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Equipment= equipment repair

 
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I've been slammed this year with repairs. It's why I have been antisocial, it's thrown the whole summer off and projects are piling up. That makes me testy and I don't. go. online. when I am PMSing (what my wife calls Problems with Mechanical Stuff).

I wanted to give a few broad points on what I have learned, and hopefully others can chime in, there are lots of people who already know all this stuff. I grew up not having to deal with it, and I'm playing catchup.

First, old machines are easier to fix but harder to find parts and manuals. I won't take on a project at my level of expertise (which is basically a ten-year old raised on a real farm who has had some concussions) without a manual. Fortunately most manuals can be obtained online in PDF for a pretty modest sum. I generally can find them for $10-50 depending on how obscure the machine is. The shop manual for my skid steer with wiring diagrams was over $100. Still, these things can save you weeks of pain. Owners manuals are generally useless, you want a shop manual, which is what a dealer is working from. They also often have details of scheduled maintenance, fluids, etc. I feel this strongly- I won't buy a piece of equipment unless I can get a manual. It will shortly become a paperweight or I will buy it twice over at the repair shop. Repair shops are useful to me if they have equipment that I don't have- hydraulic testers, lathes, and things like that. Otherwise I am paying someone $120/hr to do something that would take me twice as long (which is $60/hr to me after taxes). If I am likely to do something regularly (like welding), either I find someone I can trade labor or I learn the skill and remove a different project. I have a friend who is a diesel mechanic, and knows nothing about hydraulics. I know a little and we can barter and get stuff done. Newer machines (I have only one) have lots of safety features and electronic components that you will go crazy trying to figure out without a wiring diagram and manual. Ask me how I know and how May went.

If I am in a pinch and need the equipment, I get an estimate from the repair shop. In writing. They tend to try to upsell you. I took a machine in for some seals that are a massive pain without specialized détente tools, and they came back with four other things that "needed to be fixed", and wanted to charge me hourly for snooping. I talked to the manager and reviewed the work order I signed, and he agreed that they would remove the charges for the tourism. It is worth finding out where the equipment operators who do this professionally go, but they have less incentive to be thrifty as they are deducting this on their business taxes, and I'm paying after tax. A good shop is hard to find. If you can find one, it is a great ally. Smaller shops may be willing to barter, large ones won't.

Handy friends seem like a good idea, but they need to work in a similar way to you. My BFF and partner in redneckery is a great guy, and can MacGuyver almost anything. Unfortunately I'm an engineering mind, going stepwise through a complex process, and he makes workarounds for stuff I would rather fix while I am in there. I do let my kids "help" as much as possible, and hopefully they will be way ahead in a few years. If it is time-sensitive the "help" is not helpful, because it takes 3x the time. It's an investment in the future.  

Overall, I love equipment. The amount of work I have done would be impossible in ten years without it, but realize how much maintenance will cost in time and money before jumping in. I figure it costs me $5/hr to run the little (newer) tractor, $15/hr for the 75HP tractor, $10/hr for the UTV, and $20/hr for the skid steer. Plus fuel. Half the properties around here have a derelict piece of gear off to the side. They generally are going to fix it next week, and have been for 15 years. Read anything from Travis Johnson and realize he has skin in the game. Simple equipment used in a new way is often the best equipment.

Online advice from maintenance forums can be priceless. The more specialized the question, the more likely to get a good answer if you can find it. General questions will get general answers from people that are well-meaning and make you feel better, but would almost certainly be better answered by the manual and a stepwise approach. Just like on here!

YouTube can be very helpful and every so often you can learn a ton with little tricks. Generally this is after you have done the diagnosis though.

I can't wait to see what smarter people say. Please be gentle!
 
pollinator
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So much yes here.

I love good equipment, but for every added piece of machinery there is added maintenance and repair that can cause work to grind to a halt.

I try to be as strategic as possible with equipment additions. Especially since I am not overly mechanically inclined, I didn't get my 1st car till 35 yrs old.
 
pollinator
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The only thing I might add I that renting equipment can be a great plan. There are ways to get the most out of rented equipment, but for big jobs, or specialized jobs, renting equipment makes a lot of sense. With the exception of accidents and abuse, it puts the maintenance and repair costs upon them.
 
Travis Johnson
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Maintenance and Wear and Tear on a piece of equipment is HUGE.

Generally wheeled equipment is cheaper to maintain then a tracked piece of equipment, but there is no guarantee in that. As an example, I just sold a skidder for scrap iron price, even though it was fully functional: the reason? It had (4) bald tires. The cost for each tire was $5000, meaning it needed $20,000 in tires alone. With its age, and size (which was too big for me), I sold it, and was ecstatic when it went down the road on a lowbed. He was buying it bcause he had (3) identical machine that he could use the parts off.

And the guy that bought it, explained he had a wheel loader that just blew a tire, and its cost to replace was more than what the loader was worth. This happens a lot with older machines. For the Homesteader buying equipment, this is often the case. Generally, a person does not sell something unless the piece of equipment needs serious repair.

If it is a tracked machine, you can bet it will need new tracks. This will cost between $6,000 for a small machine up to $22,000 for mid-sized machines. The wear on these tracks are expressed as a percentage in terms of under carriage. Thus 50% U/C would translate, the tracks are half worn. DO NOT BELIEVE IT! Sellers always underestimate the wear. As a hard and fast rule, double it to get the real wear. So if a seller is saying the tracks are 30%, in reality they are 15%. You can also figure with 100% accuracy that it means the tracks will stay on the machine 15% of the time. Yeah, that means a lot of downtime! Often times the homesteader will figure they can do x amount of work with the machine, but really it means they will be doing a lot of repairs first.

Another trick I have seen used, is the diversion approach to wear. I once knew a homesteader who had the seller tell him he was going to replace a few bad rollers on the tracks on an excavator. The homesteader bought it and did not move the machine 100 feet before the tracks fell off. The original owner replaced a few track rollers, at a cost of a few hundred bucks, but failed to mention the $12,000 tracks were all worn out. That was a hard lesson to learn…$28,000 worth of hard lesson. Pretty much, if a machine has tracks, you can be almost assured they need new ones, and so calculate that cost into your purchase.
 
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In many decades of farming and equipment use, I have learned one first and most important lesson. Always listen to what the machine sounds like. If it starts to sound different, STOP. And figure out why it sounds different. Don't hope it is nothing. Don't expect it to "cure" itself. It sounds different because something is happening. And most times what is happening is not good. Keep using the machine and things will get worse. Stop using the machine immediately and fix whatever is causing the sound change, and the repair will almost always be cheaper. I have found it to be a very false economy to think you can just push ahead to finish whatever you need to get done. It will cost you more in the long run. Machines don't get colds and then get better. They just wear out, wear down, break down, if you don't do maintenance when it's needed.
 
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Jim, so dead on! This got drummed into me by my father when we were hauling winter freight in the upper Yukon with snowmobiles. If the noise changes, STOP! We might still be able to prevent or repair what is going wrong and not have to hike home in bunny boots.

Dad was also an old-school hotrod car tinkerer and he extended this lesson to driving beater cars. He threatened to REMOVE a couple of car radios and (dating myself) 8-track players because my sisters were playing them too loudly to hear a mechanical breakdown in progress. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached over to turn off my own car radio for a few miles because I wanted to listen to some sonic change in the beater I was driving. Even with all the modern electronics, it’s amazing how often a car gives you plenty of “funny noise” warning about an impending problem. Which can mean the difference between $600 in a shop far from home versus thirty bucks for a new part ordered online.
 
pollinator
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We have a guy who works for us. Does a bunch of "heavy" jobs on a regular basis. Cuts hedges, mows lawns, splits and moves firewood etc...

Somehow he is incredibly hard wearing on our tools. Chainsaw end up put away with a bar bolt missing. Cables pick up dings and cuts. Hedge cutters come back making funny noises. His time is reasonable, but the extra cost of fixing stuff all adds up.
 
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We have a 1985 Takeuchi excavator and the manual is in Japanese. It needs work. We found someone who can do it and maybe without understanding the manual. Here is hoping!

I understand your pain though. Both of our tractors required service recently and you only ever really need your tractor when it's broken. lol

We've also lost our farm truck to transmission problems and my daily driver car to a blown engine so mechanical issues are really killing us right now.
 
elle sagenev
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Dan Boone wrote:
Dad was also an old-school hotrod car tinkerer and he extended this lesson to driving beater cars. He threatened to REMOVE a couple of car radios and (dating myself) 8-track players because my sisters were playing them too loudly to hear a mechanical breakdown in progress. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached over to turn off my own car radio for a few miles because I wanted to listen to some sonic change in the beater I was driving. Even with all the modern electronics, it’s amazing how often a car gives you plenty of “funny noise” warning about an impending problem. Which can mean the difference between $600 in a shop far from home versus thirty bucks for a new part ordered online.



Couldn't they feel the change? I feel my cars. I can tell you as soon as it feels differently while I'm driving, no sound necessary. My father is a sound guy and I'd have him drive my car to feel it and he never could. Maybe it's just my special car gift.
 
Tj Jefferson
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I will tell you, I am working on a deal to sell my skid steer and rent it back from a neighbor who would use it for work. To me this is a win-win, he will expense it for his business,including repairs, and I will have the machine for those intermittent tasks. He is close enough it can be driven, within a half mile. I wish I had thought of this first, as it makes renting a far better proposition.

I am learning why people are more ingenious out here. Because it works! It is fun to say you have a machine, but they have a habit of owning you... I'm firmly against mechanical polygamy.
 
pollinator
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Tj Jefferson wrote:I will tell you, I am working on a deal to sell my skid steer and rent it back from a neighbor who would use it for work. To me this is a win-win, he will expense it for his business,including repairs, and I will have the machine for those intermittent tasks. He is close enough it can be driven, within a half mile. I wish I had thought of this first, as it makes renting a far better proposition.

I am learning why people are more ingenious out here. Because it works! It is fun to say you have a machine, but they have a habit of owning you... I'm firmly against mechanical polygamy.



On the flip side, I've got a friend who has two of pretty much every implement he owns. This means he can swap to the spare when he breaks one, and not miss the weather window for haying, clearing, seeding.. whatever. Then he can work on the repair himself when the time pressure is off.

The more complicated the machine/implement, the less appealing this plan seems...
 
Travis Johnson
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When the Amish first came here, they got a late start, and it was October with no hay in the barn. In Maine that is disastrous...

So, they borrowed a tractor and baler, and with a good stretch of weather, went to making hay. Well they were coming down a hill when something in the transmission let go, and down over the hill it went, pushed by the baler and hay wagon. It ran through a rock wall, out across a swamp, hit a tree, and literally broke in half. So they went back to their houses, put on their Sunday best, got the elders together and went to see the farmer that let them borrow his tractor and baler.

"As we speak", they said, "we are getting teams of horses together to pull out the tractor, and just as soon as we get the parts we will repair your tractor."

I have farmed with Larry all my life and know him well, and he heard them talk, smiled and said, "It's Maine, and there is good weather, what you need to do is borrow my other tractor, get your haying done, and fix the tractor over the winter when there is no field work to do."

The Amish later told me, they knew they had moved to a good area when they heard that.

The point here is simple. The Amish meant well, but there is a time to do major repairs, and it can be scheduled. There is also nothing wrong with borrowing a piece of equipment, and for goodness gracious, if you can someone today, DO IT, because you never know when you might need help yourself.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Travis, that is the beauty of having honest relationships with your neighbor. The arborist needs either a backup machine or a new very reliable machine. It's cheaper for him to have two old ones. Not by much, but he doesn't make enough to expense a new one this year. He can afford to pay for mine, and we cut a deal to let me rent it or the other machine on an hourly rate. We are working on who pays for major repairs, I think the fairest is to bundle it into my hourly charge.

The other way of doing it is that I own the machine and he pays me hourly. But then I have priority of use... Same hourly rate. Giving him that decision means I feel it is so fair I will take either side.  

 
Travis Johnson
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Travis, that is the beauty of having honest relationships with your neighbor. The arborist needs either a backup machine or a new very reliable machine. It's cheaper for him to have two old ones. Not by much, but he doesn't make enough to expense a new one this year. He can afford to pay for mine, and we cut a deal to let me rent it or the other machine on an hourly rate. We are working on who pays for major repairs, I think the fairest is to bundle it into my hourly charge.

The other way of doing it is that I own the machine and he pays me hourly. But then I have priority of use... Same hourly rate. Giving him that decision means I feel it is so fair I will take either side.  



Yeah the details are between him and you for sure, so I cannot really make any recommendations, but when I read about what you were doing, I thought it was a great idea. I meant to get back here and reply on that, but failed too.

I am renting from a new guy now. He is great too, and while he has smaller machines, he is quick to deliver them, and appreciates me. I know this because his small machine was not capable of doing some work, so he mentioned bringing over a tracked skid steer that he has. I asked how much he would charge, and if it was the same price as his excavator, and he said, "For you it will be." I told him fair is fair, but he assured me it was, most likely because I am careful with other people's equipment.

I learned my lesson with a small bulldozer I had. It was a nice machine, and capable, but enough little things went wrong with it, that it seemed when I needed to do a big job, it was broke down. I ended up building a nice road with just my Tractor and Log Trailer, and from that realized I could do a lot with what I already had. For the few times I cannot, renting makes more sense then wrenching.

The road I built using a 25 HP Kubota Tractor, and Wallenstein Log Trailer, an example of doing a lot, with little equipment.


DSCN4909.JPG
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Before Road was built
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[Thumbnail for DSCN5167.JPG]
After Road was built
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:The only thing I might add I that renting equipment can be a great plan. There are ways to get the most out of rented equipment, but for big jobs, or specialized jobs, renting equipment makes a lot of sense. With the exception of accidents and abuse, it puts the maintenance and repair costs upon them.



One of the ways that I have done this, is find a rental shop that rents by the day (not hours on the machine) and rents for a Sunday, but delivers the machine last thing on Saturday and returns to pickup the machine first thing Monday morning. Then for bonus points... choose a holiday, say Memorial Day weekend, since they’ll be closed on the Monday, and come for the machine Tuesday morning instead. Voila’, two days, one evening, and an early morning if you need it... for a “one day” charge!
Other things to consider are ordering takeout, or making meals ahead, having helpers to do hand work, someone in charge of feeding and watering everybody...  basically anything that helps keep your ass in the seat of the machine until the job is done.
 
Travis Johnson
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Kenneth Elwell wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:The only thing I might add I that renting equipment can be a great plan. There are ways to get the most out of rented equipment, but for big jobs, or specialized jobs, renting equipment makes a lot of sense. With the exception of accidents and abuse, it puts the maintenance and repair costs upon them.



One of the ways that I have done this, is find a rental shop that rents by the day (not hours on the machine) and rents for a Sunday, but delivers the machine last thing on Saturday and returns to pickup the machine first thing Monday morning. Then for bonus points... choose a holiday, say Memorial Day weekend, since they’ll be closed on the Monday, and come for the machine Tuesday morning instead. Voila’, two days, one evening, and an early morning if you need it... for a “one day” charge!
Other things to consider are ordering takeout, or making meals ahead, having helpers to do hand work, someone in charge of feeding and watering everybody...  basically anything that helps keep your ass in the seat of the machine until the job is done.




Oh yes, those things for sure.

Getting the most out of rental equipment is almost a seperate topic, but renting machines with tracks also helps. It ensures you can work even in mud and heavy rains. To that same degree, renting machines with cabs so that work can be done in the rain as well. Machines with lights also works well to push the work through the night.

Sometimes you can get lower rates for off-season times. Like I clear land, but even here in Maine, a forest seldom freezes so hard that stumps cannot be pulled, so I can rent machines in December-March and be almost assured of availability. And being retired, I always have off during the middle of the week so I really help rental companies get more rental out of their equipment.

The biggest savings comes from renting big equipment. For instance in pulling stumps, yes a 34,000 LB machine can pull a stump, but Pine and White Ash might take a few minutes of digging to get it out. A 70,000 lb class excavator can do 3 times more work, but never costs twice as much to rent. Therefore, the amount of work accomplished is thus so much less per dollar spent. I mean just do the math: stumps average 250 to the acre, so if I spend 30 seconds less on each stump, that is 2 less hours in the cab to accomplish the same amount of work. You burn more fuel, but not that much more. (2 acres per day on average for 34,000 machine vs 4 acres per day for 70,000 machine. It is a HUGE difference).

However there is the transportation costs. Long gone are the days when you could show up with your lowbed and transport their machines. More and more, rental companies are requiring that they haul their own machines. And I am seeing more and more insurance being required before renting too.

As prices for equipment get higher and higher, equipment makers are making less sales, so many are turning to renting. My local Caterpillar and John Deere Industrial dealerships are renting their equipment. As never before, rental competition is getting better and better.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Travis,

I know you can't speak for all geographical regions, but it would be great to get your input on nontraditional rental sources.

We have two big rental places, like with acres of equipment. They are pricey. I don't need a gucci piece of equipment, and I am more tolerant of crappy weather because it's only for a week, and I can put up with anything for a week. So I would rent stuff that most pros would not. This is their office every day, it's my hobby.

I like the idea of dealerships, the Kubota dealer rents out the wheeled and tracked skid steers- for $1500 a week! That is crazy to me. I guess I could put a craigslist ad up, and maybe I will try. I'm not on facespace or whatever, but there are other possibilities. My local contacts are not inclusive of an excavator owner. As you mentioned transport also adds up, and insurance which as you have mentioned in prior posts is generally a scam.

Anyhow if you have a post of input, I think it would have value. You are actually in the biz and that means a lot to me. The rest of us are basically speculating and spitballing most of the time.
 
Travis Johnson
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I am not sure I can help, but the rental guy I am using now is non-traditional. I found him when he advertised on Facebook. I never go on there anymore, but my wife spotted him, and asked about him. We had a small job, so we tried him out, and he is interesting. He works full time at a papermill, but did some small digging jobs. He could not afford new equipment, but hated wrenching. SO...….., he started renting his machine out when he was not using it. Now he has (3) excavators at 10,000 pounds, and (3) tracked skidsteers in the 12,000 pound class. He is at the point now where he buys them new, uses them for the summer as his own/rentals, then trades them in for new ones next year. As I said, he HATES wrenching. I really like this guy because he takes cash...and you guys know me, I am 100% cash-only, so it really works, and there is no insurance required with him. He just has small, limited equipment.

Another new rental company has some connection with Case Equipment because that is all the have for equipment. I have never used them, but they are close by, and I will investigate their rates and service soon.

The long-standing rental agency I have been using, they are known throughout the state. He is an interesting guy, and goes to church with my Aunt. He has (3) businesses, and trades the equipment among them to best use service times, production, and value to get the most out of his machines. He is pretty good on price, but lately has been going up on transportation rates, and is really pushing insurance. About half his machines you cannot rent now without some sort of insurance.

He is alright. He has a cantankerous employee who I would like to slap sometimes, and gave me some grief on using a bulldozer to remove stumps without first using one of his excavators, which was silly because a John Deere 850G is made to move stumps. And once I overpaid for a machine and it was weeks before he sent me the check for the over-paid rental. (I paid for a month and only needed it two weeks). So I would like to find a new rental place, but he has a lot of equipment, and I rent a lot of stuff from him every year.
 
Travis Johnson
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I think a big thing a Homesteader can do, is learn about the machine they are purchasing, or are about to purchase.

EVERY machine has its particular problems, but once went to a bulldozer scrap yard, and the owner showed me where small John Deere Bulldozers had a design problem. The whole track assembly was put on with (4) bolts which would inevitable rattle lose. It could not be welded, so an owner had to make sure they were tight or the vibration would break the frame, and then the rear final drive…a $4000 part. That was good information to know.

Dealership mechanics are good people to talk to because they see the same models over and over again for the same problem. Just do not be lured into false thinking; a John Deere mechanic looks unfavorably on a John Deere because that is all they see in the shop, but a Caterpillar mechanic looks at their equipment the same way. The point is not to get machine-brand-biased, but to learn the repair prone parts and how to prevent breakdowns through maintenance or careful operation.

But some machines are bullet proof. For instance, I buy Ford Focus’s because I can buy them cheap at 80,000 miles, and know I will get 250,000 miles out of them. For a $5000 purchase, and very little upkeep, I am paying six-tenths of a cent (0.0068) per mile I drive that car, an incredibly low vehicle cost, and it gets good gas mileage to boot. Some machine models are likewise, just plain bulletproof, and some engines are notoriously strong as well. Buying equipment with them in them, will do a homesteader well. I often look for equipment with truck engines because the parts availability is so much better. I do not have to go to a heavy equipment dealership, I can go to Freightliner of Maine and get the same part cheaper. And goodness knows, there are a ton of truck salvage yards around that will have engine parts.

A person can also keep a few extra parts on hand. On my log loader, a weak point is two hydraulic lines that go down to the grapple. In demolition work, they often get broken because it hits debris, but in the woods, they get snagged on limbs. So, I keep a few spares so a busted line does not mean a trip to Bangor to get another one. It is a 10-minute repair instead of two hours.

And some era of machines are better suited to mechanic work. For instance, my old John Deere 350D bulldozer could be completely rebuilt wit a set of standard wrenches and sockets, and there was room in which to work. My Clark 664 skidder was the same way. Both were strong, simple machines, kind of like a Kubota. For instance, the drop-down spider gears in a Kubota’s front driveshaft system are simple. It is DIY friendly to rebuild…where as a John Deere Compact tractor is anything but! To rebuild a Kubota it is $350, for a John Deere it is over $1000.

But that too is something to think about. Whereas I really like John Deere equipment, the cost of parts are downright Male Bovine Pasture Droppings. They are WAYYYYYYY over expensive, and while many complain about Caterpillar, their parts are actually pretty cheap. If a Homesteader is concerned about cost of ownership, it would behoove them to buy Caterpillar of Kubota Products instead of John Deere.

If it sounds like I am pro-Kubota, it is because I am. There are so many out there that there is a big enough aftermarket parts availability for them. For my tractor, a Kubota Clutch costs $350, BUT an aftermarket clutch that will fit right in, is $52. A lot of John Deere parts are unavailable aftermarket. For instance, the idlers on my John Deere 350 can only come from John Deere…a $2000 part, and there are (2) to buy. The tracks, grousers, chains, sprockets and bolts for both sides only came to $4500 because I can buy them aftermarket.
 
Travis Johnson
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Another aspect of repair on equipment is welding. I will be downright honest, I could not be a mechanic without knowing how to weld. At some point in the rebuilding process, the welder will be coming out.

I think this is an essential skill to learn, and fortunately it is easy to do so. If a Homesteader cannot weld, they should go to a Adult Education course and learn. It is only a few hundred dollars, and at about $60 for welders now, it would only take a repair or two to recoop your Adult Education costs.

And as a retired welder, I will say this for the ladies…do not be mislead into thinking you cannot weld. The best welders I know are women, because the hand eye coordination is so much better than a man’s. Welding is all about consistency through a series of hand-eye movements. If you can sew…you can weld.

BY the way: I do not consider myself a good mechanic. I can get the job done, but the real good ones are really fast at it, and I am not. If I hit a problem, I have to really think sometimes to find a work-around, whereas really good mechanics just plow through and repair the most major problem with little effort. I am through, but slow.
 
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