June 26th, 2009

Trading Horses for Tractors

My dad traded the team of horses for a tractor. I don’t know exactly when, but it must have been shortly after the war. I remember riding on and even driving that first tractor, but that first Ford 8N or 9N was replaced before I started school. What I remember best about that first tractor was the starter, which was a big black rubber knob next to the steering wheel. On the next two tractors we owned the starter button was metal and next to the gear shift.
I learned to drive tractor sitting on Dad’s lap. The easiest tractor driving job was driving the tractor for the hay wagon picking up bales in the field. When I was old enough to wrestle bales up from the ground onto the wagon and no one was around to drive, we would put the tractor in the lowest gear and let it steer itself, running over and adjusting the steering wheel when it wandered too far astray. A little kid who could not even drag a bale was better than no driver at all, so I had to drive, but when I was big enough and strong enough, I was on the ground, wrestling bales onto the wagon.
Dad did not like horses, he said, although I never saw him happier than when he was working with animals. When he was growing up, he was always the first out of bed in the morning, going out to bring the horses into the horse barn and giving them a feed of grain, then harnessing them up for the day’s work in the fields. He resented his father and his brother who slept in and went out to milk the cows after he had been up for an hour. His mother had the best deal: she did not get up until even later to make breakfast, which was served after milking.
According to Dad, horses, unlike tractors, do not follow orders well. Turn the steering wheel right and the tractor turns right; pull the right reigns and the team will turn right if it feels like it. Dad claimed he never once had to catch a tractor to harness it up in the morning, but as the season wore on, the horses got better and better at avoiding the harness and Dad had to get up earlier each morning to get his breakfast before he had to start work in the fields.
Ah, but what about the warm relationship between man and beast? Dad would roll up his sleeve to show the scar on his upper arm where a big Belgian bit him so hard his arm was in a sling for a month.
Sometime after the war ended, a horse broker showed up and offered Grandpa a new Ford Ferguson tractor for the team and a few hundred dollars. Grandpa was not interested, but Dad spoke up. He was old enough to have a say in the running of the farm by then. Dad had looked at tractors and he liked the low, wide profile and 3 point hitch of the Ferguson’s and he knew the price was good. Grandpa had begun driving a car instead of a horse and buggy long ago and a tractor was not a new idea, so Dad was able to convince Grandpa to trade the horses. In an old notebook where Dad kept his accounts in those days, I discovered that Dad paid four hundred dollars for the tractor from his savings from odd jobs and the twenty dollar a month allowance that Grandpa gave him. Grandpa contributed the team, maybe more. The notebook did not say.

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