We have learned various landscaping skills and machine operation over the years. While a significant part of the landscaping work we do is connected with construction projects, much is separate, either for ourselves or others. Whether caring for lawns or grading fill at a construction site, the Lord has provided multiple outdoor jobs where we could strengthen our skill base while maintaining control of our work environment.
Yard work has been a pretty standard starter job for many young people. Along with construction this has been so for us as well. Snow always comes, so we have cleared many driveways and walks. While we did many jobs with a shovel, naturally, a snowblower we repaired improved our speed significantly as well as decreasing the workload. Without driving more, though, there weren't many jobs in this line. Lawns in the summer are larger jobs and along with some hedge work and collecting leaves they have provided a quantity of work, sometimes more than we wished. Often we have combined this with some home or yard maintenance. Even with plenty of work we have run into some difficulty in how much to charge. Too often we have observed new enterprises charge too little even to pay their expenses, often because they don't understand inflation's impact on prices and the overhead that goes into a job. Aesthetic landscaping has proven a valuable addition to our repertoire of skills.
Through the years we have had opportunity to expand our tillage and clear building sites. This requires taking down trees, and cutting them up (usually into firewood). For many years we heated exclusively with wood so we have quite a bit of experience working firewood. While our current housing situation provides oil heat, we still maintain a wood stove, which is very nice on cold days. It also provides a backup source of heat for our house, in case we have any difficulties with the oil furnace. When we work firewood now, we use a hydraulic log splitter, however up until a couple of years ago; all splitting was done by hand. For this reason we still prefer Red Oak to all other woods for our log pile.
Over the years large machines and their operation have held great interest for me. The first that I can remember was when our old house was taken down with an excavator in 1996. Since then I have watched with interest the use of machinery as new buildings were put in. Dad would often let me ride with him on the back seat of the backhoe, while he worked. Even more exciting than that though was when he would allow me to sit on his lap and hold onto the controls as he used the hoe. Of course, I do not know but I would think that this experience helped when I started operating it on my own.
I really only started operating heavy machinery on my own in 2005 when our family took the contract for certain parts of installing a modular house. One of the parts that we took was doing most of the dirt work and landscaping. A friend of ours, who owns a backhoe, worked with us and allowed Nathanael and I to use his machine. The three of us put in the septic system and ran a trench 300 yards for electrical and water access. Also for that job our family bought a bulldozer which we used to backfill around the foundation and to clear the land surrounding the house for the lawn. Another job we received was to make a private beach on a local lake. Material had to be removed and sand added and graded. Water ways had to be made to keep water from the hill behind, from eroding the beach, and grass had to be planted where the sand ended.
Based on my experience, a backhoe is all around the most versatile piece of heavy equipment. While it cannot do the jobs of specialized machines quite as well, it can attempt most of the jobs of a bulldozer, an excavator, a bucket loader, and a tractor, with the one exception that it (the one I used) doesn't have a PTO shaft. Near us is an elderly Christian farmer who sometimes hires us and sometimes rents us his backhoe. He also owns a dump truck. Right now we are using the second backhoe of his that I can remember. In the past, Dad would get other tractors from farmers to repair, which they also would allow us to use.
The hoe is absolutely necessary for removing rocks, digging large holes and trenches, in general the strength of the hydraulics is very useful for a multitude of jobs. Moving anything is greatly assisted by the front end loader. Since the tractor we use is pretty old, we have had to do basic repairs to it regularly. I remember breaking the hydraulic fitting on the back of the bucket cylinder twice in rapid succession. That was while digging a trench from the side, which does require you to keep an alert eye on what you do with the hoe. Obviously it was humbling, but I am glad I learned it there. We have learned a lot of basic machine operation skills on this multipurpose machine, which will no doubt be of benefit in future years.
I think that in our situation it has been very good having the bulldozer. We were able to secure quite a number of large jobs that we would not have been able to do otherwise and the experience will be valuable in the future with any other machinery we must operate. The only problem we have had with it was when the pony motor broke but we got experience from that also. Most obviously we got the experience of overhauling that small engine. After fixing it and doing a little other maintenance that it needed, we pressure washed it and gave it a coat of paint.
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