Checking Out Old Equipment at High Meadows Farm: EP63 | Show Notes

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This is the Ag Engineering podcast that rolls right into the details on tools, tips, and techniques that improve you, your farm, and our world. I’m your host, Andy Chamberlain, from the University of Vermont Extension and this podcast is sponsored by Northeast SARE. Thanks for listening. This episode comes to you from Westminster, West Vermont, where I visit with Howard Prussack of High Meadows Farm. He grows on six acres in the climate zone five and has a gross sales between $350,000 and $500,000. They peaked a little over five, but they’ve brought that down as he’s trying to scale back and do a little bit less as his farming career continues on. I visited Howard in October where we walked around his farm and talked about many different sorts of farm toys. I mean tools, because he’s accumulated quite a bit for vegetable production and he’s definitely got his favorites, both old and new. So in this episode, we’re gonna mainly focus on some of the older equipment here at High Meadows Farm. The next episode, we’ll talk about some of the new equipment and then following that, we’ll get into some plastic mulch laying and then a conversation about, he’s got a special message for those who are just getting into agriculture now, based on his experience. So stay tuned for the next handful of episodes here with Howard. And let’s dive into this one.
I’ve got equipment that’s 70 plus years old and then I’ve got stuff that I just bought this spring. And they’re both very satisfying. I bought that plow brand new 43 years ago. And now all of a sudden I lost, I gotta replace the coulters and it’s not easy getting… You would think, “Okay, I got a Massey Ferguson 43, “I need coulters.” Well, you have to put together the center bearing with the coulter, like nobody has it already. And so you gotta find the… It’s just really weird.
They don’t make replacement parts for stuff that is that old?
Not when it’s that old. You know, that’s one of the dangers of dealing with older equipment. You wanna try to keep it constantly in good shape so you don’t fall behind and then it’s like an oops moment.
I mean, I’ve replaced the plow shares and I’m due again. I am not anti plow. I have arguments quite a bit online with, You know, “No, you can’t plow. It’s ruining the planet.” I mean, people get very agitated. And they’re never farmers. It’s always like quasi gardeners. who have these like, “Oh, and how would you propose I deal with “a new field that hasn’t been plowed in 50 years?” Top three acres? I mean, and wait a year. I mean they’re, “Oh, whoa, whoa.” So it’s always interesting. There’s a lot of people who wanna tell me how I should make a living. That’s the funny thing. Nobody harasses a local machinist who goes to work and tells them–
And tells them they’re doing it wrong.
Right. And then complains about how much his machine parts cost, but people will complain about how much my squashes, “It’s elitist.”
Okay. I don’t know. Do you stand outside in front of the Tesla dealership and yell at them for making expensive cars? This is also like 43 years old.
I’ve rebuilt that once. And I just did some major work on it. I’m really lucky around here. There’s a whole bunch of guys who love repairing stuff. They’re good welders. They could just show up on a moment’s notice and fix shit for me.
So I’ve never had to learn how to weld because why should I? I mean, I’ll never, like a guy showed up two years ago and he re-welded that and broke off and he straightened stuff out. And I just had another guy here this year. And very reasonably priced. So we’re lucky. I always tell people, cultivate friends that know how to fix shit.
Like here, I found one of the beams of my barn, all of a sudden we were cleaning up and I realized we’re losing a beam.
Oh geez.
And so he pulled it out. So anyway, I texted a buddy who lives down in the valley and I said, “Hey, I need a new beam.” He’s like, “Yeah okay. I’ll get to it next week.” I mean, he cut out a beam and he pulled out the old one and he’s gonna replace it. And he’s building new elbows ’cause they rotted and boom. So it’s like–
It’s like a little DIY project Like beam in a barn.
Yeah. So I’m just really lucky around–
Is this an original dibbler here?
Yeah. It is. It’s been retired. Someone said it looks very medieval. That should go into the NOFA museum of like–
There you go.
You know, antique machinery.
To give you a visual for this soundbite, this original dibbler was a 55 gallon drum with some wooden spikes out of some dowels attached to this that were rotted and falling off and rotated all the way around the drum. There’s like six different layers of them and used to punch holes in the dirt. Obviously this is a very original home-built piece of equipment. And I’ve got a photo of this on the website, if you wanna check that out later.
But this is what a homemade dibbler looks like.
Back before dibblers were cool.
And I pulled it by hand. There was an axle that ran through here. And two of us would just pull it through the field.
Was that punching plastic or just marking dirt?
No. It was just marking it. It’s not good enough to go through plastic. So it was just in soil and–
Fit the bill.
It worked. It was good in its day. And this is like an evolution of stuff. I built my own sprayer once and boom sprayer. And now it’s like I got, now that I cleaned up the back, this is all going. And that was a little riding Sulky sprayer that I pulled with my mainline tiller.
Oh yeah?
Yeah. And so there was a poly tank in it and it ran off of a pump from the mainline PTO. So I loved small scale equipment but it really wasn’t practical when I moved here with my hills, riding Sulkys and little rototillers, you know, I’m really a tractor.
That’s a ride that you didn’t need to continue.
Right. Let’s go through here. What other museum pieces? This is–
This next piece of equipment is an old manure spreader.
But this like here, this is 70 plus years old. And I just washed it this morning.
Looks pretty good.
It still works. I just greased it. There’s two grease nipples I can’t get to, so I have a guy coming over who could put extensions on, do extension nipples and get them out so I could grease it.
Reach them?
Yeah. And so I told somebody this morning, I said, “Well, the stuff’s in really good shape.” And theoretically, any farm equipment should last a lifetime if you do the maintenance. If you keep it greased, then paint it undercover, and you don’t throw it over a cliff. I mean, there’s really, it should last forever.
They’re built to hold up.
They were built right in the first place. Things tend to be overbuilt ’cause they didn’t have the engineering know how to under-build.
Now things are built to like just right specs.
So back then they figured out what worked and then they made, “Well let’s make it a little heavy just in case.”
Yeah, right.
That basically was the engineering data back then. But like all the levers operate as good as when it was new. I bought that. I mean, I’m sure I could sell it for, I just ordered parts and owner’s manual.
Yeah. You could still, that’s what’s crazy about tractors and farm equipment. It’s like, there are other nutty people too, who like, I don’t know why that there’s a business model for that, but there must be ’cause there are websites devoted to like old tractors, catalogs, parts. So it’s pretty cool.
As we rotated around one barn and across the yard, the next place we entered was his original greenhouse.
This house I built in 1979. And I got a grant from the Department of Energy to build it. It was like a whole story to it. But Jimmy Carter announced they were looking for energy saving things. And I made a proposal and I won and back then it was like 11 and a half thousand dollars, which was the largest that they would grant. Now it’s like they throw money like that around. But back then it was a big deal and I was one of the first steel frame greenhouses in Vermont in NOFA. Like Jake Gaston and his wife came, and people would come and walk inside and go, “Oh wow.”
Yeah. Check out.
It seems so big and now it’s, you know, it’s like nothing,
Oh this was the one you almost lost this summer.
Yeah. You read that.
Good catch. Yeah. I saw that.
That was crazy. Whew. That’s just crazy.
Yeah. That was hot compost or something, right?
It spontaneously combusted. It wasn’t even compost, it was potting soil.
I had some compost-based potting soil. And I found out that up in Manitoba, peat fires are a real thing.
They happen.
If the conditions are just right.
Exactly. But there was no lightning here, but whatever it was, and I never figured out if there was reflected light, but this is the north side.
So it’s like, we just never figured it out. But I was just minutes away from losing the whole thing.
So yeah, it was a good catch for sure. Originally when I built this house, actually I set it up for, it was in-ground heating. So I was like way ahead of people.
Wow. Yeah. That’s early tech right there.
Oh yeah. I designed and built an in-ground heating system. We were growing in bags. It was bag culture on the ground of peat with drip irrigation through all the bags and we were growing lettuce. And then we switched to a hydroponic system after that. And actually it was on the cover of Vermont Life. I don’t remember what year, ’83 maybe or something, ’84. And then it’s evolved now it’s drying hemp.
And now these are heated bench propagation tables. After the plants come out, then we used it for, we had onions, this was all filled with onions. And the onions came out and then we’re into hemp and then we’ll clean it up and get ready for spring again. But this was a cool system that we built ourselves running off of gas propane and just pretty simple and it works. And I could shut the heat to any one bench.
Oh, bench top heating.
Yeah. It’s all bench top with micro rubber tubes and things. Bench top heating, it’s awesome. I’ve got a whole, one of the largest greenhouses is bench top heating. So the biggest discussion I have with new farmers, growers is that, ’cause they’re, “Oh, I want to get a tractor.” And I’m like, “I could find a cheap tractor.” And I said that you’re going about it wrong. When you’re looking for equipment, you gotta figure out What’s the job you want to get done, okay? And then you get the tool to get that job done. Price really shouldn’t enter into it. If it’s gonna be a business and you know you gotta get X done, you gotta get the right tools. Otherwise you’re gonna fail. It’s designing to fail, or you’ll be miserable until you finally get the right tool. That was the few nuggets of wisdom I’ve come to.
That was one.
The next tool in the yard is a large subsoiler he uses behind his 60 horse tractor.
So I got this at an auction, a bunch of years ago.
It looks like a good auction find.
It was. Yeah. I loan it out to some other growers in the area and they bring it back much worn. I couldn’t believe how much you plowed. You know, “How many thousand acres did you go through? “This is like treated steel here.” And they wore it down this spring.
This I bought last year, a new mower to replace my old brush hog that I had for 43 years. And I sold it for just a little less than I paid for it. That’s the cool thing about keeping equipment in good shape.
For a long time. Buy and hold investment works well for farm equipment.
Well, basically you get to use it for 43, actually, no. I owned it for 50 years. So I used it for 50 years and then I got my money back. So rent free for 50 years. So that’s how you gotta look at equipment. And I enjoy upgraded new stuff though.
Oh, for sure.
This is so much quieter than my old brush hog.
I was gonna ask, what makes a new brush hog better than an old brush hog?
Well, this it’s quieter. It’s a lot quieter.
Bearings are smoother.
Yeah. You don’t realize. It’s like the things are wearing out and making noise. It’s always made noise. Well it’s not supposed to but they do. Some things are made better now.
This next piece of equipment, we pull the tarp back and check out, actually a new tool he just brought onto the farm this last year. That was a one row potato digger.
This is… There’s my digger. I haven’t finished cleaning it for the season yet. Somebody was criticizing it ’cause I had a video of it posted. And he didn’t like the way… He didn’t like it. It’s like, “Okay.” You know. He uses a middle buster to dig his potatoes. It’s like, “Okay. You know. “You could do that too.” Some people just, I don’t know. They just like wanna criticize, a few people, but most people are happy to see the postings of equipment working.
Yeah absolutely.
They love seeing it work.
You don’t see that in the catalog or a lame website.
No. Right. You don’t. And even if you go to the manufacturer’s link, sometimes it doesn’t really give you. You wanna see where it’s working on a real farm. Sometime they’ll, Of course they’ll post the most perfect conditions.
Yeah, yeah.
So it’s sort of like the Spedo. I mean I’ve had–
Yeah. After the Checchi.
Yeah. That one. Yes. It’s basically the same. A little different. It shakes differently. I think the Checchi sort of shakes it this way. This one’s like a back and forth shaker.
Either way it gets the potatoes outta the ground.
It got them out and very little bruising. You gotta keep it on the row. And sometimes on the hillside, you’re not always going to get it right, but it’s certainly better than digging in by hand.
Very expensive?
No. It was like $2,400 maybe, $2,600.
Not too bad.
No. I mean they’re hard to find, one row diggers.
Yeah. Absolutely.
And then the chain ones, the old ones, they’re getting really old and it’s hard to find parts.
But I had a two row digger, John Deere on rubber tires and I loved it and I sold it to Jack Mannix years ago and he’s gotten rid of it, but I do like a chain digger. I mean it’s really optimum.
I like chain digging. And this is the matching planter. It’s very clever. I made one mistake this year. I used it almost, there was like, I did very little setup and I didn’t realize that the planting shoe was set at its deepest level.
And I was wondering the potatoes weren’t coming up. They weren’t coming up. And I realized that they were planted to kingdom comes.
It’s like hanging off fan as it was the first new planter I ever had.
So did they eventually come up?
They did. They did come up.
Just took them a while, huh?
It did take them a while and they were really deep. So digging them by hand sucked until I got the digger going, but otherwise it worked great. And what’s really cool is there’s no gears to change. You’re actually changing the circumference of the wheels.
Oh, that’s unique.
Right? What kind of engineering is that? I don’t know if that was easier to engineer than a couple of gears in Sprocket, but you could see how it works. You see?
So you could go up an inch or down an inch.
That’s wild.
And so they set it in the middle usage, but it’s clever enough that it’s worth it to look at.
Same price point as your digger?
Yeah. One of them crossed like a few hundred dollars more. I think it’s probably this.
There’s probably a little more in it, but the furrow closes are great and I was able to adjust it. So it did a perfect job on covering the seed.
How’d you find these? Did you just…
How did I find? I was over at Pinnacle View in New Hampshire and I saw one, I asked about it and that was sold out, but he was gonna be getting more in last fall. So I said, “Okay. Well, put me down for “a digger and a planter.” And sure enough, the boat came in.
Yeah, in time.
And it was a good thing I grabbed them because that was like, you couldn’t get anymore because of COVID–
They weren’t making them.
Shipping, and who knows why, but you cannot get equipment. For the money, I mean, I haven’t found anything comparable. If you can’t buy, find used, which used equipment is always good to get.
It’s certainly an option for new grower for a single row. I think the technology’s pretty clever. I like the rubber apron that works too.
Yep. Kinda singulate them.
Mm-hmm. ‘Cause my old John Deere had spikes to pick them up and I used to have to sharpen the spikes every year, clean them up to make sure they would do a good job.
How’s the maintenance? You just hose it out, or do you even really need to do that?
Just a quick rinse?
Not really. I haven’t done anything. I’m just gonna put it into one of the greenhouses.
So does somebody stand on the back here while they’re using it?
Even though it says… That’s why they put the stand there.
You’re right. To ride to the field I guess, that’s what that’s for.
It’s like, “Do not stand on this.”
Yeah. So Richie wrote on this. And it was helpful too, that he was in there to make sure that each one had a seed. But there seems to be a lot of interesting farm equipment overseas that won’t even come in. Like Japan has some amazing small scale stuff operated by little Honda motors. Very specialty equipment. They don’t seem to have rocks there in any of those videos.
It’s like three feet of like fine silt.
Lucky them. After that, we walked into the barn to talk about his brush washer.
And this like, I’ve had this for a while, a long time. Now that everybody’s going to the new style, but I’m not gonna. I’m sort of almost done like buying stuff.
Now I’ll buy stuff if it’s fun inducing. Yeah. Just, I’m not sure. Like it’s gotta make money now. It’s gotta be something that’s gonna increase, like make money or–
Well, what are the main crops you’d put through this? Everything?
Well, now everything. We had a barrel washer, a Willsie barrel washer, that we had set up right here on the end. And it was kind of cool ’cause we used the same table for the roots, but it was all, we stopped doing bulk carrots, so it didn’t really make sense to have. And all the other roots we’re putting through here and it does a perfect job. Potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, beets. So it’s done a good enough job that we don’t, and then squash. I mean, we’ll put a tonnage, tonnage of squash through here.
So from a produce safety perspective, it’s mostly cooked crops.
Yeah. We’re not doing raw.
Yeah. So–
We’re not doing greens. I purposely don’t. I purposely–
You’re not putting…
don’t grow greens, really.
You’re not putting peppers and cucumbers through here?
No. No. We’re not growing those crops.
So therefore it’s totally fine.
Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. What did we do–
Otherwise yeah, it’d be a bear to clean.
We do celery, but you don’t wash celery. We don’t wash it. Although actually I guess I do chill it.
No. You wouldn’t put that through a machine like this.
No. No. We do a dunk tank. Fill it with cold water, and I just like dunk it in there, get some of the field heat off and in the box and then it into the cooler. Celery has turned out to be a nice crop for us.
Onions were a big crop because you don’t need to wash onions. Garlic, same thing. So what we grow is really, when I designed what we grow is I didn’t want to grow anything that would wilt particularly, or that I had to bend down and pick continuously, like beans or peas. I’d been there, I’ve done that. So I wanted things to be, if you’re bending down economically, it makes sense. Like we do bunch beats ’cause it’s easy to boom. And you know it’s X amount of money. A bunch of beats is boom, boom. I could figure out our cost on that easily, but greens, I just didn’t want to get involved. We do one crop of early lettuce and that’s in the greenhouse. So the greenhouse stuff is fun. Growing veggies in the greenhouse. And that’s an evolution ’cause 40 years ago we weren’t doing that. Except for that we were gonna do it in that house. That’s what it was built for when I got the grant for, but the money we were getting then is not like the money we could get now. So I remember after working all winter in that greenhouse, I traded money basically. It’s like $10,000 in $10,000 out and why did we do this?
It’s not getting you ahead.
No. It didn’t get ahead at all.
How do you like these orange carts? I’ve seen them kicking around the greenhouses.
Oh I love them. Yeah. Andre was showing me, he’s got a couple yellow similar style ones.
Oh yeah?
I got these from Leonard’s and so we got like six of them.
Terra Tech makes and sells a very similar cart.
Yeah. Yep.
So he’s marketing those.
Yeah. Yeah. They they’re great. I mean, I’ve had some of these for 10 years or more and they’re indestructible and everybody loves them. They’re handy, they’re just the right height. We use them in the greenhouses, we use them everywhere, in the barn. They’re great. And then we finally started getting the ones with the non- flat tires which I would definitely recommend cause–
One less maintenance.
It is. And those cheap tires, they’re from China and they don’t hold their air and they go flat and it really sucks. I don’t know why China can’t seem to build tires that work.
Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If I can ask you or direct you to do one thing that is to go to the website for this podcast:, that’s There you’ll find the show notes. You’ll find links to the farmer who we chatted with today, as well as photos or videos from the call when I visited the farm. If you’ve got some feedback to share, my contact information’s on there or you can leave me a voicemail and you can do that right from the link in the description, in the mobile app. You’re listening to this too, so go ahead and do that. Thanks again for listening. And I hope you have a great day.