Story 5:
Harold’s Tractor

Only about 30 acres of Soul Farm is actually tilled; that means, the soil is plowed and crops are planted. The tilled land could be rented to local farmers, and the rent essentially covered the basic expenses of owning this recreational property.

Harold is the farmer that I first remember planting the land. This would be in the 1970s, Harold had two sons just around my age, and even though I was still in middle school, playing with horses and frogs on my weekends at the farm, Harold’s sons, Delbert and John, were already hard at work, spending long hours on the tractor, plowing and planting. 

It was a little uncomfortable to be lounging about with my girlfriends, reading magazines and drinking Tab, while two boys of our same age were out in the hot sun, doing manual labor, often getting yelled at by their father for some error in the field. I felt a little useless, but also a little grateful that it wasn’t me. The boys were nice to me, on the rare instances they could take a break. Sometimes my mom would send me out to the fields with something for them to drink. It was all very retro.

Harold drove a tractor that, I’m guessing, was from the 40s. It was the tractor that Harold’s father used to teach Harold to farm. And, Harold taught his boys to farm with this tractor. These tractors are built to last forever. 

Nonetheless, Harold eventually wanted a newer model, and offered to sell this baby to my dad. I don’t remember the transaction, but I know that my dad snapped up a mowing implement to drag behind and for years used the tractor to mow our several acre yard. 

Sometimes he’d let me stand up on the tractor next to him as he drove. My left hand would hold onto one of the fenders that covered the huge back wheels, and my right hand would hang onto a headlight. My dad would warn me of the dangers of falling off. Naturally, I was behind the big wheel and wouldn’t get squashed, but I’d be right in the path of the mower, and would get badly cut. My dad had heard a tale of a farmer who was doing this very thing with his young grandson. The child fell off, got chopped up by the mower. The farmer went into the house, got his shotgun, and shot himself. This story haunted me and I still think of it often.

I was very careful, and eventually, my dad taught me to drive the tractor, also. I learned to mow the yard, and the paths in the woods on that tractor.

Now comes one of the most important moments of gratitude in my life. Harold lived in a little midwest farm town called Sublette. Sublette is about three blocks long. One of its claims to fame is a Farm Toy & Antique Tractor Show it holds each year. This show features a parade of tractors. It became Harold’s dream to re-acquire his original tractor, the one he had learned to farm on, the one he had used to teach his boys. He wanted to restore it to its original glory and drive it in that parade.

Harold came to the farm occasionally to ask my father to sell it back to him. He said he would supply my dad with another tractor, a better one, if he could get his original tractor back.

I have no idea why my father was so suspicious of this. It made perfect sense to me, but my dad resisted. I asked my mom why he didn’t want to sell the tractor to Harold, and she answered, “Well, if Harold wants it so bad, maybe it’s really valuable.” I’d answer, “Well, it’s valuable to him for sentimental reasons.” But, my dad was failing in health, and was suffering from dementia. Perhaps this affected his thought process. Or, maybe it was just procrastination.

When my father died of this illness, the tractor was still in our barn.

A month or so after my father died, Harold and his wife stopped by the farm to pay their respects. As they were leaving, he restated his offer for the tractor. He explained his hopes to restore it. He’d have his son Delbert bring by a better, newer tractor for my inspection. I promised to think about it.

Nobody in this story was getting younger, Harold included. I have a healthy respect for things like this, so I didn’t dilly dally about following through with my promise. I called Harold’s son, Delbert.

Delbert didn’t dally either. Within a short time we were standing in my yard, looking over a Farmall 300 tractor. As promised, it was a “newer” tractor, dating about 1955. It had a very special feature that gave each gear a little extra boost, which I enjoy quite a bit. A little research confirmed that this was, indeed, a good deal for me.

I made Delbert promise me one thing: if anything ever went wrong with this tractor, I was going to be calling on him to help. I am not handy with machinery, engines, and certainly not 1955 tractors. Delbert felt very comfortable making this promise. Delbert explained that he thrives on helping people. He even had pens made up with his slogan “CDTH”, an acronym standing for “Call Delbert To Help” and his phone number, which he gave out all over the area. Delbert meant business.

We shook on the trade, and Delbert loaded the old tractor on a trailer, and carted it home to his father. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the new tractor. It also didn’t take long for us to blow a tire out in a field, go inside, grab a pen, and dial the number on the side. Within an hour Delbert was driving down the road with a larger tractor to pull us out of the field and repair the tire. 

We called Delbert for help a few times in the first few years, but less and less after that. But, we’d see him about town or at fairs. I was thankful that we had reconnected, and I now consider Delbert to be one of my oldest friends.

I am thankful for one more thing. About a year after I gave Harold his old tractor, he came by with photos. He was so excited to show me the work he had done. The tractor was no longer rusty; Harold had coated it shiny red, and polished and restored it like new. Harold drove the tractor down Main Street in Sublette for the Farm Toy  & Antique Tractor Show, just as he had dreamed.

About a year after this achievement, Harold died. 

I’m not the most generous person in the world. My parents grew up in hard times, and developed caution and self-preservation when negotiating. This survival skill was imparted to me. But I’m thankful I did not delay in getting that tractor to Harold. 

Just picturing the look that must have been on his face when Delbert pulled this tractor into his garage makes me happy. My revived friendship with Delbert makes me happy. My “new” Farmall with it’s turbo-boost makes me extremely happy. Knowing that a sentimental farmer was able to get back in the seat of his very first tractor and drive it in a parade the year before he passed — well, all I can say is, I’m grateful. 

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