Welding muck in the rain.

According to somebody who knows, farmers and Royal Marines have at least one thing in common, an utter disregard for doing things by the book. (A blithe disregard of health and safety may be one of the other things they have in common.)  So over the years, my occasional ventures into agricultural engineering are such as to give proper engineers palpitations. Were any to stop to watch what I’m doing, they’d probably have to go and have a lie down.

Over the years I’ve had to do a lot of percussive maintenance with tractor mounted slurry scrapers. The problem is that these take a lot of hammer. They’re used at least twice a day whilst cows are housed, they’re marinated in muck (which does nobody any good) and they’re often used in the dark or semi-dark. So yes they get well used.

Now scrapers don’t have all that many wearing parts. There’s the rubber that makes contact with the concrete that does wear out. There are also the pins the scraper pivots on. Because for those who’ve never used one, a scraper is meant to be able to pull muck as well as to push it. Indeed when you stop and think about it, you want to be able to pull muck out of the building (so the scraper can get close to the back wall, the last thing you want is to have to shovel a tractor length of muck by hand.) and similarly you want to be able push the muck into the slurry pit. After all, pulling it into the slurry pit means that the tractor has to go first. This is generally something you try to avoid.

Actually in the picture at the top of the page, the pit cannot be all that deep, you can still see the tractor.

But back to the pins the scraper pivots on. In the picture, the red arrow points to one of them. The pin connects A to B. Obviously they’re pretty hard steel. The last thing you want is them bending and buckling so the scraper no longer pivots.

But when you have a piece of steel (like B) swinging on a hard steel pin, if B isn’t as hard as the pin then B is going to wear. So B should be pretty hard steel as well, but in fact you’re running to expense. At what point do we call a halt.

I’d love to discuss the design of these scrapers with somebody who actually understands it all, but as far as I can see, you want everything to fail simultaneously. After all, they aren’t going to last forever. In theory the rubbers can be replaced but by the time the rubber has worn out, the bolts holding it on are so rotted they have to be cut off and the ‘wings’ have taken so many knocks they are only half connected to the rest of the scraper. So using high quality expensive steel just makes the tackle even more expensive and won’t increase life all that much.
In theory if you wash the scraper off after each use it would extend its life. But frankly if you’ve got time to do that, you’re either employing too many staff or you’re not milking enough cows.

Anyway back to the scraper. B wears. In fact what happens is that, in slow motion, the pin cuts its way through the metal of B until the hole in B is actually a slot.

Now doing the job properly and thinking about it, when buying another second hand scraper, I’d weld a couple of hard steel washers to B, one each side of the hole. This I would do when things were dry and clean, in the workshop where I could lift and twist things so that I could get to weld it properly. That way it would take the pin so much longer to cut its way through. Yes, because life is so slow and relaxed round here I have always had time to do sensible stuff like that. Oh look, a unicorn.

Instead, this is agriculture and everything is done in a rush. One morning you discover that the pins have escaped, B has a slot rather than a hole, so you hammer the steel back into place (because once the pin has broken through, it stops wearing as much and starts bending the softer metal out of its way) and then weld a bit of steel across the top of the slot to hold the bits into place.

But remember that you’re welding steel that has been marinated in muck for some years. So things spark and splutter a bit. Also there’s the frantic looking round for a piece of steel to weld across. Obviously in the fabulously appointed workshop there’ll be all sorts of handy bits. I’ve patched scrapers up with all sorts of odds and sods over the years. On one occasion I ended up with what I suspect was an old clog iron from the sole of somebody’s clog. For reasons I never understood it had been tacked to a beam, perhaps they’d hung something from it? If they did it was at least a century ago and I’d got fed up of trying to avoid knocking my head on it and had taken it down.

But it was just the right size and thickness to weld as a band over the top of the metal I’d hammered back into place. So I cut it into lengths and held it in place with mole grips and welded it up. It is was barely drizzling, it wasn’t raining properly.

I think the technical term is ‘clagged it on.’

So a piece of blacksmith iron that came out of the forge perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago was used to cobble together something a little more modern. Not only that but whatever the analysis and temper it had had before I got to play with it, by the time the welder had heated it up, and the molten weld had soaked up the muck around it, I shudder to think what its properties changed to.

But any job that gets you ‘back on the road’ for the cost of two welding rods is a good job.

Always remember, if some other part of the scraper gives up the ghost before bit you repaired breaks again, it was a successful repair. If you want pretty, I suggest you follow the YouTube channel of one of the more fashionable ‘influencers.’


There again what do I know, ask one of the experts featured below!

A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.

Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”


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16 thoughts on “Welding muck in the rain.

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 17, 2020 at 5:19 am Reply

    You’d get my vote for person to be saved when civilization is breaking down, and there are only a few seats in the starcruiser.

    I’d be useless.

    • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 6:10 am Reply

      everybody should learn the basics of percussive maintenance 🙂

  2. Auntysocial December 17, 2020 at 11:08 am Reply

    I once saw a local farmer use one of these to scrape a dead sheep up from the river and it took an excruciatingly long time and was the most undignified yet strangely comical thing I ever saw. Sure it would have easier, quicker and saved him diesel to have just given it up and dragged the poor sod out with its legs but he was persistent, pig-headed and stubborn or just determined to get his money’s worth if nothing else.

    He even shouted “Have I got it? Am I reet?? Which side is it??”

    Oh God in Heaven it’s a wonder he got it out in one piece and it didn’t just shred and leave bits floating away.

    Nowt a bit of twine can’t fix though. You can tell a farmer’s car, dog or front gate cos it’ll always have the trademark bit of orange twine.

    That is all I can bring to this discussion I’m afraid 😂

    • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 12:31 pm Reply

      Drowned sheep are damned heavy, I’d have used a bit of string to pull it. Pulling them out by hand is a nightmare
      To be fair to him he was pulling it out not pushing it further in 🙂

      • Auntysocial December 17, 2020 at 1:03 pm

        My daughter couldn’t stop laughing at the way he patiently persevered like when you drop a bill or important letter down the back of a radiator and have to keep carefully and very slowly fishing it up only for it to slip down and need carefully lifting again. Very nearly almost had it about 24 times

        I’d have poked it with a stick and gone “Eeeeewww” because I would have no idea what else to do with it. Married to a design engineer who would no doubt love this post and I may well bounce it off him later. He’s a Webster and from a farming family your way it’s even possible you’re related.

      • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm

        There’s millions of us come crawling out from under stones when we don’t think anybody is looking 🙂

  3. Cathy Cade December 17, 2020 at 11:51 am Reply

    ‘ an utter disregard for doing things by the book’ is probably quite closelu related to ‘a blithe disregard of health and safety’. Instruction leaflets these days have more pages of health and safety than they have instructions.

    • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 12:32 pm Reply

      I once got a 22 page instruction book with a pair of wellies, which was in eleven languages and was entirely health and safety 🙂

  4. Auntysocial December 17, 2020 at 1:23 pm Reply

    Can I also just how chuffed I am to see the books available to buy in paperback?! Only ever saw or had the option to buy for kindle but I clocked those and got them whizzed into my basket sharpish.

    Super happy excited now you just made my day 😀

    • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm Reply

      You can indeed be chuffed 🙂

      • Auntysocial December 25, 2020 at 12:46 pm

        Books for “Sometimes I sits and thinks” and “Sometimes I just sits?” arrived and were well received by husband who has set them aside to read over the next day or so.

        My daughter fell in love with the note about a flattened cornflake box being the perfect size for the lambs and went “Naww… I love it when farmers really care about their animals” 🙂 🙂

        I already read them so we’re doing a swap. I’m reading “The Art of War” which I bought him and haven’t read. Indian giver I may be, stupid I am not.

        Have a great Christmas and wishing you and yours all the best for 2021 xxx

      • jwebster2 December 25, 2020 at 12:48 pm

        Sun Tzu is well worth reading
        As is Machiavelli’s The Prince 🙂
        Have a good one 🙂

  5. Doug Jacquier December 17, 2020 at 1:37 pm Reply

    One of my earliest jobs was as a process worker in a welding rod factory in an Australian summer where temperatures in the shed were often C50+. I hope you appreciate my sacrifice. 😉

    • jwebster2 December 17, 2020 at 2:56 pm Reply

      Rest assured, each welding rod is treated with care and respect. They are cherished 🙂

  6. Eddy Winko December 19, 2020 at 8:55 am Reply

    My father in-law will never pass us a piece of scrap metal, or ‘material’ as the rough translation comes across. He sees the practical worth in everything and wears welding rods, like cigarettes, behind his ears 🙂

    • jwebster2 December 19, 2020 at 4:51 pm Reply

      A wise man, I’m like that with useful bits of wood as well 🙂

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