Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm reluctantly sentimental about a tractor.

It was my biggest concern when we considered moving to the hobby farm: the pasture.  In addition to the 2-3 acres of lawn mowing, owning this place was going to mean cutting down another 3 acres or so of pasture as many as half a dozen times every summer.  The seller had been using an antique tractor with a 60” Brush Hog to get the job done.  My husband reasoned, whenever I questioned him, that if a 90 year old could keep it up, all by himself, certainly we could together.

We got the tractor worked into the deal, and it sat under a beautiful, giant oak tree, snuggled under a tarp, all winter.  The image on the fender of a heroic eagle with a flaming pitchfork evoked the era of its manufacture, and reminded us that, with its revolutionary 3-point hitch, this machine had once been the essential workhorse of any Midwestern farm.  The seller had given us a briefing back in October and we had each taken a practice lap around the field.  Yet looking out at that tractor all winter, I couldn’t help but feel anxiety about the pasture.  Would my husband enjoy driving the old beast?  Would he want to come home from a 40-50 hour workweek and spend his free time dragging a Brush Hog around the property in the blazing sun?  Would the noise, the dirt, the grease, and the smells bring him the joy of rural life or the burden of it?  I already knew from my own childhood that mowing an acreage was not my favorite summer pastime, but I hoped he might like it.

On the flip side, even as I considered the possibility we might want to trade our working museum piece in for a modern, wide-bladed mower, I couldn’t help hoping that old tool would become the centerpiece of a new way of life for us.  It might pull a wagon around for hayrides.  It might run a tiller for the enormous garden.  It might drag tree trunks to the woodpile.  I imagined all the possibilities its heroic eagle evoked, and knew this machine was so much more versatile than any modern mower would be.  Who knows, maybe even I might find myself enjoying the work, when it was on my own property?
Getting her ready
for the maiden voyage.
Last week the grass was tall enough; it was time to move from anxious hope to reality.  Sure enough, the old engine started easily, and after airing up the tires and checking the oil, we fired up the brush hog.  My husband quickly found himself at ease at the controls, and mowed down the first section of pasture in short order.  With a big grin on his face, he crossed the creek and began to mow the front section, finding himself completely confident going up and down the hills and around the trees.  Our vision was actually coming true!  I was elated, and I am pretty sure he was, too.  Our stress melted away and jubilation replaced it.

Who smiles when they're mowing?  That's my husband.  Living the dream.
He waved as I passed him on my way out to pick up a kid and our grins matched.  It was, however, a different story, ten short minutes later, when I got back.  The tractor was backed into a brush pile at the edge of the creek, and my husband was leaning over to one side and the other, fidgeting with the controls.  He eventually came in to report that something in the drive had snapped, and the tractor had freewheeled, backward, down the hill.  Because the breaks only nominally work, it was only my husband’s lightning reflexes that had allowed him to steer the thing into a cushion of brush, instead of coming to a hard, possibly limb-threatening, stop by hitting a tree or landing in the creek.

Now, aside from praising the Lord for my husband’s safe landing, we’re back to square one.  While a clutch assembly is a mere $150, installing it requires splitting the whole machine in half then putting it back together.  My dad did that once to his old Case when I was a kid – he winched the front end up to a tree to do it.  We’re not so mechanically adventurous as my dad.  Plus, the thing is disabled, on the far side of the pasture, on the wrong side of the creek.  We may have to rent another tractor, just to drag it out of there!
Check out that emblem on the fender.  Awesome.
All logic tells me that investing in a newer model mower with the widest cutting deck we can afford is our best option, but the sweetness of nostalgia for the old ways, for the possibilities, and the ambition wrought by the image of a pitchfork wielding eagle make it hard to give up on our old 9N.

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you.  Deuteronomy 32:7

1 comment:

  1. Oh EmmyJean, my heart just breaks for you and all the that the old beast came to signify to you both. I share in your emotional roller coaster here, delighting in the beautiful images of your sweet guy riding around with a happy grin on his face, and the sadness that you felt when she broke. I feel for you...I really do!