Member of the Month: Rob Liefveld

“I love to read about other member’s projects and help by sharing information I have learned over the years from TBN.” -Rob

Member of the Month: Rob Liefveld

Rob at 3RRL Ranch

Username: 3RRL & my wife Loretta is Mrs3RRL

Posts: 6, 714 (Mrs3RRL: 61)

Location: Three Rivers, CA.

Three Rivers is the gateway town for the South entrance to Sequoia National Park, the home of the Giant Sequoia Redwoods.  We live in the Western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range at an elevation of about 1600 feet.  There are 3 rivers that come into one and dump into nearby Lake Kaweah 9 miles from our home. Can you figure out how I came upon my user name?

How long have you been a member of TractorByNet.com?

I’ve been a member for over five years now.

Rob & Loretta at Camp

How did you find the site?

My wife, Loretta, introduced me to TBN while searching the Internet for information to buy a tractor.

What do you like best about TractorByNet.com?

At first I used the site to gather information to determine what size and kind of tractor I should buy. After that, I found information how to best use and service the tractor and implements. Immediately following, I found threads that helped me make improvements and modifications to my tractor and implements to make my tractor experience easier and more enjoyable, while getting more work done. Now I share my personal projects and have made many, many friends through the site.

I love to read about other member’s projects and help by sharing information I have learned over the years from TBN. It’s very satisfying to be able to help another member – not just through replies in a thread, but many times by building or making something for another member.  We share services with each other, using each person’s expertise to help one another, even though sometimes we are separated across the nation and even worlds apart. Through this unique relationship, I have made many, many new friends.

What type of tractors do you own?

My wife and I own 2 Chinese tractors. The first one is the Red tractor, a 55 hp Kama 554 4wd bought new in 2005. The 2nd, is a Yellow 28hp Jinma 284 4wd tractor for my wife. Both tractors are equipped the same and have many hydraulic features added to them. They have front-end loaders, bucket grapples, extra lights, tool and chain boxes, hydraulic top link with two hydraulic side links, and additional hydraulic rear remotes.  All of the modifications were done together by my wife, Loretta and I while we were camping here and after the log home was built.

Rob owns two Chinese tractors

How long have you owned or operated tractors?

Five years for the Kama and 3 years for the Jinma. Neither of us had owned nor operated tractors before.

What do you enjoy most about tractors?

Road maintenance.

Most enjoyable is being able to spend a lot of time together in an activity we both enjoy. Of course, additionally we love to use all that Diesel power to move, dig and drag items that otherwise would be impossible to do without them.  I’ve always been fascinated by heavy equipment.  We’ve moved things like trees, rocks and dirt for the many projects we have had in building our new log home below the remote foothills of Sequoia Nation Park.  I particularly enjoy smoothing our ½ mile long dirt road every week.

Mowing the meadows in the spring is very relaxing.  Loretta uses her tractor in her garden and gathering wood for our heating.

How often do you use your tractor?

We use one or both tractors almost every week, but there are times when we don’t use them for a while, of course, and then it seems like both are used every day at times such as in the Pond Project we have going on right now.

Tell us about your property:

His property at Three Rivers, CA

As I said above, we own 27 acres located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, below and West of the Giant Sequoias.  It is a very remote and rural place with limited access. We are completely “Off Grid” with no ties to the city electrical, gas, telephone or water.

We have our own solar-powered electricity, a deep hard rock well, and we use propane for gas.  Our only phones are cell phones.

When we first bought the property, we camped there nearly every weekend for 3-1/2 years.  It is a 4-hour drive each way from our city home.  At first it was just for fun—to get away from the city.  But when we bought the tractors, we used those weekends to prepare the home site for building and to make trails and roads on the property.  We still maintain our “South Camp” for when our children and grandkids come up to visit.  They love camping at our place and they visit frequently.  We have many special memories.

Our first building was a power shed, which houses the batteries, inverters, and standby generator.  I built this with my son Matt, who was helping me.  These components store the Sun’s energy into batteries and convert it so we can use 110v and 220v ac electricity.

Next, we built (through a general contractor) a 3,200sq/ft log home and a 2-car garage. Then there is a 2,000sq/ft metal barn/workshop, which serves as a machine shop, vehicle maintenance area and wood-shop, and a garden area in the surrounding yard.

We are now in the process of building a separate garden shed.  Half of it will house our lawn mower, custom-built garden cart and manual garden tools.  The other half will be for Loretta to use in her garden work.

We are also currently working on a project to build a pond. We looked at many areas of the property for the ‘best’ spot, and finally settled on a location fairly close to the house, so we would be able to view the pond from our deck.  There’s a natural watershed feeding into the area, which we hope will provide enough water to keep the pond at least partially full.  So far, we’ve been able to do all of the work just with our two tractors, but there sure is a lot of dirt to move!

Tell us about your vehicles (trucks, trailers, ATVs, etc.):

We bought a used Arctic Cat ATV to get around on the property before our home was built.  My wife, Loretta, thought I was nuts for buying it, saying it was just a “big boy’s toy”, but, once we had our well drilled, we found it invaluable for transporting 5-gallon water jugs to camp and carrying tools and supplies around the property.  She eventually took it over to use for spraying herbicide on our new road, and on the non-native thistles threatening to take over this part of the country. She even secretly put some ‘license plates’ on the ATV that say ‘Girls Rule’.

"Girls Rule!" Loretta on their CAT

We have a Jeep Compass with a CVT transmission, and all-wheel drive.  We bought it to replace Loretta’s 2-wd vehicle, since we knew our dirt road would be very muddy in the winter.  We also have an electric golf cart that we use to get the mail from the street because our driveway is almost a ½ mile long.             My 4-wd Chevy Silverado was purchased after my Chevy Blazer caught on fire on New Year’s Day in 2008, leaving us stranded with our brand new 16’x 8’ trailer that we bought to move all of our household belongings from Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. to Three Rivers.  As a matter of fact, we used that trailer to haul all of my machine shop equipment (including mills, a lathe, and surface grinders shown above).

Do you have any pets?

Coco and Daisy

Yes. Coco is a black, 13-year old lab-mix, with real heart.  She was rescued from an abusive home when she was about 6 months old, and is incredibly affectionate, as well as incredibly brave. Raised as a city dog, she adapted to country life immediately, patrolling our camp area several times throughout the night. When a bear came into camp one night, she barked one time, then took off after it, chasing it out of camp and up into a tree within about 10 seconds. She has learned not to bark at the cows next door, and generally leaves the deer alone, but still goes after coyotes.

Our latest addition early this year is Daisy, a 3 month old, golden retriever/aussie mix.  Well, that’s what we were told.  But she looks more like a yellow lab/aussie mix.  She’s a real sweetheart, and is learning from Coco, who wasn’t at all happy about this at first.  But now they get a long great and patrol together.

Last year, Loretta decided she wanted chickens. Begrudgingly, I agreed, and we got 4 chicks, which turned into 2 roosters and 2 hens.  I soon became entranced with their personalities, and this year, we decided to get more pullets.   We now have 13 chickens altogether:  ‘Red’ is a very friendly Rhode Island Red rooster, and he’s the ‘king rooster’ of the flock.  His mate is Pinky, but now he has 9 other females to choose from.  ‘Velder’ is a very aggressive, very protective Lakenvelder.  He’s beautiful, but he attacks people all the time.  Tutu is a Leghorn that got her name because we had 3 white chicks that we couldn’t tell apart, so Loretta marked their heads with dots (Sheesh, can you believe it?).  Her head was marked with two dots (therefore, Two-Two).  The newest batch of chicks consists of:  3 New Hampshire Reds (which we can hardly tell apart), 2 Barred Rocks and 4 Aracauna/Americaunas I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to sit and watch them.  I never knew that chickens had personalities.

What sort of modifications or customization have you done to your tractor?

What haven’t I modified? (ha-ha).  One reason I decided on a Chinese tractor is that they are very bare bones, Spartan-like, and old technology.  I figured I couldn’t screw it up too much, as opposed to buying a John Deere and worrying about perhaps ruining it up by fiddling with it.  The Chinese tractors are mechanically and fundamentally sound, but lend themselves to much alteration to improve and add features to them.

It actually started with electrical problems which I didn’t know anything about.   I met my good friend Larry on TBN and he offered to help me with the problem.  He flew out from New Mexico to California to do this—like we had been long time friends or something.  Anyway, it was a bad ground and he found it out in about 5 minutes.  The fuses were very old school, since they were simply different thicknesses of wire, wound onto a fuse holder.  So, the first modification was to change it out to use American fuses.  Larry did all of that for me.  He has since visited again as well as many other TBN members such as Eddie, Ken, Brian and others from another Chinese Tractor forum I belong to.  Larry is on the left.  Then Ken, Mark, and Brian from left to right with Loretta and me.  Last is when Eddie and his family visited.

After the tractor got running again, it didn’t take long to decide that getting on and off the tractor to change the rippers on the box blade was way too inefficient.  So I made a hydraulic ripper-lifter.  With this modification, box blading became very, very efficient, since I can raise and lower the rippers at will, from the tractor seat on the fly.  I added hydraulic side links and top link, 3 sets of rear remotes, and another valve to control it all.

I then added a set of bucket grapples for the FEL, which is controlled with a true third function electric over hydraulic solenoid valve and push button control.  Soon afterwards, I added an articulating mechanical thumb to the backhoe.  In fact, I’ve done many, many modifications and made several implements…many repairs too!  Most of them I have shared on TBN over the years.

When we got the Jinma, I had learned from the modifications I had already made on the Kama.  So far, I have added extra rear remotes, hydraulic side and top link, a very nice Prince SV valve to control it all and a homemade bucket grapple for the FEL which Loretta did a lot of the machining and welding herself.

I also added rear FEL stabilizers and many other improvements such as a “Filter Minder”, extra lighting, cup holders, etc.  By doing the modification ourselves, we have saved thousands of dollars.  These modifications not only increased our ability to use the tractors in many ways that we couldn’t have used them before, but made them much more pleasurable and easy to use.

What sort of tools, attachments or equipment do you use with your tractor on a regular basis? Tell us about them:

The attachments I use most frequently are the FEL and the box blade. With the hydraulic side and top links, the ripper lifter modification, I can maintain our dirt road on a daily or weekly basis. Everyone that uses the road comments on how nice it is to drive on. I also dig up decomposed granite from our ‘granite pit’, using the rippers. I’ve added a lot of decomposed granite to the road surface, reducing the dust in the summer and the mud in the winter.  I also use the rippers a lot for our current Pond Project, using the rippers to loosen the dirt. I even plowed my food plot with the rippers on the boxblade because I had no plow or disc.

Plowing with Rippers

I use the FEL all the time. Just about every time I get on the tractor. After I use the box blade rippers to loosen up the dirt, I use the FEL to pick up and move the dirt.  Once I put the grapples on the FEL, it became even handier. I also use the FEL with bucket grapples to move downed trees and even giant boulders as seen in some of the photos above.

The third attachment that I use a lot is the backhoe. We have a lot of oak trees that we needed to remove, either for safety sake (because they were dead), or the tree fell, leaving the stump, or they were shading on our solar panels. The oaks have gigantic root systems, and I use the backhoe to dig all around the stump, cutting some roots, and then pulling the stump out. Not to mention the thousands of feet of trenching I’ve done for the barn and home project and all the irrigation lines I’ve installed.

Ready to grab!

With the articulating thumb jaws, the backhoe is also great for grabbing boulders or stumps and putting them in our 1-ton trailer that we use in our projects.   In our Pond Project, I’m using the backhoe to dig out the sides of the pond, then I use the FEL to move the dirt over to make the dam, and I even use it to dig out the sides of the granite pit.   I only wish I didn’t have to get down out of the backhoe seat, and then get up on the tractor seat in order to re-position the tractor for the next dig.

We also have a 6’ rotary cutter for which I made hydraulic tail wheels. I made them so I could use those hydraulic wheels as gauge wheels on both boxblades (Loretta’s and mine) and the 6’ rake. You can see it on the boxblade in the last 2 photos below.  I made the chain guard for it too.  We have a hydraulic log splitter that runs off the tractor’s rear remotes, and a post-hole digger.  I used that to put up fence posts and dig holes for our orchard trees.  We also have a 4’ tiller to work Loretta’s garden and a 1 ton hydraulic dump trailer.  We have used all the implements as you can see in some of the photos above.

What do you mainly use your tractor for?

Rob's tractor helped lay down the ground work for his home.

At first, the tractor was used to prepare all the groundwork for the house, barn and garage. So there was a significant amount of dirt digging and moving and clearing of brush. There were about 25 Oaks that were dug out and removed and turned into firewood.  At this time I have over 800 hours on the Kama and over 200 on the Jinma.  To put that into perspective, my contractor charged me $98/hr for backhoe work. It’s a larger machine than mine, but nevertheless, if you multiply the hours by that rate, you can see how much we have saved by doing it all ourselves.  I have put less than $30,000 into both tractors and all the upgrades and implements. They have been worked very hard and I feel that they have paid for themselves over and over again.

Now, I use the tractor weekly for maintaining our dirt road and cutting in gutters before and after the rains. We use the Jinma for bringing firewood over to the house in the winter, and both tractors for grading work on projects like our garden shed, and now digging out a pond, which will be another huge dirt digging and moving project.  I also do annual clearing of forest meadow for trails and small roads all over the property and general brush clearing. I made that firewood cart which fits the Jinma.

Do you maintain crops? For hobby or agricultural purpose? Which crops?

Loretta has a ¼ acre garden that includes 7 fruit and nut trees, and the rest herbs and vegetables. Our fruit/nut trees are cherry, 2-kinds of pears, a 3-in-1 apple, almond, pomegranate, nectarine, and a mandarin orange. Before that, I tried to grow a food plot but the last 2 years I’ve given up on that. It didn’t bring in any more deer or wildlife than normal.

We tilled the vegetable garden area with a rototiller attachment on the Jinma, and then Loretta began planting vegetables and herbs.  We’re still in the process of trying to see what grows well in this kind of soil, which varies from clay in some areas to decomposed granite (DG) in other areas.  We added about 20 tons (2 truckloads) of compost to the garden area when we rototilled.

The first year, we planted onions, garlic, parsley, head lettuce, romaine lettuce, chard, asparagus, blueberries, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, corn, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, amaranth, and artichoke.  The ground squirrels, gophers and deer had a real feast!

So, now we’ve fenced it in, but we still have a running battle with the gophers, since it’s just too big to use gopher cages on everything. This spring, Loretta planted a huge area of corn, and added a small batch of strawberries, potatoes under straw and transplanted a volunteer pumpkin into the garden.  We have the usual zucchini, a scarlet runner bean that isn’t doing very well, butternut squash, cucumbers, green beans, lima beans, grapes, blackberries, and we’re trying to grow soy beans as a cover crop (but it isn’t working too well).

Loretta loves herbs and the herb portion of the garden is getting quite large.  We have sage, lavender, borage, dill, lemon balm, lovage, basil, Florence fennel, valerian, hyssop, St. Johns wort, and horehound.  She recently got 2 different kinds of sage to plant, caraway, comfrey, yerba buena, lemon verbena and scented geranium.

Do you keep livestock? Tell us about it:

No livestock other than the chickens and the darned gophers.

What do you like/dislike about the area you live in?

I love everything about this area except the summer heat. We actually live about 3 miles outside the town, in an area that is mostly large acreage, and we love being in a rural area.  We’ve got great neighbors (one, hahaha) and most of the people that we’ve met around here are really friendly.

Rob tending his 27 acres in the Sierra Nevada foothills

What sort of terrain is common in your area?

We live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, so the terrain varies quite a bit.  Our home is in a small valley in the foothills, with a river running through the valley.  Our terrain is rolling hills covered with oak trees separated by arroyos and rock out-cropping and small meadows. We can see the mountains, and it’s only a 15-minute drive to the Sequoia National Park. We can take a short walk to the river, through meadows and oak forests.  We also have a ravine running through our property. Nearby is Lake Kaweah, which fills during the winter and spring, then is drained to irrigate the local part of the California Central valley in the summer.

What sort of trees and vegetation are common in your area?

At our altitude, we have mostly oak and buckeye trees and buckbrush bushes, with some manzanita, redbud, and elderberry bushes thrown into the mix. The buckbrush is very flammable, so we have removed most of them from the immediate area of our home as well as the poison oak plants.  There are many, many kinds of wild grasses, flowers and berries, several native thistles, and a non-native thistle called yellow starthistle threatens the entire area. Three Rivers is the last stronghold before it migrates into the National Park, so the entire town fights against it. There is a huge temperature swing from winter to summer and in between, so the plant life is greatly diversified.

What’s something most TractorByNet members don’t know about you?

I am an immigrant from Holland, but born in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in 1950.  My parents moved the family from the Islands, moving to Holland in 1952 because of the revolution turmoil there, and then to the United States in 1957. My father was an inspector in the Dutch law enforcement in Indonesia and later became a Tool and Die Maker in Holland. My mother was a schoolteacher both in Indonesia and Holland.

Our family went through Ellis Island like all the other immigrants at that time, before we could get into the country. Although I didn’t speak a word of English, I went to school and learned the language rapidly through friends I made. I have grown up as an American and became a citizen in 1962. I went to Whittier High School and Northrop Institute of Technology, but did not graduate from Northrop because my Dad was ill and I had to work to help support the family.

I sold insurance for a few years and after that got into the plastic injection mold making trade. I became very successful, owning and operating one of the largest mold making shops in the west end of San Bernardino County, CA. I later sold the business and (semi) retired in 1998. I still work 2 days a week as a consultant to the industry. It is that experience that has allowed me to make all those modifications and self-repairs on my tractors.

Loretta and I re-met at our 35th High School reunion. We’ve known each other since we were in the 7th grade. I’ve had 2 long-term marriages in the past and have 8 children between the ex-wives and Loretta, and 13 grand kids so far (more coming, I’m sure).

What most people do not know about me is that I used to be an excellent

Rob's Labor Day party

athlete in my younger days. That is of course, because I was 55 when I joined TBN.  I played all sports in High School: football, baseball, basketball, track and even wrestled, but during those years, I excelled at baseball. After High School and Summer League, before going to college at Northrop Institute of Technology in 1968, I was offered a chance to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds minor league team.  However, being an immigrant, my Father did not understand that “playing a game” could be a profitable career.  He wanted me to go to college because he thought playing baseball was only for fun. Although I think about it from time to time, I don’t begrudge it because what I learned there made me a successful businessman.

After my ball playing days, I started lifting weights to help recover from an injury I received while playing Soccer. I gained size and strength, and competed in AAU Power Lifting tournaments in the 242lb weight class.  I met many world-class power lifters and body builders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When my business became very successful, I started playing golf at age 35.

I joined a private Country Club and after a few years, I became Club Champion several times. I played golf as a scratch handicap for a few years and maintained a single digit over the years to even now.  I’ve played golf with many celebrities and sports legends.  Professional golfer John Daly and I became friends and he’s been over to my home a few times.  The photo (left to right) is of my sons Matt and Aaron, John and then me.

When I turned 50, I thought about joining the PGA Senior Tour.  However, I was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident that same year and didn’t play golf for over a year.  Although I have many trophies and plaques from baseball, soccer, weight lifting, football and golf, they are all packed away in boxes. I have never put them up in our new log home here.

Always hard at work.

Always hard at work.

I was also an avid hunter and fisherman since I was a kid. I’ve hunted most of the Western States for deer, elk and wild pigs.  I fished the Pacific on long-range boats that would be out on the water for 10 to 14 days at a time.  I’ve caught Giant Yellow Fin tuna and Blue Fin in the 300lb + range, also numerous Marlin and Sailfish.   I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was 15.  They were mostly Harley Davidsons, but a Triumph and a couple of Yamahas in the early days.  I gave the Harleys to my two older sons 2 years ago.

Now, I play golf once a week with my “new” buddies at the local Three Rivers Golf Course.  I still walk the course, but instead of carrying my bag, I use one of those motorized push carts now. This year I was fortunate enough to win the Club Championship here at the Three Rivers Golf Course last month.  That is the only plaque I have sitting on the mantle now.  I just turned 60 years old this month and so will Loretta.

We are having a big birthday party for both of us and expect a large turnout.

I have truly been blessed.

Thank you for the opportunity to be a member of your wonderful site.  TBN is great!

-Rob

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