stumps. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to stop and slowly back out of a situation because the fear of rolling gripped me.  

I have a lot of hills, and cleared a lot of cutover with hidden holes and stumps and logs and rocks. I do hope you have a roll bar and wear your seatbelt!  A lot of people have died in tractor rollover accidents - it happens. Your fear and caution is well placed. Don’t hesitate to hire out stuff that seems just too dicey. It may keep you alive.

Anyway, my point being, don’t beat yourself up because you get scared, or take longer to cut using an unusual pattern. We need you round here!
 
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Uhm, did anyone ever thought about terracing slopes? I know it's a lot of work, but excavators go quite fast and it only has to be done once. Benefits are huge if done correctly. Erosion almost totally grinds to a halt, terrain is suddenly save to traverse, most rainwater just sinks in because your compacted soils get broken up and are flat now... Stumps get dug up, and if you just keep mowing on time never grow again...

I mean, why not at least try it on the slopes most scary to you?
 
Pearl Sutton
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Artie Scott wrote: ...don’t beat yourself up because you get scared, or take longer to cut using an unusual pattern. We need you round here!



oh, I'm absolutely not beating myself up about this, I'm trying to learn how to NOT be scared, how to do it correctly, so it's less scary. Fear of the unknown is different from fear with no basis. I fear the unknown, and am hoping to get wise people who know more than me to teach me, more than just "you'll pick it up!" What I put in the post is what I have picked up, and I'm hoping for more education, as it feels inadequate. :)  I look at people who are doing things that make my stomach churn to watch them, and wonder "how did they learn to do that?" and wish I had someone like that to teach me. I was working with a guy, I was on the tractor, he was on the ground, we were using chains to pull locusts out by the roots, he said something, I forget what, and I said "How old were you when you first drove a tractor?" "8, I think, when my dad showed me how."   "I was 54, and no one has showed me anything. Be patient with me!"
 
Pearl Sutton
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Rene Nijstad wrote:Uhm, did anyone ever thought about terracing slopes? I know it's a lot of work, but excavators go quite fast and it only has to be done once. Benefits are huge if done correctly. Erosion almost totally grinds to a halt, terrain is suddenly save to traverse, most rainwater just sinks in because your compacted soils get broken up and are flat now... Stumps get dug up, and if you just keep mowing on time never grow again...

I mean, why not at least try it on the slopes most scary to you?



Rene: Terracing is expected to start within a couple of weeks here. That's why it has to be cut right now, so we can see the ground levels. I contour mapped and marked it all last fall, then the heavy rains hit this spring (I'm in the Midwest flood territory) and next time I could get my tractor out the grass was 5 foot deep. I have had the terraces planned since the first time I walked this property, lot of factors in the way. It's part of house construction, the excavator will be here already. We are also building ponds! Had to cut that area too. I left 18 inch deep drifts of grass cuttings in that area, that was not easy to cut. House, terrace, and pond areas all had to be done. I'm down to a few bits of icky stuff near the house site, where we put test trenches, that have eroded, hard to cut when I don't know where the 3 foot deep trench is, or how bad it's edges will crumble if I get too close. The grass is over my head!!
 
Rene Nijstad
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Pearl Sutton wrote:
Rene: Terracing is expected to start within a couple of weeks here. That's why it has to be cut right now, so we can see the ground levels. I contour mapped and marked it all last fall, then the heavy rains hit this spring (I'm in the Midwest flood territory) and next time I could get my tractor out the grass was 5 foot deep. I have had the terraces planned since the first time I walked this property, lot of factors in the way. It's part of house construction, the excavator will be here already. We are also building ponds! Had to cut that area too. I left 18 inch deep drifts of grass cuttings in that area, that was not easy to cut. House, terrace, and pond areas all had to be done. I'm down to a few bits of icky stuff near the house site, where we put test trenches, that have eroded, hard to cut when I don't know where the 3 foot deep trench is, or how bad it's edges will crumble if I get too close. The grass is over my head!!



Sorry Pearl, I had no idea and I think it's great you'll be terracing! I personally believe it's one of the greatest things us humans can do for nature on slopes. Because nature can do a bit of flattening by herself, but never the calculated safe flattening we can do. Where excess water has a route to flow off without doing any damage and when the slopes get protected from eroding away by the water only coming down a terrace thru a protected overflow...

I'm happy you survived the brush cutting and I hope this will be the last time you had to do it like this!
 
Travis Johnson
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This is a difficult subject because as I have proven myself, this can happen, but for a moment lets look at what is involved in a tractor rolling over. I say this because while we should always have a healthy dose of fear, sometimes understanding the dynamics changes things a lot.

First and foremost, I have rolled a tractor over: ONCE! And that has been since operating tractors since I was a kid. It also includes logging, and on some very steep hillsides. So the chances of rolling over are very remote.

I can say that with authority because if you look at what it takes to flip a tractor, you will see that it takes a lot. They literally are engineered not too!

The major thing to understand is the oscillating front axle. It has to pivot otherwise the rear tire would come off the ground and it would lose traction and stop. BUT that travel is limited, more so on a tractor then on a skidder which needs all the rotation it can get to go over stumps and rocks. So as the tractor goes into a hole with its rear wheels, the front axle pivots, but at some point it hits the frame of the tractor. 99% of the time or more, this is where the tractor stops rolling. It almost has too. In order for the tractor to keep rolling, the tractor must be so top heavy, or moving so fast, that it now overcomes the entire weight of the machine, and overcomes the width of the bushhog on the ground, and the stance of the tires...to tip over. To do that takes a lot. And I mean a lot. A LOT!

What a person is really feeling is the "pucker factor". It feels like the tractor is going to tip over, but it almost can't. What it takes to go over is to have a high center of gravity, and that means the bucket of the tractor is high up in the air, or the tractor is going too fast. If the bucket is lowered, the center of gravity is lower, and if the tractor is going slow, the front axle will pivot, then the tractor breaks traction and just spins one wheel.


To prevent roll over:


Go slow
Keep your bucket low
Keep your bushog as low as possible
Do not use your differential lock
Stay out of four wheel drive if you can
Go straight up and down on hillsides and avoid sidehilling
Invert your back wheels (do not do so on your front wheels though).
Load your rear wheels with liquid ballast




 
Pearl Sutton
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Travis Johnson wrote:
The major thing to understand is the oscillating front axle. It has to pivot otherwise the rear tire would come off the ground and it would lose traction and stop. BUT that travel is limited, more so on a tractor then on a skidder which needs all the rotation it can get to go over stumps and rocks. So as the tractor goes into a hole with its rear wheels, the front axle pivots, but at some point it hits the frame of the tractor. 99% of the time or more, this is where the tractor stops rolling. It almost has too. In order for the tractor to keep rolling, the tractor must be so top heavy, or moving so fast, that it now overcomes the entire weight of the machine, and overcomes the width of the bushhog on the ground, and the stance of the tires...to tip over. To do that takes a lot. And I mean a lot. A LOT!

What a person is really feeling is the "pucker factor". It feels like the tractor is going to tip over, but it almost can't. What it takes to go over is to have a high center of gravity, and that means the bucket of the tractor is high up in the air, or the tractor is going too fast. If the bucket is lowered, the center of gravity is lower, and if the tractor is going slow, the front axle will pivot, then the tractor breaks traction and just spins one wheel.

To prevent roll over:

Go slow
Keep your bucket low
Keep your bushog as low as possible
Do not use your differential lock
Stay out of four wheel drive if you can
Go straight up and down on hillsides and avoid sidehilling
Invert your back wheels (do not do so on your front wheels though).
Load your rear wheels with liquid ballast



Travis: THANK YOU!! That's the kind of information I wan hoping to see! You are one of the people I was hoping would chime in on this, since I have seen pics of you and tractors that make me pucker up just to look at!  Your one roll over, was that the one in the ditch (I think it was a Kubota?)

Can you explain "oscillating front axle" to me? I turn the wheel, the front wheels turn, (mine are much smaller than my back wheels, does that affect the stability at all?) is the whole axle moving? What if the front wheels hit the hole long before the back wheels? They are in front...

So am I correctly understanding what you say about what it would take to tip over is it would basically jam up on the frame and kind of bottom out before it rolled over? Unless it really was being top heavy with weight.

Ditches scare me. The city has a guy who cuts ditches around here that I have seen straddle the ditch and cut that way, oh no...  I have been thinking on it, and while there is equipment out there doing stuff (I found someone I LIKE to do the dirt work!! Whoo! Who is actually working with me, not just saying "I dig the hole, I don't care why, I go away.") I'm going to get him to reshape the ditch too. Not sure if it's allowed or not, but if it's done, hard for them to complain :) The next door neighbor did it, but due to weirdness, he's in the county, I'm in the city. If anyone complains I'll point to his ditch, that functions just fine as it is. At some point before I got here the city dredged my ditch, to steeply dropped sides that can't be maintained. I'll flatten the curve, and add a ponding area by the culverts so they don't need the steep drop to flow right.

I need to ballast the tire we replaced, I'll go for beet juice, as the reason I had to replace the rim, tire, and tube involved the calcium stuff in it eating the metal past repair.

Thank you, my friend, for chiming in! I was thinking of you when I started this thread, knowing you'd know. :)
 
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Pearl,

Travis’ advice is dead on here.  In a perfect world I would say that you should widen your tires, but this probably is not an option for you.  Some tractors have rear axel extensions that widen the wheel base.  If this is an option for you it might be worth considering.  BTW, what tractor do you have and how is it set up?  Do you have a loader?  Do you have ag, turf or industrial tires?  How much hp do you have?  These pieces of information can be helpful.

Regarding the front axel, most every tractor I have ever seen has an axel that pivots about a center point.  As an example of this in action, if the tractor is merrily going straight over flat land but hits a pothole on the right front tire, the front axel will pivot down on the right side so that all 4 tires maintain contact with the ground.  Alternatively, if the right tire hit a bump the axel would pivot up on the right side.  Without this feature, any time you hit a bump, dip, or any uneven patch of ground, the tractor would lose ground contact with at least one tire and possibly even two tires.  The front axel almost acts like a sort of suspension for the front of the tractor.

I just want to reiterate what Travis said about properly weighting the tractor.  Whenever I operate my tractor on even marginal side slopes (say 10 degrees or so), I always lower my loader as far as possible, sometimes just barely clearing the ground.  On occasion I have been known to put some weight in the bucket (not on top of) to get some extra weight as close to the ground as possible.  The weight should be as close to the ground as possible, but especially try to get the weight at or below the level of the axel.  I asked earlier what type of tractor you have partially for this reason.  If you have a subcompact tractor it will likely have a low center of gravity, but those small front tires can give a bumpy ride over uneven ground.  Generally, the larger the tire, the smoother the ride over uneven ground.

Last question.  Does your tractor have a ROPS (roll bar) and seat belt?  In my opinion, a tractor without a ROPS is inherently dangerous on slopes, and a seatbelt can be a literal lifesaver.

Pearl, I have spoken a lot here.  I love my tractor time and always look forward to more, but they must be handled with care and skill.  Care you can manage immediately, skill only comes with practice.  Your caution is well warranted, but I am certain with time you will master its use.

Good luck and safe mowing,

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Pearl,

Sorry, but I forgot one important point.  

Regarding ditches, if you don’t feel comfortable on them, you might not want to do them.  However, if you do intend to mow them, I will once again echo some of Travis’ advice and caution against mowing sideways on a slope.  

Sometimes I have had steep slopes to mow and I mow them by mowing perpendicular to the slope, not parallel.  I will mow forwards and back, just barely moving side-to-side at all.  This takes time, but you are absolutely right, ditches can be scary and dangerous.  They don’t even have to be very deep if they are steep in order to be dangerous.  I generally tackle these by gently and carefully backing my rough cutter into the unmowed area and drive forward.  This sometimes takes careful control over the mower and loader but is the safest approach.

Again, good luck mowing,

Eric
 
Pearl Sutton
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Eric Hansen: thank you for your reply! Yeah, I simply won't cut sideways in a ditch. Just ain't gonna do it. Grass can stay there! So far I've manged to just ignore it, I'll get that ditch tweaked to be mowable.
My current tractor: Lady Sybil Ramkin, a 47 hp International Harvester, about 1969 model, was a highway dept beast for years. industrial tires.



You can see the wheels on the pic that shows the feathers I put on it. My previous tractor was stolen, and Kubotas all look alike. I made this one distinctive. (And horrifying to a prospective buyer. The name of the paint job is "What the hell did she do to that tractor?!")  

Regarding the front axel, most every tractor I have ever seen has an axel that pivots about a center point.  As an example of this in action, if the tractor is merrily going straight over flat land but hits a pothole on the right front tire, the front axel will pivot down on the right side so that all 4 tires maintain contact with the ground.  Alternatively, if the right tire hit a bump the axel would pivot up on the right side.  Without this feature, any time you hit a bump, dip, or any uneven patch of ground, the tractor would lose ground contact with at least one tire and possibly even two tires.  The front axel almost acts like a sort of suspension for the front of the tractor.


VW bugs have a swing axle that adjusts the camber on the wheels, basically it's two separate axles, that hook in the middle at a flex joint, so they can bend separately. Like that, kinda? I'll crawl under the tractor and look at her front axle tomorrow now that I know what I'm looking for.

No rollbar, no place to hook one, but I did put a seatbelt on it.

I have learned a lot, just every so often I get scared again by something. At this point I know where my worst hazards are (found most of them by hitting them with the Kubota, that was NOT fun) and take precautions. The dirt work will help a lot, I look forward to things being easier.
 
Travis Johnson
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I see you have a nice robust tractor there Pearl, nice and heavy with wheel weights in the rear on those industrial lugged tractor tires! Nice tractor!

For working on hillsides, liquid ballast, whether beat juice or calcium, is a little better because the solution is always in the bottom of the tire making the center of gravity on a tractor a little lower than on the steel weights you have, but it is not so big of a deal that you should have your rear tires "loaded" as it is called. It is a fairly big expense, and may have been done on your tractor already.

In my roll over, I was coming around a corner on a 9% grade next to a fence line. because of that I had my loader up pretty high to clear the fence coming around the corner. I was also plowing and so making a 14 inch deep rut. What happened was, my front tire popped out of the furrow, and so I steered back into the furrow and when I did, the tractor just kept going over. The reason I rolled over was because the front axle never hit the frame during oscillation; my rear tire and front tire were on the same plane, and quite low compared to the left side of the tractor, and so it just rolled over. had I hit a bump, rolled over a stump, etc, I would have broke traction and spun out and never rolled.


DSCN4921.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCN4921.JPG]
 
Travis Johnson
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By the way, a seatbelt is almost required equipment.

When I run heavy equipment, I always use the seatbelt, and typically cinch myself down into the seat. In this way the seat takes all the jolts and not me. This also keeps me from getting as tired at the end of the day. Without a seatbelt your body is always fighting to stay in the seat. Nothing big, just repositioning on this bump, or a twist back in the seat on that jolt. All day long this adds up and so your body is working to stay in the seat without you really knowing it. The seatbelt keeps your body from doing this, and so you are not as stressed, or fighting to stay in the seat, and at the end of the day makes you a lot less tired.

If you think this is no big deal, think again.

I clear a lot of land which means stumping, probably one of the hardest tasks in terms of bouncing around in an excavator cab. I use the seatbelt and put in 10 hour days. I noticed the guys that do not use a seatbelt, are worn out about 2 o clock, and will often stop and say, "I had enough of that." They are beating themselves up by not using the seat belt.

Those seats on heavy equipment cost $300 or so, and have a lot of built in suspension; use it.

Incidentally, wearing ear plugs also reduces stress, and will make you less tired at the end of the day too.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Travis Johnson wrote:I see you have a nice robust tractor there Pearl, nice and heavy with wheel weights in the rear on those industrial lugged tractor tires! Nice tractor!

For working on hillsides, liquid ballast, whether beat juice or calcium, is a little better because the solution is always in the bottom of the tire making the center of gravity on a tractor a little lower than on the steel weights you have, but it is not so big of a deal that you should have your rear tires "loaded" as it is called. It is a fairly big expense, and may have been done on your tractor already.



Glad you like my lady tractor! The guy who replaced my tire sighed when saw those weights. I hope I never have to remove/reinstall them myself, I'll have to get creative with it, those puppies are heavy. The scraper blade it came with is weighted heavy too.
It has one back wheel calciumed. The other is empty, new tire etc, we did not add fluid into the new one.

In my roll over, I was coming around a corner on a 9% grade next to a fence line. because of that I had my loader up pretty high to clear the fence coming around the corner. I was also plowing and so making a 14 inch deep rut. What happened was, my front tire popped out of the furrow, and so I steered back into the furrow and when I did, the tractor just kept going over. The reason I rolled over was because the front axle never hit the frame during oscillation; my rear tire and front tire were on the same plane, and quite low compared to the left side of the tractor, and so it just rolled over. had I hit a bump, rolled over a stump, etc, I would have broke traction and spun out and never rolled.


Thank you for the explanation! That picture has bothered me since I first saw it, knowing why it rolled makes it MUCH less scary. I'll look at how mine looks underneath today. All I have looked underneath was for things like "are you leaking?"
 
Pearl Sutton
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I was much braver today after talking to y'all, THANK YOU!!
I also learned that my tractor can pull my truck out of the mud... whee.
Didn't have time to look at the undercarriage.
 
Travis Johnson
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Pearl Sutton wrote:I was much braver today after talking to y'all, THANK YOU!!
I also learned that my tractor can pull my truck out of the mud... whee.
Didn't have time to look at the undercarriage.




I had the opposite problem. I heard a "Bang", did not think much of it because the tractor was still going, and so was the bushog, and figured I had just hit a rock or something. I was down in a ditch of a road, and here it has rained a lot. Anyway I do not seem to be moving, and the mud was not THAT bad, so what exactly gives?

Well it seems I blew the Four Wheel Drive coupling on my Kubota (a common problem with them). So I had to use my truck to pull my tractor out of the mud.

Thankfully it is an easy part to fix, a few roll pins, and drop the loader sub-frame and its right there to replace. A $26.00 part.
 
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