Jeff Ryan takes readers through another adventure on his Iowa farm as he embarks on a mission to find a good place to extract honey.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. I wasn't completely prepared when an opportunity arose, but I ended up getting a bit lucky anyway. That's how my world works.
Let's say you raise some bees. All of those bees hopefully generate enough labor to yield some honey. That honey doesn't just magically appear in bear-shaped bottles. Not even close. It must be extracted from the frames where it is originally produced and stored. That extraction process can be a little bit involved, or it can be majorly involved. It's your choice. My preference was for some significant mechanical involvement. The other option was to get ourselves a manual extractor. We're talking hand-crank equipment in that scenario. It's on par with churning our own butter.
Get real. I'm more of the "flip-this-switch-and-see-what-happens" variety of entrepreneur. So we bought a halfway decent extractor that is powered by an electric motor. Take the frames out of the hives, carefully set them in the extractor so that they are balanced against one another, then toss the cover on that puppy, flip the switch and stand back while all of the golden stream of revenue starts to flow from the bottom of the machine.
The concept sounds good, right? Now let's review the background for the scene. Bees aren't terribly wild about you coming into their hive and swiping all of their frames of honey. You can do it, but a few things have to happen for you to do it without any kind of retribution on the bees' part. The removal works best if you do it toward the very end of the day, under cover of darkness. The bees are relatively quiet then.
Actually, it's not so much the removal of the frames that's time-critical as it is the extraction of the honey. Put yourself in a full-body bee suit and you can do the removal any time you want. Here's where the irony comes back to kick your butt. Honey flows best when it's warm. Bees are most active when it's warm. Do your work in the dark and you won't be at risk of being stung by the bees. Do your work in the dark when it's cool and your honey will flow a bit like molasses in the winter.
Now consider the geography of the extraction. Why not just bring the work inside and do it in the house, you ask? Hey, why not butcher the beef right there at the kitchen table, too? Take your pick. You can have a bloody mess in your kitchen, or you can have a sticky mess in your kitchen. Some stuff is best done outside. Other stuff is best done in a dedicated facility. We don't bring ears of corn inside to shell the kernels. We do that outside with mechanical help from a combine. We take animals to a meat locker to get them converted from live beings to packages of steaks and burgers.
We did our honey extraction last year after dark. We also did it in the yard, since we didn't want to mess up the kitchen with honey dripping everywhere and we didn't want to build a stand-alone facility for honey extraction. Playing with bees and honey in the middle of the night gets old in a hurry.
As George Carlin would say, we needed a place for our stuff. We wanted someplace where we could process honey and we wanted it to be easily accessible and clean enough to use for food production. Lo and behold, a guy named Craig and his list came to the rescue. Someone passed along a link to me of an ad from Craigslist for a small building. It was 10 ft. by 12 ft. and seemed to be just what we needed. It also happened to be located within a few miles of us. Better yet, it was owned by someone I knew. One half of the couple used to cut my hair. The other half of the couple used to be the foreman at the company where our livestock trailer was made. These weren't complete strangers who'd end up murdering me and mailing my carcass fragments in several small business reply envelopes like your average Craigslist consignor would / does. (I checked that on Snopes after I got it in a Fw: Fw: Fw: email. It’s not just true, but fairly common. Look it up. "Cause of death: Craigslist" shows up on more death certificates than you think!)
Sherill and I took a short trip to the other side of rural Cresco and checked out the building. It looked like it would suit our needs quite nicely. The price was right, so we decided to take it.
Okay, that was a poor verb choice. We decided to buy it. Big difference. The buying was the easy part. The taking was another matter.
This is a portable building. It's not anchored to a concrete foundation. It's not built with poles stuck in the ground. It's a shed built on two beams with tapered ends. Realistically, a guy could just hook a chain onto that puppy and drag it home. Of course, a guy could just have two splinters left instead of beams by the time it was home, too. Nothing else I've ever dragged down the gravel has ever gotten better as a result. We didn't need to reinvent the wheel here; we just needed to apply the wheel properly.
That's when I went into detective mode. This shed didn't just sprout from the ground where it was, I surmised. It had to get there somehow. Surely it could leave the same way. I'd be hitting the Rewind and Play buttons on my DVR of life.
It got there on a truck, so it could leave on a truck. Get a truck to haul it for me. Preferably, it would be a truck with a hydraulic hoist and a tilt bed. Back up to it, tilt the bed, hook on to it and winch it onto the truck and then leave. Get home and do the whole lather-rinse-repeat process again in reverse. Pretty simple.
Multiple calls were made to people with trucks. A grand total of zero responses were generated. No one else wanted in on this rare opportunity.
This shed was basically a large bale of hay. It needed to be moved and it needed to involve the least amount of effort and expense possible. If I can get several hundred packages of forage transported with, let's say, minimal collateral damage, how tough could one dinky shed be?
The plan was hatched and execution was begun. I opted to take the Ranch Hand with a gooseneck flatbed trailer with me to the other side of rural Cresco. We'd take the shed owner's skid loader and simply lift the shed onto my trailer. I'd drive it home and set it off here. Pretty simple.
The Ranch Hand and trailer were backed into position. The skid loader was positioned on one side of the building to raise it so the Ranch Hand and trailer could be backed underneath. That's when physics caught up with us. Lifting from one side of the building pretty much raised the building up on one side and caused the opposite side to go down. Even with a couple of us pushing as counterweight, we weren't lifting it up so much as we were tipping it over!
More hands make the work easier, right? If one loader is good, two have to be much better. Why not go home and bring a tractor and loader with pallet forks over to lift from the opposite side? We'd get a machine on each side and gently elevate that puppy skyward. Back the trailer under it, hit the Rewind button again and then it would be time to hit the road.
I got home and retrieved my loader tractor and put the pallet forks on it. On my way back to the crime scene, one of my potential haulers finally called me. He had just the ticket for me. It was a trailer that he uses to deliver buildings for a lumberyard. Perfect solution for me, he felt. Not elaborate at all, but effective. I could swing in and take a look at it, seeing as how I was two blocks past it at the moment he called.
His "trailer" was an I-beam with a ball hitch on one end and a set of wheels at the other end. In the middle of the 30-foot-long I-beam were two pieces of strap iron welded perpendicular to the beam. They were maybe five or six feet long. The shed would be gently lifted onto the strap irons and then transported to the destination.
Lots of things ran through my mind as I stopped and looked at the trailer. Words like "stark," "minimalist," "bare-bones," and "cobbled" kept coming up. They were part of a scene in my head that involved my new shed rolling off into a ditch somewhere on the way home. I decided to stick with my current plan.
Two heads are better than one. Two loaders are more impressive and effective than one, too. We managed to get our machines positioned and lifted the building off the ground with no problem. I backed the Ranch Hand and trailer underneath and we gently set the shed down onto its new mobile location.
Then came the fun part. There are laws of gravity and everything, but you can't forget the corollaries and amendments about momentum. Yeah, that shed looks really solid sitting on top of the trailer, but it's not a straight shot from where I was at the moment to my yard. There would be stops. There would be hills. There would be turns.
This wasn't my first transport rodeo. I could very well be taking the same route home that I followed about fifteen years ago with a load of hay. That's the one that got me a spot in the Des Moines Register and kind of launched this whole column concept. It involved me, a load of hay, a stoplight, a free-wheeling bale of hay, a white Cadillac driven by a non-local and a front-end loader. You do the math.
We strapped the load soundly on this day, mainly because of that last event. What with the need for the loader tractor and the accompanying delay, it was now close to dark. I opted not to go home directly down Highway 9 through the middle of Cresco. Nope, I took a couple of side roads that let me get from Point A to Point B via Points C through about Q, without anyone wearing a badge even knowing I was out there. You see, I'd driven past several members of the region's law enforcement community enjoying a meal at an establishment on the highway in town as I went by in my loader tractor a short while before. Why interrupt their meal with a discussion over whether one of the multiple state troopers, or the DOT officer, or the city cop would be the one who gets to go outside and "write that moron a ticket" when I could let them eat in peace while I slipped by a mile or two away? I was doing them a favor. It was textbook Golden Rule stuff.
The new honey house successfully made its way back here to the farm with little trouble. Sure, there were some strange looks from the people I met on my route, but how often have you had to slow down as you met a building being pulled on a trailer by a Ranch Hand? Common stuff around here.
The building was gently lifted off the trailer and placed into position in the yard for its new role in the food industry. Just for fun, I may hoist it back onto the trailer at some point and pull into a local campground with it. I'll keep a couple boxes of bees on the front porch just to add that special redneck ambiance to the equation.
"More gopher, Everett?"