The ATV as a tool

By Tom Read

Here I am yesterday returning from working on our latest pallet fence, bringing tools back home in the wagon. The quad and wagon can haul up to 14 pallets in one load, then distribute them over rough ground to create a fence line.  By the way, I don’t bother with a helmet at home in mild weather because I never drive faster than 15 kph, and there’s usually no other vehicular traffic on our property.

Here I am yesterday returning from working on our latest pallet fence, bringing tools back home in the wagon. The quad and wagon can haul up to 14 pallets in one load, then distribute them over rough ground to create a fence line. By the way, I don’t bother with a helmet at home in mild weather because I never drive faster than 15 kph, and there’s usually no other vehicular traffic on our property.

All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) like to play.  These rugged little gasoline-powered four-wheelers are also known hereabouts as “quads,” (which I like better for no particular reason) and they’re built and marketed for fossil-fuel-burning recreation. Advertisements show the machines splashing through mud or in mid-flight on an obstacle course. Lots of Texada Islanders own quads, often using them for motorized exploration of the island. I’ve taken a few such excursions, too, and I’ll admit it’s fun. But that’s not why we bought our quad and wagon three years ago. For us, it’s primarily a tool.

When we moved to our seven acres in the Slow Farm area of Texada back in 2000, it never occurred to us that transportation on our own property would become a critical concern. Seven acres is big enough to have a significant number of steep hills, plus several clearings and a creek flowing right through the middle of everything. To get around we developed our own network of roads and trails. Our self-contained transportation network carries some heavy stuff: lumber, gravel, sand, soil and compost, fence posts, firewood rounds and split firewood, tools, furniture, buckets of wet concrete and concrete blocks, wood pallets, bee hives, and, in years past, many bales of hay and straw.

Up until 2006, we typically used our lone motor vehicle, a mid-sized pickup truck, to move these things. The only alternative, and it got used a lot, was a battered wheelbarrow. For example, sometimes I wanted to fill a few potholes or move just four hay bales or maybe a half-dozen concrete blocks.  In such cases I’d often choose the wheelbarrow, because the truck couldn’t go on the little trails behind the house or garden, or it simply seemed like too much trouble to use a whole truck for such small loads. I vividly remember, not fondly, the struggle of pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with rocks and gravel uphill so I could fill post holes for a new garden fence. Then, as now, the leaky wheelbarrow tire would require inflating daily with a hand-operated tire pump before it could go into service.

Then along came an opportunity to buy a quad and wagon, and soon thereafter we traded in the truck for a new little hatchback passenger car. The car can haul a 5’x10’ trailer, a passable pickup truck substitute. But the quad, which is much cheaper and easier to maintain than the car, can haul just about anything, anywhere, using very little gasoline. I’ve mentioned the wagon a few times, but it might deserve an essay of its own. One of my favourite uses of this thing is to haul seaweed from Raven Bay to our compost pile, then hydraulically dump the seaweed (or soil, or firewood, whatever) exactly where it’s supposed to go. The four fat tires provide excellent stability and can support a load of up to 1,600 lbs.  It’s a wonder.

The quad also has a winch, which I used last year for pulling the entire quad and fully loaded wagon up a steep and very rough hill when it wouldn’t otherwise make the grade. We also have a specially-made harrow, a gift of our friend and neighbor Marv, enabling our quad to smooth out rough ground and collect medium-sized rocks from our fields. Our quad came with a plow attachment which helped keep our driveway clear of last winter’s snow, too.

This small-scale machine has become so vital to everyday work at Slow Farm that I now consider it even more important than the car. In a pinch, such as when we were snowed in last winter, the quad can take me into town for groceries, and it enabled us to visit friends on New Year’s Eve while the car was literally stuck in a snow bank.

So if anybody tells you that quads are frivolous, you can mention that you’ve heard they can be quite useful. It’s a tool, not a toy.

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3 Responses to “The ATV as a tool”


  1. 1 Margy May 16, 2009 at 17:35

    When we came to Powell River we didn’t have a vehicle that could safely leave the main roads. Our good friend had a quad and introduced us to the glorious back country that this area has to offer. Soon thereafter we got quads of our own. Ours are just for fun (they can’t do much work for us up at the float cabin), but we have come to love the places they can take us and the people they have introduced us to (most notably the Powell River ATV Club. Ours may not be working quads, but they are still valuable assets to our life.

  2. 2 Thai Powell Riverite May 16, 2009 at 19:49

    We should ask manufactures to provide diesel ATVs in Canada, if they were more common they would be an economical choice.

    Having set a small diesel ‘quad’ to run (fueled by) waste motor oil, and with it’s mileage of 30 km per liter; it can run almost 200 km’s on one vehicles oil change worth of used oil! A fantastic recycling use and could easily be transferred to North America.

  3. 3 Tom Read May 17, 2009 at 08:36

    Margy,

    Thanks for your comment! A “playing” quad is just a “working” quad in waiting, eh? Texada Island’s land area is approximately 100 square miles, and Powell River’s back country probably several times that, so having a quad for recreational use in the bush seems quite reasonable. Linda and I used horses to explore the trails near our home, but the labour and costs of horse-keeping became too much for us. If needed, you could easily apply your recreational quad to other purposes, such as emergency rescue, wildfood gathering or homestead chores.

    Thai,

    Are diesel quads manufactured anywhere? Do they pollute more than gasoline quads, especially if they’re running on used motor oil? Your idea sounds quite possible, and definitely worthy of more research (any links you could share?). Waste not, want not!

    But consider this: in the long run, any motor vehicle that runs on fossil fuels, including used motor oil, will be subject to the global oil market, and to global oil depletion (also known as “peak oil”). How about a methane-powered quad fueled by our own humanure?

    –Tom


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