Shoveling Sh*t and Why I Love My 4X4

By Cam Mather

I’ve decided that now that CBS has a TV Show called “Sh*t my Dad Says” I can get away with using that word too. My neighbor Alyce, who provides me with horse manure, is not prone to swearing but even she will use that word on occasion. I get a load of manure from her every week or so, so one could rightly conclude that I take a lot of sh*t from her. And I’m happy to do it. We try and barter for it. I try to remember to give her some of our vegetables during the summer but I’m not always consistent. But we have a paddock with nothing of our own in it these days, so she’ll often use it to board horses or cows that she wants to keep separate from the rest of the herd.

I am growing on a very sandy soil. Think of a sand box. If I dig down about 6 inches that’s what I hit. In many places the sand is closer to the surface than I’d like so for more than a decade I have been trying to build up my topsoil and horse manure has been key to this. Alyce uses wood shavings mixed with her horse manure so it’s a great supplement to my soil.

For nine months of the year it’s no problem hauling the manure trailer in to where I want to spread the manure, but when there’s snow on the ground it can be a real challenge. When I first moved here from the suburbs I bought Alyce’s old truck, a Ford Ranger. It was 2-wheel drive. Two “rear” wheel drive. Our other vehicle is a Honda Civic and we put snow tires on it. Thanks to the front wheel drive I’m able to drive that sucker through snow deeper than the undercarriage. I’ve really never been stuck in my Civic. But the old Ranger – what a nightmare. If I had a buck for every time I got stuck in the snow dragging a trailer full of manure with that truck, well I wouldn’t need to be hauling manure.

Early in the winter when the snow wasn’t yet deep, I’d be able to get in to the gardens. I would cut a few live poplar trees, which are really heavy and grow like weeds around here, and put them in the back of the truck for weight to help with traction. But once the snow got deeper it would get progressively worse. I’d try and keep a trail packed down, but if it was a heavy load and the truck got pulled out of the ruts, it was game over. My usual Sunday activity used to be moving the truck 3 feet at a time. I’d put a metal traction plate under the rear tires, spread some sand, move a few feet and repeat. Over and over again.

Then last year I bought a used Ford Ranger 4×4 for $4,000. What in heavens name was I waiting for? This thing is amazing. I can get this sucker through unbelievably deep snow. I’m not one of those “need a big truck for off-roading to get dirty” kinda guys, but this truck is just a joy. Now I’ll be dragging the loaded trailer through deep snow and I’ll start to get that sinking feeling of “well it’s slowing down now and it’s about to get stuck and I’ll now be spending the afternoon getting it unstuck” but it doesn’t happen. It does bog down sometimes, so I back up, take another run at it and off I go. It helps that has a manual transmission so that I can adjust my gear to the conditions.

Whenever I am in a city these days it boggles my mind how many people have SUVs, and cross over SUVs (which are just SUVs with a different name) and big honking’ pick up trucks. Come on, you live in the city. The snowplow keeps your streets cleared. And if the streets are so bad that you can’t get through, take the hint and stay home. Let’s face it, 4x4s get lousy fuel economy. I drive Ford’s smallest truck, the Ranger, and it sucks gas like a Sherman tank. That’s why I only use it for work on the property. I can’t afford to drive it anywhere else. And at $90/barrel I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ve hit peak oil and the price has nowhere to go but up.

All you need in the city is a front-wheel-drive car with snow tires. In fact I think there should be some sort of requirement that people have to prove that they need a 4×4 before they can buy one. Yea, like a “4×4 Assessment Board” that you have to plead your case to. “Well sirs, sometimes the snow plow leaves a big pile at the end of the driveway and I need an SUV because I’m too lazy to shovel it.” NEXT! It should be a real, legitimate need. Like you have to get into the bush in deep snow to get firewood you cut in the winter. Or you have to haul a trailer full of manure to your garden weekly through deep snow. Yea, like that.  Otherwise, you’ll just have to drive a car with snow tires.  Ya, ya, I know, we’re not living in Russia. No “4×4 Legitimacy Boards” here.

All I know is that for what I need it for my 4×4 is fantastic. Why I waited a decade to get one is beyond me. I guess it just helps me to appreciate it all the more after waiting for so long!

2 Responses to “Shoveling Sh*t and Why I Love My 4X4”

  • CJ:

    Have you tried or considered composting the manure for a season and then spreading it in the warmer weather? Compost builds a better soil, prevents toxic runoff, and you can make a compost tea that is the best thing to not only feed your garden plants but protect them from disease as well.

    Love your blog. You are, out of the dozens of blogs I read, one of the few that I would actually like to meet and converse with. Hopefully we can get you down this way for a seminar some day.

  • StaceyG:

    We live in a small town in the country and manage to survive with our little fuel-efficient hatchback just fine, even going down the drifted-over country roads (while laughing at the SUVs in the ditches). I agree, there should be an application to own something larger than a sedan! Seeing as my parents live on a farm and I often help them out, I guarantee I’ve hauled more stuff in my car than has ever seen the bed of suburban pickup truck. Imagine how much fuel could be saved if we all drove cars that actually suit our needs.

    Love reading your blog!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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