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Antiques and Classics

Fri, Jul 27th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, July 16, 2001

There was an antique and classic tractor pull in town last Sunday. As I drove into the field where it was being held, I thought there must be some mistake. These tractors are like the ones my father made his living with and I grew up on. They couldnt be antiques. If these are antiques, what does that make me? Defiant, I guess. Im too young to be an antique.

There were red, green, orange and yellow tractors in abundance. For every rusty relic that still earned its keep on a farm, there was a totally re-painted, re-chromed and otherwise unreal restoration that looks better now than it ever did. My favorite color is red. I grew up with the Farmall line. The "Hs" and "Ms" particularly drew my attention. I remembered everything about them as nothing had changed on these tractors since I spent hundreds of hours on them when I was growing up. Most of the time I spent on these tractors was working to help make a family farm prosperous. Now the tractors are toys for Sunday afternoon diversions. I find that interesting. Not many occupations or industries make toys out of their tools when they become obsolete.

We did have a little fun with our tractors as we did our work. When I was young, my brothers and I would emulate the way cowboys jumped on their horses when we got on our old Farmall H. Wed run up to it from behind. The right foot went up to the center of the drawbar, the left foot went up to the axle, both hands grabbed the back of the seat to use the seat spring for lift. With this momentum, the driver gave a jump and swung his right leg over the back of the seat and, while coming down into the seat, put his left foot on the clutch. The right hand pulled out the ignition switch and the left punched the starter button. If the tractor was warm and the engine caught on the first crank, the whole process from dead stop to road gear might have taken five seconds. What was the hurry? There was no hurry. If my dad caught us at this, we might well have been charged with tractor abuse.

I had to chuckle as I looked over a shiny "M" Farmall parked at the pull. A silver plate on the left side of the tractor listed the serial number and a warning. "Do not overload" it said. The same silver plate, although usually covered with grease, appeared on the old Farmall "H" I grew up on. I thought it strange that we were warned not to overload a tractor. Everyone knows you dont load a tractor, you pull with it. Aside from a warning or two saying, "Do not overfill", this is about the only guidance these old tractors provided. We were on our own.

Maybe the manufacturer should have warned us about a few of the other quirks of these tractors. Our old "H" had grease zerks on the back axles that never took grease. Every "H" I ever saw needed a new throttle at some point as the teeth wore off the original equipment so you had to hold the throttle open to maintain full power. Every gas tank cap we had on our "H" leaked gas when the tank was full. Gasoline vibrated out the top and over the side. We should have been warned to park the tractor on a hill as, often as not, the six-volt electrical system would fail to start the tractor. The lights never worked either. There should have been a warning about trying to drive across dead furrows or through badger holes. It was possible that doing so could spin the steering wheel through your hands with such force that you could sprain a thumb if you had it in the wrong spot.

I suppose every tractor has its peculiarities. Learning to overcome them and work around them is part of the art of farming. The machines, and the people who run them, were not always antiques and classics. They are just the best available at the time.

By Wayne Pike

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