Christmas at Axe Head Farm 2014

IMG_1214As November 2014 came to a close and December loomed upon us, once more our list of jobs was reshuffled by Mother Nature.  Our land was becoming impossible to get on due to the rain we’d been having, but much work still needs to be done over winter for us to stay on target for Spring 2015.  We need fencing delivered, a poly tunnel, the steel frame for our barn, etc…  We couldn’t get two estate cars on and then back off the land easily!

So, and once again, something that hadn’t really featured at the top of the list of jobs, catapulted it’s self up to the top of the list.  We needed to construct a proper farm track now, so that the items we want dealt with by spring can actually arrive before spring starts and the fields dry up a bit.

I foolishly estimated I could do the job in a fortnight with a mini-digger and a 1 ton dumper truck, mostly on my own, underestimating how the Cornish weather was set to turn, and not in the least bit expecting the swamp I was about to create!  On Monday 8th December 2014 my Tonka Toys arrived one by one.  First the mini-digger… OMG… How intimidating did that machine look?  Foot pedals, levers, sticks and joy sticks and only the two hands for 5 gadget controls… YIKES!!  The chap that delivered it told me how it worked and then told me to jump in and have a play to get to know how the controls work.  Yes, I said, then as soon as he was gone I scuttled off and sorted out some other really important stuff!!

By 10:30am both the digger and dumper were on site and it was time to learn a new skill.  The dumper was much more straight forward, one lever for backwards or forwards, one foot pedal for acceleration, a handbrake, and two levers for emptying the bucket.  Simples!  I moved the dumper first.  Then I stopped for lunch!

After lunch I had to tackle the digger.  Oh my, I was kind of nervous and excited all at once.  Once I’d got it started I had a go at moving it around on it’s tracks, then had a go at moving the bucket around… Oh my, what a laugh!  Until I could remember which action performed which movement, with 8 actions available in two joysticks, the fencing nearby was in grave danger!  I reckon it was about an hour later when I actually tried to dig the first bit of the farm track!  Day one turned in to a bit of a disaster.  The bucket head that was on the digger wasn’t for digging, so I needed to change them over.  As I was wiggling one of the pins out that hold the bucket head on, the pin broke.  The hire company couldn’t get someone up to me with a new pin, so I parked up my toys for the night and arranged to go and collect one 7am the next morning so that I could just get on with my day.

It turns out that changing the bucket head of a JCB mini-digger is an art form to be learnt and mastered.  The cast iron bucket heads are quite darned heavy, so moving them to line them up is much less of an option, unless you are Hercules, which I am not, so I had use my visual/spatial awareness and hand/eye co-ordination to line up the holes… sometime later I was done and ready to dig!
In truth, it was actually after lunch on the second day before I started digging at all.  Progress was slow as I mastered the two joysticks for the diggers bucket head.  Accuracy was also an issue when emptying the bucket head in to the dumper!  I managed just 1 loads by 3:30pm.  I’d dug the equivalent of a garden pond!  I was drenched and freezing cold… I called it a day.

Day three saw me start digging by 9am and keep digging right through until 4pm. I managed 15 loads. I was so proud.  That meant in my first official full day of digging and dumping topsoil I was already at 75% of target! After a shaky start to loading the dumper I got in to a rhythm and the enormity of the task no longer felt beyond my ability.

The start of day 4 was also the start of the swamp.  It had rained heavy overnight and the tracks the dumper had made were filled with water.  Not only was the dumper truck slipping around in the mud, but deep ruts were appearing that were making the gateway between the first and middle field quite a fairground ride.

By the end of the first week I’d managed to master the digger and the dumper, and with only the weather to contend with, I’d made good progress.  Over the weekend at the end of that first week we discovered two things: Adrian does not have decent wet weather gear, and, Adrian’s BMW had a problem.  I mentioned a 4WD I’d seen at the garage up the road and so we p-ex’d Adrian’s BMW and bought a 4WD.  The irony of buying a 4WD as I’m a week in to digging a farm track is not lost on me…

I lost a day in week 2 due to changing cars and taxing the 4WD in a Post Office busy with Christmas post people.  I then lost a day when the dumper truck decided to break down with blocked fuel filters.  It soon became obvious that I was going to need both the digger and the dumper for an extra week, and with losing one day to a broken pin previously, I was now looking at packing up on the 30th December, just in time for New Year. I’d have to be there for the equipment to be collected New Year’s Eve morning, but then I could get home, have a lovely hot bath and start celebrating the festivities!

In week 3 I had Christmas Eve planned as off as I was going to pick up my friend.  We then chose to have Christmas Day off, and we lost another day to the dumper truck breaking down, so where collection should have been on New Year’s Day now, no one from Brandon Tools wanted to come out!  It turned out that after I’d rung about the dumper truck, the digger wouldn’t start, so I rang again.  It was the battery due to the very cold overnight temperature.  It played us up two mornings in a row, losing us two more half days.  We ended up working until dusk on New Year’s Eve, and despite great company, I could only stay awake until 10pm.

On New Year’s Day, my friend and I worked from around 9:30am to 3:30pm, with Adrian being there from late morning.  He brought us breakfast sarnies fresh from home, YUM! By 3pm the track was finished, or at least the digging of it was!  The dumper was washed and ready to go. The digger needed cleaning, but that could wait until the following morning.  It was time to park up the Tonka Toys and go home to a good meal, great company and a drink or four!!

For me, digging the track was more than just a job, but more importantly, a challenge.  A challenge to acquire the competency with a mini-digger to accomplish the task, to rise up to the physical challenge post-accident, and to prove to myself that I can do all of that, and I’ve done it!  I’m delighted.