Tractor nostalgia

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The pleasant autumn that we’ve had so far has caused me to recall the truism, “No nice weather goes unpunished.” This, in turn, made me think of the coming winter and the unpleasant task of snow removal. Prior to my exit from dairy farming some years ago, I had a loader and a tractor, so snow removal wasn’t a big deal. It was just another annoying chore.

I have been feeling quite nostalgic lately. I might drive past a machinery lot and happen to espy a moldering Farmall M sitting in a far corner and think, “Ah, yes, the trusty old M! We had one of those when I was a kid. Maybe I should buy an M and a loader. It wouldn’t cost all that much.”

But then I’ll recall that the M didn’t have power steering, or power brakes or power anything, as far as that goes.

It would thus make more sense to set my sights on something a bit more modern, perhaps a John Deere 3010. When I farmed, we owned a 3010 that had a narrow front. I really enjoyed that tractor’s maneuverability. You could park its front wheels between the slats of a picket fence.

Plus, a 3010 would have a three-point hitch. I could purchase tillage equipment and use it to work up my garden. Perhaps I could even buy a sickle mower and clip the road ditches. I could then rake the hay and have my neighbor, Ziggy, come over and bale it. There certainly must be some value in that.

But then it occurred to me that very few 3010 tractors had cabs. I thought about what it would be like to push snow while sitting on that open platform when the temperature is 20 degrees below zero and the northwest wind is howling at 30 mph. Been there; done that … didn’t especially enjoy it.

So, the logical thing to do would be to get a tractor with a cab, and a heater, and air conditioning and a radio. And while I’m at it, why not get something that has front wheel assist? 

The price tag for my nostalgic fantasy suddenly jumped from perhaps a few thousand bucks to many tens of thousands. All for what? To push a little snow and till my little garden and put up perhaps three big round bales of ditch hay? How would that work out in terms of cost per bale? Dollars per tomato?

Climbing back onto a tractor would be akin to jumping onto a slippery slope. I would soon own a lineup of rickety old farm equipment, the kind of stuff that I cursed as a kid. It would make much more sense, from an economic standpoint, to pay someone to remove snow.

The issue was all but settled in my mind until I happened to catch an old rock tune on the radio.

Hearing the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” suddenly thrust me back into my youth. I am perhaps 17 years old and have just started spring fieldwork on the land north of our family’s farmstead. I am driving our John Deere 60, pulling a rickety old tandem disc back and forth across the dry, crackling cornstalks.

Gulls hover low overhead and call out to one another. Every so often, one will swoop gracefully down and land on the black earth behind the disc to gobble bugs or grubs. A brisk spring breeze cools my face while the sun warms my back. The aroma of moist, freshly turned soil is as intoxicating and as thrilling as a stolen kiss.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was blasting out of the AM tractor radio I had installed the 60. The chugging “Johnny Popper” kept fairly good time to the music except for when the pulling got tough and it got be a long time between the pops.

Recalling that spring and those feelings caused me to yearn for a tractor more than ever. But am I just trying to recapture that long-ago morning when spring, summer and all the heady possibilities of youth stretched out before me like the infinite and shining prairie horizon?

So what if I am? Is it a crime to indulge in one’s sense of nostalgia? Does everything we do have to make hardnosed economic sense? If that were the case, none of us would ever go fishing or have kids.

These issues are something I will likely grapple with for a long time. All I know for sure is that my wife would be well advised to hide the checkbook until this tractor nostalgia fever breaks.

Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry works full time for Dairy Star as a staff writer and ad salesman. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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