There are a few certainties that come along with farming and ranching, and one of them is The Break Down. If you have equipment you know that at some point (usually at an incredibly inconvenient time, like a Sunday morning of a long weekend) you’re going to have a break down.
Personally, I’m not a great mechanic. Unless the Break Down is incredibly obvious and easy to fix with few tools and little skill, I’m unlikely to actually solve the mechanical difficulty. That doesn’t mean I can’t help though, and after assisting a variety of different “fixers” with break downs over the years, I’ve made a few observations about being the support staff.
Know when to talk. Know when to listen. Through experience, I’ve discovered that hovering over someone’s shoulder asking “What’s wrong?” and “How do you fix that?” is not only unhelpful, it’s unappreciated. Similarly stating the obvious, such as “ooohh, that looks bad….” doesn’t help much either. Unless you’re a mechanical engineer, keep your observations and questions to yourself.
Find your niche. Everyone has some sort of talent that can be harnessed into something useful during the Break Down. Perhaps you have a valid driver’s license and can go on a parts run to town (or Timbuktu, depending on the idiosyncrasies of your machinery). Maybe you are good at offering a little encouragement to your mechanically-inclined friend. I’m far too sarcastic to fill that role, however my twig-like arms and spidery finders have proven useful at grabbing tiny things from even tinier spaces so I’m somewhat purposeful.
Read the signals and learn the codes. Be prepared to listen to a lot of muttering and try to decipher this into something tangible. Did you hear “3/4?” Then grab the wrench and ratchet version of that. Is your spouse randomly banging on something with a rock? Get them a hammer. (Because that always fixes the problem.) Were you asked to retrieve bolts that are in a red plastic bag on the driver’s side dash only to find what they actually meant was a blue paper bag of nuts under the passenger seat? You cracked the code, congratulations! However, if you find you consistently can’t tell a 9/16 from a 7/8 and you’re not willing to learn, then just go home.
Plan B. During the Break Down, there may come a time when you need to consider Plan B. I’m not always quick to diagnose a problem, but I’m fairly good at thinking of a Plan B, but I still have to work on my timing. Early in the Break Down, I usually go straight for the alternative, which yields no response from my husband. I repeat my Plan B suggestion, a little louder the second time (completely ignoring point 1. above). Again, it falls on deaf ears. If we’ve tried a few other solutions and we’re still no closer to fixing the Break Down, my husband grudgingly suggests the Plan B idea, and I quietly nod. (And smile.)
Keep things in perspective. Unless the Break Down results in an actual human injury, remember that things can always be worse. Of course, it’s hard to remind yourself of that when you’re in a race against time and weather, but try to be happy for small mercies. Like mosquito spray. And cordless impacts.
Perhaps some farmers experience a break-down-free existence in the field, but I guess I’m not one of them. Good luck and happy fixing.