Sunday, September 2, 2007

Latin Teacher Buys Antique Tractor

I have been bugging Tara for weeks now every time something interesting happens. I say, "You should post that on your blog!" Over time she got sick of me saying this and now I have my own blog. Blessing? I don't know. You be the judge.

I am mostly computer illiterate, but my job has forced me to learn enough to enter grades and create lesson plans on line. This is a very evil trend in education, especially as my computer skills have been rotting for the last decade of classroom teaching. Up until a few weeks ago I still did everything in the old red gradebook. This felt a lot better and more natural, because when you post grades into RenWeb, they go... somewhere else. I do not know where they are, and only a strange little machine that occasionally makes whirring noises can call them back from the abyss of cyberspace.

No, though I am a pretty abstract person, I like concrete things. I like painting, not to create art, but to protect and beautify buildings. I think of it as part of God's plan for humans to have dominion and master the earth... the cultural mandate. I also have developed a love for tractors in recent months. You really haven't lived until you've driven a tractor!!

In June my wife Tara and I moved with our four (adorable, energetic, inquisitive, you pick the adjective) children to a 5-acre farm about 15 miles from the hub of civilization in our part of the world. Previously we'd lived 9 blocks from the heart of downtown. So this has been... different. I have to admit that I love it. Less than an hour ago, my oldest son, Evan (7 in a few weeks) and I were lying on the roof of our 1900 farmhouse gazing at the stars. It was awe-inspiring to see all of them and realize in some poor way how far away from us they are. It is also a little humbling to admit that Evan is more comfortable on steep-pitched roofs than I am.

One of the things that I just had to get after we moved to the farm (by the way, think old farmstead... old farmhouse, chicken coop, concrete block building, grainery, small barn, horse shelter...) was a tractor. I don't know why this desire hit me so hard, but it did. We are mowing about 2.5 acres of lawn, and then the rest is trees and pasture. Southern Minnesota has had a a lot of ran this summer, and the grass grows out here like jungle weeds. Also, all the neighbors, distant as they are, seem to have tractors. So I began to search for a tractor.

There was only one problem. I didn't really know anything about tractors. Don't misunderstand. It isn't that I'm unmechanical. I buy used equipment (prefer it to new, actually; part of residual effects of being brought up a half-step above poverty) all the time... cars, snowblowers, riding lawn mowers. It's just that I never had occasion to even drive a tractor before 2007. There wasn't a need.

So I started asking questions. Of my dad, who grew up on a farm in the dustbowl 1930s. Of Uncle Roy, who has farmed himself since the early '50s. And then I started responding to classified ads and test-driving tractors. I discovered that the market for old tractors is lively and draws its own subculture, mostly of men in jeans and western-style shirts, who do not seem incredibly much like me, but I digress. The vast majority of these people were gracious and answered a lot of really basic questions like, "What does that lever do?"

I also learned that just about everyone has a favorite brand of tractor and reasons for holding that opinion. It remined me a lot of sports teams... Green Bay fans, Vikings fans, Allis-Chalmers fans, Internation Harvester/Farmall fans. It was hilarious.

After two weeks of searching (I tend to build up to big decisions) my wife banished me from the house with orders not to return until I had a tractor. So Evan and I took a road trip though the southern border of MN and actually made it all the way to Algona. We bought our new toy in the tiny town of Kensett, Iowa (maybe only one 't' in Kenset, can't remember). It was a great experience. Evan and I had a really good father/son bonding time which I'm sure we will both remember for a long, long time.

We came back as the proud owners of a 1954 IH Farmall 300 with the narrow front. It has 42" rims and a 38 horse engine, five speeds forward, and live PTO. May I say that we've had a lot of fun. It also has a 6-foot Arts Way mowing deck underneath, which can mow quite a piece of earth in a short time. Sometimes as I'm mowing with it (or whatever) I try to picture the guy who bought the thing brand new in 1954. He could still be alive, of course, but I kind of doubt it. I also figure he must have been pretty proud. As tractors go, it's kind of on the line between small and medium, but that doesn't change the fact your head is still over 7 feet off the ground when you're driving it!

My youngest son, Toby, gets a huge thrill out of riding on the tractor with me. We mow together quite a bit, and when I put the tractor away, he usually says, "Dad, I can keep driving it in here?" He just doesn't want to get down. So I normally let him sit on the driver's seat a little longer. Then I lift him down, usually over some mild protesting, but he knows he'll get to go mowing again soon.