This blog originates from 20 miles south of the Canadian border. There are very few people in my world who wouldn’t qualify as “southerners.” A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, who happens to fall under my definition of southerner, posted a question on Facebook. She said, “I put gas in my car today and it was 20 degrees, how do you people from the north cope when it is so cold outside.” My response was that we think about putting on a jacket.
Today, at 6 pm, it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit. According to weather.com there is a south wind at 8 mph. In this part of the world where the wind blows all the time, that is a gentle breeze, a 20 mph wind is not uncommon. Sixteen degrees below zero and an 8 mph wind give us a wind chill (what the air feels like) of -34 degrees. At this temperature exposed skin freezes in 10 minutes. Average for today is -8 so we aren’t to far from normal. In fact I’ve seen windchills in the -50 range when exposed skin pretty much removes itself from your body and moves to Florida.
Tonight, my pickup is parked outside. It has a head bolt heater that you plug into the wall and keeps the engine warm. We are to start hauling grain on Wednesday, the tractor and trucks are also plugged in. If you don’t plug them in, the engine oil is so stiff it doesn’t flow and the engine won’t start. In Canada it’s not uncommon to see people drive around the city with extension cords plugged into the front of the car and the other end wrapped around a mirror. In the morning, I will start my pickup and listen to it groan. I will turn the defrost on HIGH and let it run for 15-20 minutes before I leave.
Tractors and trucks are no different. I will let them both run for quite a while to let them warm up. Not only is engine oil stiff, so is transmission and hydraulic oil. It is very important to let everything warm up before you try to move or operate something. At times, with a few stubborn vehicles, we have had to put a Knipco heater under the truck to warm it up in the morning. At times we will also put cardboard around the engine on the tractor or in front of the grill on the truck to keep the machine from sucking in all the cold air. By doing this you keep the engine warm and give the heater a warm supply of air to blow into the cab. Also, the engine is only half the battle; brakes can freeze too. You can either take a hammer to break the brake free or put a heater in the frozen area to thaw it enough to get the tire to turn.
We use a great big vacuum, imaginatively called a grain vac, to suck wheat out of the bin and put it in the truck. At times you will suck some snow into the machine. The machine will melt the snow. If you let the machine sit for a prolonged period, say the period between when you leave for and return from the elevator, the water in the vac can freeze. The resulting ice will freeze the machine solid. this usually means you are done for the day. You need to put it in the shop overnight and let it thaw, or take a wrench and try to turn the operating mechanism manually.
So how do you cope when its cold? You adjust and you prepare and you just deal with it. We’re farmers and we deal with what mother nature gives us. In the end it’s just something we have no control over and you learn to deal with that which is not in your control.