John watched wide eyed as a brand new Ferguson tractor was unloaded from the back of a truck at the entrance gate to his rural home. The truck driver guided it onto extension tracks carefully for the steep descent onto the roadway while father signed papers against the side of the truck. Then with a quick handshake the driver entered the cab and began the complicated process of reversing and moving forward inch by inch in a tight circle at the top of the mountain as this was the road terminus serving two farm homes. He needed to get the truck turned for the winding dirt track back down the mountain. These farm houses sat majestically at vantage points from which they could survey their respective properties with their beautiful adjourning hills and valleys.
Father Rick hastily glanced through booklets handed over just before the truck disappeared down the steep dirt road winding mountain track. He climbed aboard and started the motor. It roared into life eagerly ready for whatever tasks it was commanded to do. Rick backed it expertly inch by inch until it connected with the first implement unloaded, paused while it was connected safely then the tractor leaped down the farm track to the barn standing shaking with anticipation as Rick uncoupled the implement. It then galloped up the hill to collect other implements. Each was deposited in a neat row in the barn.
From the time that tractor was offloaded from the truck it became a magnet to this small boy. While the little rural school did have its interests John could hardly wait to make that five-mile trip home of an afternoon to see what the tractor was doing. He watched as his Dad constructed an earth dam in the valley below, he ran to hop on board as the tractor pulled the wooden sledge around the farm with heavy equipment, materials to mend broken fences or milk cans to be deposited at the base of the mountain for delivery to the milk factory.
But what interested him most was how straight plough furrows were as his Dad or Uncle prepared fields for various crops. Now and then there’d be an irregular curve as adults negotiated around tree stumps or holes, and occasionally an unanticipated hole would trap the tractor as its wheels spun angrily looking for something to grip as the driver manipulated its plough up and down in an attempt to right the situation. So even that powerful beast of burden had its limitations and had to wait until adults shovelled in enough dirt and tamped it down in order for the beast to spin out of the hole. The tractor snorted, belched out smoke and went on its way again.
John dreamed of the day when he too could sit in the steel seat of that tractor and drive a straight furrow. He’d play with controls when the tractor was back in the barn for the day under watchful eyes of his father. Then one day never to be forgotten at the age of twelve his father sat him on the tractor and explained controls. First he practiced starting and stopping the tractor, then practiced lifting and adjusting the various implements. Eventually his father sat on that steel seat and beckoned him up onto his lap. Placing John’s hands on controls Rick placed his hands over his son’s and skilfully took them around the farm coaxing him as they went. After several lessons John was permitted to demonstrate his new found skill and proudly steered the tractor round farm roadways. He’d graduated! He was now a tractor driver.
However, he was not able to achieve his dream of a straight furrow for some time. Rick would encourage him and tell him to judge the width of the furrow, put his eye on some object at the end of the field and not take his eye off that point in the distance. The theory was this would ensure a straight furrow. However, it did not take into account stump holes or rocky outcrops. To his shame John would have to go on a trek to find an adult to get him out of trouble when the tractor bogged down. He had to learn to know the field in advance and be alert to what was ahead while keeping in touch with that magic point in the distance as this would produce a straight furrow. Eventually he got things right.
John’s love affair with the tractor began to lose its shine when Father decided it was time to sell that farm and move on to another. John was assigned the task of driving that tractor to the new farm location.
Now it has to be admitted an early teen on a tractor on a country road unregistered and un-licenced is not legal or wise in our generation but that was a relaxed era in which these things were tolerated. Everyone in the nearby town knew everyone within a twenty-five-mile radius and accidents were few and far between as roads outside the town were unpaved rutted with a washboard surface from rain and truck traffic. Speeding was just not possible as roads were narrow and winding!
On the grassy slopes of a farm a tractor is a reasonable ride, but on washboard road surface a tractor with water filled rear wheels has a tendency to give the same wild ride as an unbroken horse on its first encounter with a human in the saddle. The aftermath of a fifteen-mile trip under those conditions has the same effect on the posterior as ten minutes on a bucking bronco. One has to stand to take a meal for several days afterward.
John clung desperately to the wheel of that tractor lurching from side to side as they bounced along the road. Fortunately, the accelerator was on the steering wheel as John’s feet were airborne much of the time. It was with huge relief he pulled into the gateway of the new farm turned off the tractor and stood shakily slapping dust out of his clothes. It was at that precise moment he acknowledged that the love affair had ended. He hated the tractor.
But there was yet another farm to come, and more wash board roads along with them and a grim acknowledgement at the start of each journey great suffering was to take place. Fortunately, there came a time when the now hated tractor became part of the property sale arrangement and John set his heart on the time when he’d reach age sixteen and would get his first car licence.
As previously stated everybody knew everybody in that little country town, so when Rick took John to the local one policeman suburban station the Irish cop asked Rick whether his son knew how to drive, and on being assured of that wrote John’s first driver licence for seven years.
But the washboard roads survived a few more years before being progressively paved, and in that old era John learned that a Model A Ford towed behind a 1955 Ford V8 on a washboard surface dirt road behaves the same way as a tractor under those circumstances. But that’s another story!
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