Lessons from an old Allis-Chalmers
Burt’s Eye View
Everything I needed to know in life, I learned driving an orange Allis-Chalmers tractor.
At the time, it felt like some of the most boring, sweat-soaked days of my teenaged life. Dad refused to trade in the old Allis for a modern farm tractor with an air-conditioned cab and built-in stereo sound system.
The old cheapskate claimed that an honest day’s work in the sun with nothing but my own thoughts jouncing around my brain built character.
Catering to kids’ whims and wishes as a parenting technique hadn’t been invented yet. When I self-expressed about the AC and FM, Dad barked, “Wear a hat and stop sassing me or things will get a whole lot hotter.”
It was never specified exactly what things, nor was I that curious to find out. I pulled on my red Farmall cap to shade my eyes, beat it to the barn and fired up the Allis.
Driving the tractor taught me responsibility, that the best way to get a job done was to go do it and that pampered amenities weren’t necessary to accomplish the task.
In truth, driving a tractor was fun. It taught me respect for potentially dangerous equipment that needed proper tending. I hooked up various pieces of heavy machinery to the powerful engine and roared around a wide-open field — at 2 to 3 mph.
Sigh. I never understood why Dad insisted that I putz along when the tractor was built to fly at speeds upward of 30 mph in road gear. Old people are so slow.
One afternoon, Dad told me to run the manure spreader. This was a wagon loaded up with cow droppings from the barn. A track clanking across the bed of the spreader pulled the load to the back, where a series of rotating iron teeth and blades flung the gunky organic fertilizer in wide swaths across the field.
The track and blades ran off the tractor’s power take off, which meant the more you punched the gas, the faster the blades whirled. I wasn’t in the mood to be pokey that day. And since there were no dull adults around, I gunned it. The tractor shot forward. The blades whooshed. Yes sir, I’d have this job done in no …
Whap! Splat! Splot! The gooshy contents of the spreader pelted my back, neck and head.
The tractor taught me that grown-ups are slowpokes for a reason — they don’t care to be covered in cow manure. I also learned a bit more about math and science and complicated formulae involving rotation speed and mass flow. I also learned another reason why to wear a hat. And one about how many showers it takes to removed the stench of cow droppings.
Then there was the day that I was raking hay into windrows in the back field when a bumble bee landed on the tip of my nose.
I learned the bumble- bees are fat, fuzzy — and really dig in when disturbed. Fearing that I had just been injected with deadly poison, I jumped off the tractor — after shutting it down; I’d already learned that lesson, and I still say the barn needed that, uh, new door — and sprinted all the way back to the house.
“If bumblebees were deadly,” Mom chided as she dabbed baking soda paste to my bulbous nose, “panicking would have just pumped the poison through your body faster.”
I also learned how to burn out clutches, shear brakes and bury myself in ditches. Not all tractor lessons are worth remembering.
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