Tractor Lady

I'm not into gender dominance. Displays of radical feminism, like those of male machismo, miss their mark with me. Having said that, I confess to a dark flicker of joy as I ride my big Farmall-H tractor down Bethel Lane, and tip my hat to the men piddling around their yards on little lawn tractors. Eye level with my wheel hubs, they seem to be playing at mowing. Hey, ho! Am I up top or what?

Getting to drive a tractor is one of the many blisses and bonuses of dairy farming. It's almost as mood-lifting, in a wholly different way, as milking cows. Since purchasing my "H" at a farm auction some six years ago, I've spent untold hours on its red metal seat in hay fields, on the road, and hauling loads of mulch and manure from the front to the back pastures of the farm. With some new parts and servicing it's proven to be a highly utile, dependable, and rugged machine. It may not be the thing of beauty it was once, some 40 or 50 years ago, but it runs as if it might last forever.

I was afraid of all that horsepower at first, but once I became comfortable with the gears, adjustable throttle, and the tractor's center of gravity on slopes, I found it delightful to drive. I vastly prefer it to the car or pickup for short trips on the open road.

It's not only a matter of sitting on high in the open air, though that's part of it. It's the response I get. Neighbors, hearing me coming, step out to wave; folks mowing their lawns look up and lift a hand; kids smile back from the cars that swing around and pass me. It all goes to show that farming as a way of life is passing in this increasingly urbanized area. The sight and sound of a tractor - much less an old Farmall - is not as common as it once was.

The Farmall's engine is distinctive, nothing like that of the squally loud trucks that move up and down the road hauling logs, gravel, cement, or (thanks to us) milk. The trucks whine and roar, the H coughs and chugs. Thanks to its unmistakable timbre, my dog, Oscar, found his way back to me after he'd wandered off and gotten lost one day. I only had to tractor up and down local roads until he bounded from a suburban backyard toward the familiar voice of home.

There are, of course, some things my tractor cannot do, one of which is transport passengers. It is a one-perch vehicle, which is part of its charm, but a limitation far from home with an ecstatic, leaping dog. So, I parked and we walked, as Oscar regaled me with tongue-lolling tales of his travels.

There are also times when the tractor's power and big wheels amount to a liability rather than an asset. Every spring, almost as a rite of the season, I overestimate the legendary versatility and maneuverability of my H and grind to a halt somewhere in the mire of the barnlot. Changing gears and throttling up solves nothing; the big wheels spin helplessly ever deeper.

Then there is nothing to do but dig out, a long, tedious, and ignoble process clearly visible from the road. I keep my back to the traffic, but I can almost feel the eyes of passersby crinkling in amusement - especially if they've looked up to the Farmall and its prideful owner from lawn tractors lately. I was even more thoroughly humbled a couple of months ago when our team of Belgians, hitched to the spreader, hauled a load of manure from the barn through the mire and out to the pastures. Charlie ushered them forth, right past my stuck-fast Farmall.

I watched as their big hooves found purchase. Their muscles rippled and flexed under the hames, and their honey-colored coats glowed. They were a sight to behold, plowing steadily through the mud with their load.

One glance from their wise old eyes made it clear that they knew I, too, was stuck down there, sweatily digging out my big helpless chunk of metal. It was a meaningful glance that quietly reestablished dominance. As I read it, a "hey, ho!" was implicit.

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