18/12/2012

Today we had breakfast for lunch. Let me explain.

The aged FIL has quite a bit of old farm equipment, not in very good condition, which neither he nor we will ever use. So he’s agreed that we can try and sell it for him on the French equivalent of Gumtree, viz Leboncoin.fr. There are ploughs, harrows, fertilizer spreaders, seeders…

So LSS took photos of all these items and listed them. Two weeks ago she received a phone call from Hungary, and the person expressed interest in two of the ploughs. Despite promising to call back again, no such call took place.

So yesterday, LSS once again received a phone call from a person with a heavily-accented Eastern European accent.
“Oh no you don’t!” she said. “I’m not reserving the plough for another Hungarian that never calls back.”
“Oh no,” the woman explained. “I’m not Hungarian. I’m Romanian. And I’m just a translator for a couple of blokes that buy old farm equipment in France. They deliver stuff to France, and instead of going back with an empty truck, they buy old farm stuff and sell it here at a profit.”
Fair enough.
LSS was concerned, however, regarding the larger of the two ploughs.
“This thing is heavy. Can the lorry cope with it?”
“Oh yes, not a problem. They’re collecting two small tractors. It’s an articulated 25-tonner. By the way, do you have a forklift truck?” (Pay attention here, the forklift is important. We should have heard alarm bells ringing.)
“No.”
“Not a problem, they’ll find a way to load the plough. I’ll give you a call when they reach your village tomorrow morning.”

So this morning we had lit the wood stove, and just put the porridge on. It did not even have time to reach simmering point when the phone rang. The Romanian lorry had arrived in the village and they wanted to know the way to the aged FIL’s farm.

We dropped everything, took the porridge off the stove, and drove into the village to fetch them.

We led them to the aged FIL’s farmhouse. There were two men in the cab. When they stopped the lorry and climbed down, we discovered that there was a small problem. Neither of them spoke French. Both of them spoke Romanian. Which I suppose is normal if you’re Romanian. Neither LSS nor I speak Romanian.

Neither of them spoke English, and Dutch was a no-go as well. However, one of them (whom I shall call Dimitri for no other reason than it sounds Romanian. The other one I shall call Ivan, because I looked it up and Ivan is a name in Romania) had a smattering of German, and as I had learned German at school, a three-way translation immediately took place. LSS explained which farm equipment was for sale, and how much it was, in English to me. I translated this into German (with many French words thrown in accidentally – hey, I haven’t spoken German for thirty years) to Dimitri, and Dimitri explained it in Romanian to Ivan. (Ivan was the one doing the buying, not Dimitri. Dimitri was the main driver. Ivan was also a driver, but did the buying. I’ve said that already.)

So Ivan selected one of the ploughs. He then asked (through Dimitri) whether we had a forklift. (Were you paying attention earlier?)

Oh dear.

No, we replied.

Dimitri then explained in German that it was too heavy to be lifted onto the lorry without one. I said we knew that.

Ivan said something to Dimitri, and Dimitri repeated it to me in German, and I repeated it to LSS in English. It was along the lines of: “We have to fetch another two tractors this morning about 100km away, and we’ll return this afternoon. We’ll hitch the plough to one of the small tractors, and drive it onto the lorry with ramps.” (The aged FIL’s tractor was too large to be able to put the plough into the lorry).

Fine, we said.

At this stage I should also point out that Dimitri and Ivan had already collected two old tractors, which were in the trailer.

Dimitri and Ivan then jumped into the lorry, drove it forward around a 90 degree left-hand bend in the road, and then started to reverse it into the farm courtyard. Oh dear. Now you’ve probably heard a lot of stories about Romanian truck drivers. Ice Road Truckers they ain’t.

The lorry immediately made its way into the deep ditch on the left of the road where it stuck. I fetched the tractor, but this proved to have insufficient power to extract the lorry from the ditch. Dimitri and Ivan then attempted to unhitch the trailer part, without much success because of the angle of the cab relative to the entire rig.

LSS then called a neighbour who had a larger tractor. He was kind enough to drop everything and bring the four-wheel-drive monster over.

Unfortunately, this proved insufficient as well. We needed a winch. Fortunately the neighbour had a brother in a neighbouring village. This brother had an even larger tractor with a winch. A visit was arranged. It was now 11 a.m. The neighbour’s brother (whom I will call NB for short) turned up at 2 p.m. Well, he had to have lunch first of course, which I suppose was fair enough. We took advantage of the lull in events to scoot off home and have breakfast for lunch. In other words, we had the porridge. The wood stove had of course died out by this time so we finished cooking the porridge on the gas stove.

So when the NB arrived, he attached the winch to the front of the lorry. I asked Dimitri if he was sure the trailer was still properly attached to the cab after their abortive efforts to unhitch it earlier. Yes, he replied.

Well, dear reader, you will by now have realised that something else was waiting to happen. Of course the trailer was not attached properly to the cab. The powerful winch on the NB’s tractor pulled the cab out of the ditch all right. However this was accompanied by a ripping, grinding noise as the trailer separated from the cab, pulling off most of the left-hand rear mudguard, and twisting the trailer so that the front left support leg was now embedded in the ditch, in the hole which was created by the left rear wheel of the cab. The right-hand rear wheels were now in the air.

Dimitri got busy repairing the rear mudguard of the cab, whilst the NB reattached the winch to one of the two tractors inside the trailer in order to redistribute some of the weight to the rear. The tractor was pulled towards the rear doors of the trailer. (No, I know what you’re thinking. It didn’t fall out). The other tractor was also moved towards the rear doors, this one under its own steam.

NB then attached the winch to the side of the front chassis of the trailer, and pulled the front end out of the ditch, aligning it on the roadway again. Dimitri then managed to reattach the cab to the trailer. NB re-coiled his winch wire, and then went over to Dimitri. Despite not speaking Romanian, he made the two of them understand that this had taken up two hours of his time, which he would normally have employed more usefully elsewhere, and as a result the charge for the extraction would be €80. I had to hide a smile – bang goes their profit for the day. He then went inside the farmhouse to say hello to the aged FIL. I stayed to watch.

Of course, Dimitri was now unable to successfully reverse the trailer around the right-angle corner. And before you say “Ah, but it was probably not possible to do so”, I would point out that the aged FIL used to have earthmoving equipment.

We’re talking big Caterpillar-type machines here. On a low-loader. The sort which need to be accompanied on public roads by escort vehicles. The sort of low-loader which was articulated. Which he frequently turned around in the farmyard.

The only option they had was to ask NB to reattach the winch to the side of the trailer, and pull it sideways around the corner. (This was done free of charge actually! I had visions of NB asking them for another €40.)

They then (wisely) decided that the best way to get back to the main road was by reversing. (It’s only about a kilometer away…)

I fetched a shovel and busied myself filling in the monstrous holes left in the farm road by the tractors and lorry.

We’ve decided we’re not going to sell any other large farm equipment unless the buyer either fetches it with a tractor, or loads it themselves onto a smaller lorry.

I wonder if Dimitri and Ivan know Boris and Igor? I doubt we’ll be seeing them again.

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