Tractors

Old tractors aren’t all romance and fond recollections. It’s an old joke but I can remember my grandfather lighting a little fire under his Fordson to warm up the oil in the crankcase so the motor would turn over easier, hopefully to make the tractor start quicker. That’s fun to recall, but not any fun to have to do. Starting tractors could be a brutal affair. I was watching when my father was crank-starting our Massey Harris Challenger and the crank “kicked” and nearly broke his leg. Tractors increased the pace and intensity of farm work. Don’t let anyone tell you that the piston engine made farming easier than farming with horses. Tractors just meant you could get more field work done in a day. The wet year of 1947, we kept our tractor running day and night to get the crops in because we could. One afternoon Dad, completely exhausted, put me, a child, on it to “work ground” while he laid down under a tree at the field’s edge and fell asleep. He meant to nap only a little while. I knew how to stop the tractor by turning the key off but I did not know how to start it up again so if I stopped, Dad would have his sleep cut short. When it looked like the tractor was overheating, I just kept going round and round the field till it stopped of its own accord. Dangerous business. One of my cousins in the same desperate situation tied his little boy, age 6, in the tractor seat so he couldn’t fall out and had him “work ground” that way, guiding tractor and disk over the plowed ground while the father followed up with another tractor and the planter and kept a sharp eye on the son. Can you imagine what the labor laws would do to a farmer today who tried that?

In the days when we abandoned horse farming for factory farming, we abandoned biology for machinery and let the futile thought of getting rich override our common sense. After that farming became grueling slave work even if it was faster. We didn’t save time. Lights on the tractor just meant we could work longer. It wasn’t long after 24 hour work days that the Sunday day of rest went off the calendar too. Too bad. Even heathens like me need a Sunday day of rest.

— Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer: “Old Tractors Never Die

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Published in: on December 10, 2011 at 2:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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