I was a teacher for 33 years. I have been a published writer for 31 years. And I actively farmed for 30 years. Add ’em up you get 94 years. So I must be at least 120? Well no, I’m a youthful 83. There was, you see, a lot of overlapping.
Yesterday I came across an ad for a used (though with only 485 hours) 8-wheeled, 4WD Steiger farm tractor. The price: $449,500. New tractors of that type will cost you well over a half million bucks. This reminded me of my father’s Allis Chalmers B, which he bought new in 1947 for about $1400 ($1500 in U.S. in 1957), the first I ever drove at the age of 11 or 12.
And because those two tractors seemed at the extremes of big and little I decided to list almost all the tractors I’ve driven , from 1949 to 2019, in order of size. For no purpose except curiosity and fuel for a column.
The very smallest I’ve ever driven was a tiny yellow Poulin yard tractor I only used for cutting grass. It had a 19.51HP engine, the same, strangely, as my Dad’s Allis Chalmers, with which he did all his field work.
In 1996 I bought a Ford 8N made in 1947-57. It was small like the Allis with a 20 HP engine. Those two little tractors, along with other makes, were made for use on the small (often 160 acre) farms taken up by veterans returning from WWII. I used my 8N for ploughing up portions of lawn to use for gardens and for cutting grass on our acreage and on our farmyard some 10 miles away. It had the wonderful 3-point hitch. I pulled a cultivator for the gardens and a large mower for the grass.
About the time I left my parents’ home Dad bought a used John Deere AR. I was home weekends for a few years and later on for many holidays. Thus I still got to help my father on the farm. The AR was bigger and more powerful than the Allis, as were most tractors by the later 1950s. John Deeres were very different from other tractors then. Until 1960 all models, smallest to largest, had two cylinder long stroke engines. To start the earlier models you simply turned the flywheel (approximately 18 inches in diameter) over by hand, first opening two valves (petcocks) to lower the compression and make turning easier; these would be closed once the engine started.
You could always tell if you heard a tractor in the field if it was a John Deere, it had a KLOK, KLOK, KLOK, KLOK engine sound. Idling, the sound was POP ching ching, POP ching ching POP… “Better get Johnny poppin’’, I would say after eating a field lunch. I think the AR was my favourite tractor.
My father died in 1972. In 1976 my two brothers and I began farming his land along with a few other quarters. We bought an old Minneapolis tractor, first diesel for us, first with a cab. We were impressed.
Soon after that we went to a Case 1370 and thought we had really gone modern: power shift, power steering, AC, radio and plenty of engine power. I would often, while harrowing, listening to country music, comfortable and cool on a hot day look out the side window and down and imagine my father on the same spot, walking behind a harrow drawbar pulled by two horses, in a cloud of dust under a burning sun.
The first time I got near one of the large 4WD pivot-steering tractors I was absolutely amazed by its size, and the 8 wheels, each taller than a man. I worked for my brother on his farm operation 1997-2013, and around 2000 he bought that same tractor, an International 1970s model. It weighed about 21,000 pounds, more than 9 tons My dad’s Allis Chalmers field tractor weighed 2060 pounds, just over one tenth the weight of the big tractor.(Now you can buy 4WD tractors of close to 30,000 pounds.) I enjoyed driving it, the articulated steering had many benefits, including sharp turns and ease of backing up to implement hitches, and the power was impressive.
In 2013 my brother died and his farm operation ended. I haven’t driven any tractor, except the little Poulin, since.
I’ve often mentioned here that many passages for my columns, books and songs were made up from the seat of a working tractor. (Never rammed an implement into a power pole, but came close and sank a few into the wet spring soil.) The beauty of the surrounding landscape and the ever-changing sky may be seen best from the seat of a farm tractor as well. I treasure the memories.