21. March 2014 · Comments Off on Diane’s Tractor Fetish · Categories: Farm Thoughts

DIANE’S TRACTOR FETISH

We have often heard farm women accuse their farm men of enjoying playing with their “toys”, i.e. their tractors. But as with many other things, the relationships between Diane, Jim and our tractors is a bit more complex. In this story, we’ll focus on how Diane convinced Jim to make our most recent and “radically conventional” four wheeled purchase.

But let’s go back to the beginning and start with Jim’s philosophy regarding tractors. As Jim studied agriculture as an outsider, the environmentally radical writers he read convinced him that on a small sustainable farm, a tractor was an unnecessary luxury. In fact one of the causes he seized upon for the 1980’s farm crisis (his master’s thesis topic) was that young “progressive” minded farmers ground themselves into debt purchasing the largest and fanciest farm equipment. Some called it “new paint disease.”

So, in 1996 when Diane opened her home and pocket book and invited Jim to explore agriculture from an inside perspective, he had no plans to spend any of her dowry on a tractor. He never had to argue with Diane about it, because the land we ended up purchasing came with a 1958 Ford NAA tractor, known as the Jubilee model.

Jim’s dream machine had always been a walk behind rear tined rototiller, which appealed to his “small is beautiful” sensibilities, and evoked the Oriental wisdom of “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.” Over the years he has learned that the tractor and walk behind each have their place. Diane pointed out that the tiller propagates perennial weeds into thousands of little starts by chopping them into tiny bits. Meanwhile neighbor Bev Adams introduced Jim to the spring tooth harrow that pulls perennials like thistle, dock and Johnson grass out without chopping them up.

It is when breakdowns occur that Diane’s tractor fetish comes to the fore. One spring the Ford’s engine seized up. Jim thought he could carry on with the tiller, but Diane pointed out that he had no way to mow the fields. Jim’s solution was a walk behind field mower, but about the same time Diane espied a 1952 Farmall Super M, which she said had, “nice lines.” Apparently she has a good eye, because the Farmall’s engine had recently been rebuilt and this over-sized tippy tricycle wheel based machine has provided us with years of trouble free service.

But last fall, another breakdown triggered Diane’s tractor lust. At the end of the season Jim blew the transmission on our rototiller. It had been leaking oil, and in the fatigue and rush to finish the fall farm tasks, Jim ignored it too long. Suddenly we heard a crunching sound, and the engine ground to a halt. Jim disengaged the tines and wheeled the tiller back to the barn. A cursory investigation showed the bottom of the gear housing full of little roller bearings. Jim parked the tiller in the corner and continued with other tasks, planning to dig in further during the winter months.

Diane immediately took a pessimistic view, certain that the tiller was totally ruined.  She pushed Jim to find out and began pestering him about what we were going to do for a tiller next year.  In late November she found her answer.  Our favorite estate sale brokers, A Estate Sales out of Rainier, advertised an estate sale including a John Deere tractor with tiller.  

Diane immediately called Dana at A Estate and started quizzing him about the tractor, Dana made a special arrangement for Jim to come and see the tractor. Jim is overly sensitive to human interaction, so immediately he began to feel committed to the purchase despite a number of misgivings, one being the probable price. He moaned enough that when they got there Diane began telling Dana why Jim wasn’t interested. But the tractor had a hydraulic loader bucket that piqued Jim’s interest, so he told Dana he’d like to fire it up, another slip down the slope to commitment.

By now Jim was emotionally feeling he had to buy the tractor, but his rational side recognized that basing a decision on such emotions would be silly. He decided to compare the cost of the tractor to his absolute fantasy machine, the Italian BCS walk behind tractor that supported multiple exchangeable attachments. It turned out that to get the BCS with enough attachments to add to what he already had, he’d spend almost as much, and not have the loader bucket. Reason shoved him a good way further down the slope.

The next morning Jim ran from the sale entrance and slapped a sold sign on the tractor. It was the largest non-real estate purchase we have ever made. Diane’s tractor lust had been satisfied once again.

Now Diane’s tractor fetish turns out to have nothing to do with driving the powerful machines, what she likes is to watch Jim drive them. So as the sun comes out and the soil dries, she looks forward to Jim mounting the growling beast and moving some dirt.

Meanwhile Jim frets about whether he has compromised his “Small is Beautiful” ideals. In his defense he argues that it is his first diesel engine, which is more efficient and might be adapted to burn bio-diesel. The lift bucket will help him manage his manure better, allowing him to turn the pile more often as food safety standards are demanding.

Jim has always moved manure in a wheelbarrow which has kept him fit, but perhaps its time to give the aging body a break. The larger tiller should save a lot of time that can be spent growing larger quantities of a greater variety of vegetables. So maybe it’s o.k.

Yes, Diane’s fed her fetish, while Jim is still pondering whether dropping such a big pile of green for a big green machine is really “green”.

p.s. Jim is proud to announce the he completed rebuilding the transmission of his walk behind tiller today.