How I found a career by almost learning to drive tractor

Burt’s Eye View

I wanted to drive the tractor so badly, I could taste it.

“Please,” I begged Dad from the barely cushioned seat of our old Allis-Chalmers. “Dale says his dad has let him drive tractor since he was 7. Jeff plows fields. Roy said he plants the corn. I’m the ONLY 9-year-old farm kid around whose dad won’t let him drive a tractor!”

“I can’t help it if their fathers are insane,” Dad said. “Besides, I think a couple of your buddies are exaggerating.”

“But they told me so themselves. Scott’s even going to show me someday when his dad’s not home.”

“Off the tractor.”

I slid from the seat. “No fair.”

I practiced tractor-driving skills all the time. I’d pretend to turn the key, hunch over the wheel like I was at the Daytona 500 and yank the wheel while making “Vroom, vroom” and “Rrreeeeeet” sounds.

“You’re not filling me with confidence,” Dad said any time he caught me practicing.

Finally, after what seemed like no more than 48 years of insufferable waiting, Dad said the words he later joked about regretting: “It’s time I taught you how to drive this thing.”

I hunched over the wheel, growled, “Vroom, vroom,” and shouted, “Get out of the way, world, we’re gonna smoke this field.”

“Off the tractor.”

A few days later, Dad, who later claimed a leave of his senses, tried again. I climbed into the seat, bit back the vrooms, and with all the impatient attention I could muster, waited for Dad to get a good grip on the fender, where he sat.

“Pull out the choke right there. Now turn the key to the right.”

The tractor coughed to life. So far, so good.

“Nudge the throttle. Push in the choke.”


The tractor sputtered and died.

When I finally deciphered the combination to start the orange beast, we moved to the next step, making the tractor move.

“Push in the clutch — don’t stomp! Just toe it to the floor. Now, shift into first gear. No, no, first — the one with a big No. 1 on it. Ease the clutch out slowly — SLOWL…”

My foot popped off the clutch. The Allis bucked like a scared rabbit and died. The look on Dad’s face as he retook his place on the tractor fender looked like I might soon buck and die, too.

He closed his eyes. Exhaled. Cringed. “One more time.”

The tractor jumped like a cow in January if I’d try to milk her before warming my hands.

From the ground — I didn’t remember him jumping — Dad barked, “Off the tractor, until you follow simple instructions.”

I didn’t recall the simple part, but it didn’t seem like the time to mention it.

In another episode of lapsed judgment, Dad let me try again. I finally put it all together — choke, key, throttle, choke, clutch, shift, gentle clutch, throttle, steer, steer, STEER! Brakes! WHERE ARE THE BRAKES?!? Breathe. Restart heart.

But in no time at all — what felt like another 48 years — I finally was the one on the tractor seat and Dad stood on the wagon. And since I was such a great driver now, I yanked the throttle. No sense puttering. I turned the hay field into the Indy 500, curves, squiggles and all.

The baler jammed. Dad sprinted beside me, waving his arms like a madman. Turns out he was pretty mad. Angry, too.

“Off the tractor.” I jumped practically before the whole tractor-baler-wagon assembly shook to a lopsided jackknife.

“What are you trying to be, some kind of humor writer?” Dad snapped.

And that’s how I left the family farming business behind to write clutch-free nonsense. Vroom, vroom!

Plop yourself on the fender and ride along with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.


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