Danvers, Mass. — ''It's as easy as driving a car,'' says Bill Guinee of Fisk-Alden, a Ford tractor dealership in Dedham, Mass. He's got to be kidding.
Even so, there I sat, perched atop a 52-horse-power Ford Series 10 tractor with harrow behind and a chill November wind snapping across the newly plowed field. I stepped on the clutch, turned the ignition key, and the farm vehicle sprang to life. Then, shifting into gear and releasing the clutch, it lunged ahead.
There's even a hand throttle as well as a foot control, a bunch of other controls, and a large brake. ''That's very important,'' Mr. Guinee says.
Finally, with the flick of a lever, the harrow cut into the earth - and for the next 15 minutes, I felt like a Maine farmer preparing the ground for seed.
At one point in my pass across the field, the harrow was too deep in the soil and the tractor on the point of stalling out.
''That's easy to fix,'' smiles Mr. Guinee as he shows me how to lock up the front and back axles.''Just step on that pedal down by your right foot,'' he says, and we're soon on our way again.
It's as easy as rocking a car out of a midwinter snow rut, I muse.
Ford Motor Company has been in the tractor business since well before World War I, when the elder Henry Ford, who grew up on a farm, saw an opportunity in a field other than the automobile. This was around the time of the Model T, which went into production in 1907.
What's an automobile editor doing on the seat of a tractor?
I never could get a very good response from Ford; so I rationalize it on the basis that, to Ford, a tractor is just another form of motorized transport, although certainly at a lot slower pace than an automobile.
Tractors these days, no matter who builds them, are magnificent machines. Ford's Series 10 tractors, starting with the 32-horse-power Model 2310 and running all the way up to the 62-hp 5610, are available even with synchromesh forward gears that permit the operator to shift gears when moving ahead.
It's not exactly an automobile, however.
For someone who has driven many of the VHC (very high cost) cars on the market today, including some of the exotics, a tractor may not be completelym offbeat, but it certainly is different.
Compared to its automotive operations, in which Ford Motor Company is spending billions of dollars in order to stay competitive, tractors are small potatoes. Even so, it's still ''big bucks.'' Ford tractor operations, for example, spent five years and $100 million to develop its new Series 10 line of midsize, 30- to 90-hp tractors.
And then there are all those bigger and smaller tractors in the Ford barn - and the options are almost as numerous as on a car.
Now, with a feel of snow in the air, I've tested out a tractor, and I head back to ''my'' car of the day - a Ford Ranger pickup truck.
''Have you ever operated a front loader?'' Mr. Guinee asks. That said, I can see what's coming down the road come spring.