The football club that employs me only has one other groundsman on its books, and it's been that way for the past seven years. Over that time, it's fair to say, we have become good friends and have a great working relationship. We chew the fat and discuss the day or week ahead over our first coffee of the day and generally have an enjoyable time of it.
We are also very hands-on and practical when it comes repair or maintenance of the club's machinery. The only job we do not attempt is regrinding the cutting blades from our two Dennis mowers.
We have become especially good at replacing the scragg ring bearing on the PTO of our New Holland tractor. On the last occasion we performed this task, a couple of months ago, it took us less than an hour for a job our local dealer is quoting £1,500 to perform. The bearing would appear to be a weak point on this particular model, twice breaking down whilst vertidraining over the past five years.
My colleague is by far the better engineer of the two of us, with a background from years ago on a motor vehicle production line, as opposed to my agricultural roots and a 'hammer it first' attitude! But, we find the middle ground and have saved the club literally thousands of pounds over the years with repairs and eBay purchases. Yes, eBay purchases.
I know it may seem incredulous that a professional football club would use Ebay to purchase machinery, but it really is an excellent source for so many differing parts, accessories and implements.
One of our first purchases was for an end loader for our trusty old Ford 1210. We had grown tired of hand shovelling sand and saw a loader that seemed to fit the bill. I was actually away on holiday when my colleague won the auction and went on a 200 mile round trip to fetch it and start fitting it. Apart from having to shorten the 1210's bonnet by two inches and fabricate some additional stabilising framework, it fitted very well and has served us admirably, loading hundreds of tonnes of sand over the past few years.
Without doubt, the purchase that produced the most drama was a Sisis Contraseeder from a farm in Leiecstershire. We were looking for a seeder for renovation work on the training areas and, from the description, it looked like just the machine. We were the highest bidder and arranged a pick-up a few days later. What we did not quite appreciate was how big and heavy this implement was!
The warning bells should have rung as it has been used on a farm. The farmer loaded it, just, on our six foot trailer with his all terrain loader. We strapped her down and headed for home. We had only gone ten miles down the road when we had a blow out on an offside trailer tyre - on the dual carriageway section of the A46! We pulled onto the grass verge as best we could, but the trailer was still in the road and, worst of all, we had no spare tyre!
As luck would have it, the contraseeder tyre was identical to the trailer tyre, so we just took the one off the contraseeder and put it on the trailer. It was not that easy; in fact, it was one of the scariest things I have ever done. It's no joke changing wheels with lorries and cars passing by within feet of you at speeds of up to 80mph. After that escapade, our next eBay purchase was an 18 foot transport trailer, with a spare tyre!
The most fun we have had was a couple of Toro Professional 70 triple ride-on mowers we picked up in Yorkshire. They had been in a barn for a couple of years and a few bits were missing but, with an additional purchase of another machine in 'spares or repair' condition from Evesham, we finished up with two excellent mowers for an outlay of less than £400. It was a real challenge and put all our skills to the test in stripping down and reassembling parts that had long since moved and were well seized up.
They have proved their worth and, at certain times of the year, are the best machines for cutting and rolling training areas.
I would certainly recommend anyone to keep an eye on eBay for any parts, accessories or implements you may require. If you are of a practical nature, or know someone who can turn their hand to a bit of spanner work, the savings can be immense.
This option, I would suggest, would apply more to the amateur section of groundsmanship than the professional side but, having said that, I reckon we've saved our club close to a five figure sum by self repairs and prudent purchasing.
Keep the faith; and keep cutting the grass, after all that's all you do.