The great tractor diesel mystery – or things every farmer knows already

Our elderly but invaluable tractor

So, the tractor came back from the tractor hospital and normal service resumed. The ewes, the tup (ram) and the horses down the field got a bale delivered to their ring feeder, as did the older ladies, lambs, goats and alpacas in the Dutch barn. The tractor and ring feeders mean that every last bit of the big ‘Swiss roll’ bale is eaten, right down to the very bottom. The ring feeders hold the haylage in a rough bale shape. Before, the sheep collapsed the bale into a messy heap in a few days, which they then pee’d on – and, naturally, no sheep could eat hay mixed with urine, so about 20% of each bale was wasted. This added up to about one bale out of every delivery of six – and that level of waste gets expensive.

The tractor is powered by red diesel. This diesel is literally red. It is coloured to show that it is exempt from fuel duty and is sold for agricultural purposes and is sold in 45-gallon barrels.

This week’s conundrum was how to get the diesel from the barrel to the tractor. This is one of the things that Every Farmer Knows but was such a mystery to us that we spent a week looking at the problem with ever-growing gloom and anxiety.

The nice people who sold us the barrel of diesel also sold us a pump, which came in pieces – several long metal tubes like those on a vacuum cleaner, a piece of metal shaped like an umbrella handle, a heavy metal thing with a handle that turned and a length of narrow white concertina tubing, again reminiscent of a vacuum cleaner hose but far, far shorter. This little lot came with no instructions save a couple of drawings on the cardboard box. After some bemusement, the pictures provided just enough information to assemble the contraption but it was very clear that people who use red diesel are just supposed to know how to deal with the pump. And doubtless most of them do – the vast majority of farmers are the children of other farmers who will have seen this and other tasks done and helped with them all their lives.

The top of the tractor pump (minus the hose)

The next challenge was to get the stopper off the drum of diesel. It neither turned nor lifted nor did it have any kind of handle. What now? Thank goodness for Google! Clearly we were not the only people to have been in this position of perplexity. Google earnestly informed us that what we had to have was a special drum wrench. Obviously, we did not have a drum wrench, special or otherwise. Were we stuck?

Further consultation with Google revealed that poor unfortunates not possessed of a drum wrench could use two screwdrivers, one wedged into each of the odd-looking loops on the stopper, to unscrew it. Cautiously, Rosemary tried it – and it worked!

We stuck the long metal tube into the barrel, screwed it into place and then realised that the crucial plastic hose that would carry the diesel from the pump to the tractor’s tank was very short indeed, just a couple of feet long, stretching another foot or so if all its concertinas were pulled out. Off went Rosemary to back the tractor into position. Too far away. Another manoeuvre – still not quite there. Eventually, by dint of Rosemary reversing until the back wheel touched the barrel of diesel, the hose just reached.

Cautiously, I turned the handle and red liquid flowed quickly along the hose and into the tank. I cranked the pump briskly and in minutes the tank was full. Then it was just a question of getting the pump out again and put away wrapped in bin bags to keep it clean and prevent dirt getting into the diesel or tank next time, persuading the stopper back onto the tank. Then Rosemary trundled off with the tractor to their next task and I went inside to start my day job, both of us buoyed up by a quite ridiculous sense of triumph. We had cracked the great tractor diesel mystery and were now on top of another of the Things Every Farmer Knows.

4 thoughts on “The great tractor diesel mystery – or things every farmer knows already

    1. This experience wasn’t awful at all, save for the sense of hapless incompetence it caused – but much can be done with some pictures and Google and we are experts at muddling through.

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