A trip through my machine shed in 1989 was a “who’s who” of orphaned tractors and balers that nobody else wanted. I would have been better off hanging a “Farm Machinery Museum” sign above the shed door. I could have charged a modest admission fee to offset the cost of repairs to my lineup of orange-dominated iron implements.
Better yet I could have created a living history museum. I can see the ad now. “Come see an actual demonstration this July 15! Greg Galbraith will take his 302 Allis Chalmers Bale Chief square baler out to the field and attempt to make a load of square bales! Bring a lawn chair and pack a lunch. Watch from the comfort of a shaded hedgerow while Galbraith adjusts the knotter between failed attempts at making bales. Learn how this man can make the adjustments one-handed while seamlessly swatting bloodthirsty deer flies from his neck! Admission $5.”
My tractors were doozies; my main workhorse was an Allis Chalmers D-19. It was a 65-horsepower lunk with the infamous two-point linkage in the back versus the more-common and far-superior three-point arrangement on other tractors. I did all the winter manure hauling with it from our 60 or so cows.
I developed a method of making it through the deepest of snow to do the job without four-wheel drive. I always drove with one rear tire in the previous day’s track. Sometimes it was covered up by new snow or a drift, but I could just make it out enough to stay in the track.
And I needed to be pointing downhill when the load was full. I had just enough contour on my fields to make that happen. I recall a farmer coming to talk to me while I was out in the field spreading one winter day.
When I arrived back at the farm he asked,” How in the world can you do that in all that snow?”
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” I answered.
I was feeling cocky for a “city boy” who took up farming. That guy was an old rural sage who had farmed all his life.
I needed to be delicate and nuanced when it came to starting that old orange tractor on a winter morning. I would pull out the choke lever fully, turn the key and push the starter button for three crankshaft revolutions. Then I would push the choke lever back in and push the starter button for three revolutions, upon which the engine would attempt to start – but instead end with a sputter and a gentle sigh similar to the sound a dog makes when it decides it’s time for a good long nap. At that point I was almost ready to go. I would pull out the choke lever fully and push the starter button – and like clockwork that time she always fired. But I wouldn’t become too excited. I still needed to finesse the choke lever, closing it slowly with a two-second pause at halfway and another pause at the two-thirds mark. Once the choke was fully closed it would even out and run all day if necessary.
One of the positives of having a lousy line of machinery when I started farming is it led me to rejecting machinery all together whenever I could. Grazing made that possible. We simply minimized machinery use. And as the years went by we were able to slowly upgrade and modernize.
Soon we entered the era of modern tractors with their heavy reliance on electronics. That’s all peachy keen until something goes awry with them. Modern tractors all look alike no matter what color they are. To my eye they have the look of a gaudy football helmet. In order to achieve that look they’ve been compacted and compressed under the hood. Fuel lines, oil filters and common parts are difficult to reach and often inaccessible.
I have a blue 2014 105-horsepower tractor as a last vestige of my farming days. It’s for sale now – in excellent shape, shoot me a call! I recently called a mechanic because it had a fuel leak and try as I may I could not locate the source. After a good hour of climbing around under the hood trying to ascertain the source of the leak my mechanic was stumped. The leak appeared to be under a filter assembly. It would need to go to the shop to have an assortment of brackets and guards and whatnots removed to find the leak’s source.
The shop labor totaled more than 12 hours. A mouse had nested under there and chewed its way through a section of fuel line. An older tractor would have been easy to fix were that to occur. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have even needed to remove a side panel to access a fuel line on the old D-19.
My farming career started in the era of tractors that stood out like rugged individualists, but ended in one where they all look the same under a different color of paint.