Last November, we impulse-bought a horse (saving it from slaughter), which required impulse-buying a trailer. In 2018, most horses are not especially useful on farms or homesteads — they’re much more likely to be big, hungry, expensive pets. A trailer, on the other hand, would make our lives so much easier in so many ways. The trailer we bought (in a private transaction from a stranger a few towns over) had a ramp instead of the typical step-up configuration that most trailers have. It was rusty (everything that has been through a New York winter is rusty, including our Southern-bought car). We forked over $1500 cash and I remember going to bed that night feeling determined. There was an issue of miscommunication between our truck’s brand new brake controller and the trailer electronics that controlled its brakes, but the trailer was lightweight and the horse was too, so we weren’t too worried about this one-time emergency trip.
The next day Vincent had to work, so I drove to southeast Pennsylvania by myself, got our horse off the enormous slaughter-rescue trailer (she was one of maybe 20 horses crammed onto the thing), and drove back to New York. The drive was fairly uneventful; the brake issue didn’t cause any further problems. We made it back to New York despite the freezing temperatures and slush, and shyly tucked our gorgeous, tired, dignified horse into a stall filled with fresh straw.
A year later, the horse looks great. She’s put on so much weight, had a shiny coat for summer and a nice thick coat coming in for winter. She’s the queen of the pasture, keeping sassy Juniper, our Jersey heifer, in line, but treating little old Maggie, our retired milk goat, with deference and care.
Our trailer, on the other hand, is not doing so great. We’ve used it a fair bit, transporting pigs around the property, transporting three batches of pigs to slaughter, taking sheep to be sheared and to their late-summer pasture at our friends’ house. Yesterday, we loaded our last batch of meat pigs for the year, and Vincent did some magnificent maneuvering to get truck and trailer safely out of the immense muck that surrounds so much of our property right now (thank you, x days of heavy rain) and onto the road.
We drove maybe three miles before hearing an explosion. Vincent pulled over and noticed one of the trailer tires — which had seen less than 3,000 miles of use — was flat. In low-40s temperatures and the driving rain, he got on the ground to jack up the trailer (full of four pigs) and we set about putting on the brand new spare.
I know basically nothing about vehicles, tires, etc., but I like a telling autopsy. I noticed that the exploded tire was basically shredded on the inside, in a fairly straight line. It was almost like a knife or a nail had hit the tire wall at an angle and shredded it all the way around. Then we noticed the remains of burnt rubber on the trailer itself — for some reason, the tire wasn’t aligned properly and was rubbing on the [rusty] metal of the trailer. Neither of us are mechanics, by any stretch, but it seemed obvious that we needed more space between the tire and the trailer frame.
While we both prioritize safety (especially in our family’s current trajectory of expanding), we had made this processing appointment back in April or May and, with deer season coming into its height, the chance of finding someone who could process four pigs in the next few weeks was low. We didn’t have the time or energy or setup to process four pigs ourselves, especially because the meat from these pigs had been purchased by customers. We had to get them to the processor, if it was at all possible.
We unhitched the trailer and I left Vincent on the side of the road with a trailer full of pigs while I drove to town to get some washers. We didn’t know if the problem was from the tire or the trailer — with all of the recent rain, some of the wood inside the trailer had gotten wet and swollen, and we figured that the wood might be pushing on the rusty, now-pliable metal, and pushing the trailer’s frame outward, where it was rubbing the tire. I dropped off the washers and then went home go get a drill and a saws-all (and to turn off the broth bubbling merrily on the stove, as this quick errand was obviously going to take much, much longer than we had anticipated).
When I returned to the trailer, and cold, wet, muddy Vincent, we decided to try and remove the swollen wood and see if that would help resolve the problem. It didn’t. As we were looking forlornly and critically at the trailer, trying to figure out what to do, a Mennonite gentleman rode up on his bike, chatting on his cell phone. He jumped off his bike and crouched down next to Vincent, as he began investigating and diagnosing our problem. Having been driving all over the Canandaigua lake area, I assumed that he had been by already and had come back to help.
I have little personal patience for Godliness — my own personal brand of spirituality oscillates between atheism, some form of nature worship, and picturing gods and goddesses a la the Greek and Romans, a bunch of petty, powerful deities who treat humanity with whimsy — but when this guy showed up, I couldn’t help but picture guardian angel Clarence from the film It’s a Wonderful Life. Here we were, muddy and desperate on the side of the road, and a small, powerful gentleman named Elvin appears out of nowhere, reminiscent more of an earlier era than our own, and has the knowledge, wherewithal, and generosity to help.
We try a few different things, and end up just putting the tire on backward. We had left our house before 13:00 and it was now 16:15, and the processor asked farmers to have their animals unloaded by 15:30. It was still an hour’s ride. The kind folks at the processor were very understanding of our situation and said they’d still be around if we could make it there. On our way, we passed a wreck — what looked like a small dump truck, on its side in a ditch — and more keenly felt the seriousness and danger inherent to using vehicles and machinery.
We made it to the processor and I hopped out to help Vincent back the trailer into the unloading chute. I noticed that the troublesome wheel was splayed outward. We got the pigs unloaded and checked out the trailer: the rusty axle had cracked. It was something of a miracle that we had made it all that way without the spare tire exploding, without the trailer falling apart, without it fishtailing — or so many other scenarios that could have been deadly for us or for other people on the road. We asked the processor owner if we could leave the trailer there, and the kind, kind man took a look at the trailer and said yes, of course.
We thanked/apologized to the processor employees a billion times as we talked through the cut sheets. And then we hobbled toward home, ordering takeaway from a fancy-ish local restaurant (the only place open on a Monday night outside of high tourist season) and noticing the hostess’s eyes widen as two mud-and-poop-adorned farmers clomped in toward the hostess stand.
We made it back home safely and attended to hungry animals, a cold, dark house, and empty bellies.
We’ll need to figure out some way to get our animals, including our now-fat and happy horse, over to our new house in the coming weeks, but we won’t impulse-buy another trailer.