We have been digging potatoes in earnest this week and with yields that are quite good considering the Gobi desert-like conditions of August and September. The 3/4 acre that we plant into spuds each year is not large by Maine farm standards but it does yield us about 20,000 pounds each season, and harvesting them is a significant task. To make the job easier we have a machine that lifts the tubers from the soil and lays them out on top of the ground for the crew to then pick up into crates. The digger is vital as we would kill ourselves if we tried to harvest with forks by hand. Each winter I go through all of our machines and fix things we have broken or worn out the previous year. Sometimes I get the chance to do deep repairs (this is my term for work that goes beyond the problem I know the tool has) other times I just get to the obvious problem. Sometimes we break something during the season that we need desperately and everything stops (at least for the head mechanic, i.e. me) and I have to get deep when I don't have the time or the brain power. This spring we were using our potato digger to dig rocks in the upic field (rocks can be lifted just like spuds) and we broke an axel that is part of the drive system. Being spring, I did not stop everything and fix the digger but instead kept on with the cascade of other tasks and parked the broken machine in the corner of the field and promptly forgot about it. That is until about 3 weeks ago when I started thinking about potatoes. Our potato digger is old. I bought it out of an old barn in Fort Fairfield (across the river from Caribou) many years ago. It is by no means the oldest machine we own but I always assumed that it had been digging spuds in Maine at least before the age of disco. Old machines are like old houses - they look simple to fix but when you get into a repair you find yourself wishing you could just afford to buy a brand new one. The broken drive axle was 1.25" square (not a common dimension) and when it broke it had taken out 2 of the 4 bearings that allow it to turn. The axel was a custom order and the bearings had to come from Texas and were not cheap, especially since I ordered replacements for all four of them. If you are going to take something apart, replace everything you can (this is the rule of deep repair). While waiting for my parts I spent a few hours taking the machine apart, cutting rusted bolts and fighting to remove steel rivets that were holding various things together. When I had the new stuff in hand it all went back together pretty easily and we still had a couple days before potato digging was to start. Murphy's Law is as central to farm machinery as gravity so I gave my repairs a trial run. I hooked up to a tractor and filled up the tires on the digger. It was a hot day and as I added air one tire exploded. I took a step back. Both tires looked awful, old and worn. I pulled off the wheels and brought them to my tire guy. In trying to locate replacements he found out that the old tires were last available in 1964 (decidedly pre-disco) and also noted that the inside of the rims were heavily rusted and the holes where the valves come out were so jagged they would pop a new tube. I went and got the rims, ground off the rust, welded washers into the valve holes and repainted them. The tires were not in stock so while the rims were off I repacked the wheel hubs with grease. All told I put about 10 unexpected hours into this vital tool and have been working it ever since. Hopefully I can have a few extra hours reading by the fire this winter in exchange.