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Township Roads-This old tractor

Mon, Oct 21st, 2002
Posted in Columnists

A tractor followed me home a couple weekends ago. It wasnt exactly a stray. It was a tractor that I had known for a long time.

The tractor that rode on the trailer behind my pickup was a Farmall H. My dad bought it new back in 1950 and, as circumstances would have it, Ive ended up with it for about the same price as he paid for it some fifty-two years ago. The old-timers would say that is "keeping your money together" when it comes to a machine, especially when considering how much work that tractor has done over the years.

This old tractor was the first tractor that I ever remember driving and that would likely have been true for my three brothers as well. There are very early home movies of a tractor parade showing us boys driving the tractor fleet slowly around the yard. The other tractors are long gone, traded off for newer models, but the H survived every cut.

The H is the tractor I drove for the first time when I was about five years old. My brothers were in school so my dad put me on the seat to steer. He put the H in gear and got it moving very slowly. He went back to stand on the hayrack as he threw cornstalks from the wagon to the sows in the pasture. A cornstalk caught Dads glasses and tossed them to the ground. Dad yelled and somehow I managed to reach the clutch and brake to stop. Dad is almost blind without his glasses, but he managed to find them just inches in front of a wagon tire. I was the hero of the day, or at least I felt like it.

Later memories of the H are not so fond. When I was old enough I was drafted into cultivating. Cultivating could be nerve racking until you got the routine established.

Once you got it down, cultivating was just downright boring. It also created a lot of tension in the back, neck and arm muscles. After one long day cultivating in the hot sun, I remember that it was all I could do to get the H back home. I parked under the big maple tree in the back yard, switched the engine off, and fell on my back into the cool grass. I was tired and my shoulders and eyes ached from the strain. My dad walked by and looked at me as if I was trying to convince him I had been out in the field with a hoe instead of a tractor. He didnt say a word. I got the message and eventually recovered enough to get up to get my chores done.

As the H got on in years, its work got heavier instead of lighter. When I was fourteen and the H was seventeen, our farm became mechanized so that we chopped hay and put it in a silo instead of handling it all in bale form. It was my job to bring loads of hay in from the field with the H and unload the wagons. The H was underpowered for hauling loads of this weight, but that is what we called upon it to do. The H ran the unloader wagons as I sat crossways in the seat operating the clutch with my right foot in the process. This was a very dangerous job for a fourteen-year-old kid, but I never thought of it as any more than routine. The H was my companion through all these hundreds of hours at this work. No other tractor on the farm is quite so memorable.

In the thirty or so years since I left that farm, the jobs that the H could reasonably be expected to handle became fewer and farther between. The engine finally froze up, not due to abuse, but to disuse. A mechanic had to be summoned to get it back in running shape. It got on the trailer under its own power to follow me to my house.

I could go on and on about this tractor and my memories of it, but it is still just a tractor. The lights dont work. I cant recall that they ever did. The radiator leaks like a sieve and that is going to cost me three hundred dollars to fix. The paint is so faded it looks orange. The decals are worn off. It still needs a shifter knob as it has for the last forty years. I would really like to find an original throttle control. The seat cylinder and spring are totally shot. It seems like it runs rough and tends to blow blue smoke more than it should. Once in a while, when the engine is hot, it locks so tight the starter wont move it. Then I have to hand crank it to get it over the tight spot. That cant be good. All of these things add up to an old tractor that can still do some jobs, but needs to be cared for a little more than it used to. But then, that could be said of most of us.

When we got the H home, my wife, Deb, and our sons, Matt and Ted, all had to take it for a "victory lap" around the yard. This is the first tractor larger than a mower that we have had here. We got our new log chain and went out to the pasture to drag around some logs. They didnt really need dragging, but there was no other alleged work to be done. We got the H back to the shed and parked it just as it ran out of gas. That brought back memories, too.

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