For my birthday this year my “big present” from the family was really big. A 1988 John Deere 1080 tractor!
I have wanted a tractor for years, but it has always been out of my reach financially. Though I told them this, my friends Allen and his son D really could not imagine why I did not have one. For them heavy equipment is as essential to life as books are to me. D, in particular, was disgusted. “What kind of a dumb farmer ain’t got a tractor?”
D was always reading ads and watching roadside offerings as he traveled our surrounding counties on his equipment delivery runs. He would report his discoveries to me, in mostly incomprehensible detail. It was all moot because the prices were beyond my reach. Then one day this spring he telephoned to say he had found my tractor, and that if I didn’t buy it, he would. (D already owns both an excavator and a tractor, but he can never resist a good deal.)
A widow forty minutes away in the Champlain Valley was selling her late husband’s tractor and its implements. It was a twenty-five-year-old tractor, but tractors hold their value. In this case the price was low because though the tractor was basically sound, it needed some detail work. D promised to do this work in exchange for being able to use the tractor occasionally on outside jobs. I talked to DH, clutched my tax refund, and decided to take the plunge.
D and I drove over to pick it up. In our first trip with D’s big dump truck and trailer, we hauled home the implements. The tractor came with a wonderful array: a loader bucket, a back blade, a brush hog, a sickle bar (D calls it a “snickle bar”) mower, and a backhoe attachment. The former owner even threw in a set of disc harrows and a wagon for free.
D used the tractor to lift and load all the implements.
It was a time-consuming puzzle to get them all to fit on the trailer…
…and then to get them all chained down securely. Luckily, this is a job D does almost every day of the year.
We thanked the widow and rumbled out of her farm driveway with our first load. All was serene on the long ride home until we reached the top of Spruce Hill, a steep, two-mile hill that plunges down into the nearby town. I heard a click and turned to see D unsnapping his seat belt.
“What’s up?” I said idly.
His voice was calm. “Take off your seat belt, and if I say jump! then open your door and jump out.”
D’s teeth flashed white as he grinned at me. “Trailer brakes are shit —”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“—and this truck’s a fuckin’ automatic. I got it in low but it may not hold. All that iron, it’s a fuckin’ heavy load.”
I unclipped my seat belt with shaking hands and stared down from the high seat of the big dump truck, trying to imagine jumping out onto the unspooling highway far below. I couldn’t imagine it.
D was cheerfully telling me runaway-truck stories as we slowly crept down the long hill, the motor straining at a high whine — “Automatics are shit, gotta be able to gear down” — until finally we reached the bottom. I could feel the cold sweat on the back of my neck when I sat back, relieved.
Then I remembered, Oh no! We still have to go back for the tractor.
But at last the trailer was unloaded for the last time and the tractor was safely at Fairhope Farm. A week later Allen came out to inspect my new toy and help D take off the backhoe.
They put on the back blade. This should be hugely helpful in the endless road maintenance of the dirt farm driveway.
Since then, Allen has been giving me tractor lessons.
It’s funny how easy it all looks when he’s doing it!