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April 22 is a very important day for our family!

On this day, in 1954, my grandfather brought home a shiny new Ford NAA tractor that he paid $1800 for. His family thought he was crazy, because he bought it on credit.

Now, to us in this day of astronomical credit card debt for lifestyle purchases, this may not seem like any big deal, but in 1954 it was certainly a big deal for my grandfather, who worked a hard, blue-collar job as a night line-switchman for the railroad.

But this is also one of my grandfather’s proudest tales, the tale he tells me everytime he has a chance, about how we took landscaping work in his daylight off-hours from the railroad so that he could make that tractor pay for itself. And despite the disbelief of his family, he paid it off before the note was due.

He has owned that tractor free-and-clear for 53 years, and it has been his workmate for that many planting seasons.

It still runs beautifully, and although it is no longer beautiful by ordinary physical standards, I find it to be a thing of great beauty, this strong American tractor still working alongside this strong American man.

At the risk of seeming tritely poetic, the NAA is the totem of my grandfather: dependable, rough around the edges, strong but worn. Both the man and his tractor have worked hard to pay off their debts and live independently, and both just keep on working and living.

To honor the NAA that my grandfather loves, I’ll repost some pictures from earlier postings.

Here’s how the tractor looks today:

Granpda on his 1954 NAA Jubilee

Here’s what it looked like new:naa

So, Happy Birthday, NAA! I’m awfully glad that you joined our family those many years ago!

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Trish on a Tractor

tractor

Many thanks to my Aunt Joyce for taking this picture last summer! This is the tractor I drive the most often, and as you can tell from the huge smile on my face, I get a huge kick out of driving it!

In case you’re interested, it’s a 1976 Ford 1600 with a LandPride rototiller.

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My tractor world expands

I have posted before about my love of driving the tractors at Grandpa’s farm.  I can’t help it, but I get all giggly inside when I think about driving the tractor.  It’s supposed to be work, but dang, it’s just too much fun to be work!

This week, Grandpa introduced me to the additional joy of antique tractor maintenance.  It was like being inducted into Grandpa’s secret club, the club of those-who-know-about-such-things, and now I am an initiate member of the club.

It all started when the tractor wouldn’t

Dad and my grandpa worked on it Saturday and Sunday, but to no avail.  The thing just would not start.  He had replaced the starter, still no start.  He charged the battery, and no start.  A tractor that won’t start is a lawn ornament, and no use in the field.

By Monday evening, when I came by, Grandpa was in the grips of full-blown concern.  He greeted me at the door with “I need you to look at something for me,”  which in Grandpa-speak means that he’s working on a project and just can’t see well enough to do what needs to be done. 

So I covered up my office clothes with an old flannel shirt, and went out to the tractor with him.  Under his extrememly detailed and remarkably reliable direction, he walked me through aligning the alternator points, draining the carbuerator, changing the oil, cleaning the air-intake, and replacing the oil filter. 

It was a carefully performed dance of the two of us making one competent mechanic.  He would describe in detail what I needed to do, from years of memory and familiarity, and I would describe what I saw and what I was doing back to him.  At times, I would place the tools in position, and then carefully hand it to him so that he could get a feel for it:  was the tension right?  was there enough torque on the bolt?  Do you feel this Grandpa? Am I doing this right?

Throughout the process, he taught me about the necessary routine maintenance required on the tractor, what should be done each week, each month, and at the end of each growing season.  He told me which parts were original to the 1954 tractor, which ones he had replaced, and when.  He told me the story again about how he bought the tractor new, with three implements, and brought it home.  Grandpa was so proud to tell me again how everyone thought he was crazy for buying it on credit, but that he paid the note off before it was due by working a second job as a landscaper.  “Do you think I was ever afraid of hard work?” he asked me. 

No, Grandpa,” I replied.  “I don’t think you’ve ever known anything in your life except hard work.”

As his strength follows his eyesight into failure, it becomes more and more important to him to be reminded that he is not this old man.  He is the young, hard-worker who provided for his family when others thought he couldn’t. 

By the time the sun went down, we had shared stories, laughs, troubles and solutions, and we had the tractor running without skipping a beat.  Just the two of us, working together, hands together and heads together.  It was perfect.  Grandpa grinned from ear to ear.  I think that he was worried that if his old friend had died, that he would soon follow, and that somehow, the engine turning over and purring with new oil gave him confidence that we had another productive season ahead of us.  There was more work in the old tractor, and more work in the old man.

And at the end of the evening, my Grandpa, a man of few words, gave me the highest compliment I may ever have received.

“Honey, you did good work today.”

**************************************************************

Granpda on his 1954 NAA JubileeThis is a picture of my Grandpa on his 1954 Ford NAA.  I love this man, and I love his tractor.  By the end of Monday night, when I heard this tractor roar to life again,  I knew that some tractors are tools, and others are partners.  This tractor has been my grandfather’s partner, and now they’ve let me into the partnership, as well.  I feel honored. 

As you can tell, this is a working tractor.  It works hard, and has since the day he brought it home.  The hood and cowling are removed, owing to a run-in with a tensionwire from the powerlines that run through the property.  [Due to his macular degeneration, Grandpa can’t see things that are directly in front of him, only those things that are in his peripheral vision.] But despite how it looks, it runs beautifully

NAA

 This is what the Ford could look like with a fresh paint job and a new hood.  I’m hoping to restore my grandfather’s tractor to a similar condition while he can still see it and appreciate it.  I want to show him that I know what this tractor means to him, and demonstrate to him that it’s special to me, as well.  I can’t think of many better ways to show him I love him.

To that end, I’ve joined the N Tractor Club, and what a warm and welcoming response I’ve received from them! In just a few days I’ve gone from loving to drive the tractor, to knowing I could perform mechanical work on it, to actually wanting to work on it and learn more about it!  And the N Tractor Club folks have really gone out of their way to share their information and their own N Tractor stories.  Thanks guys!

I’m sure there will be more posts on my tractor-love as the planting season gets underway! 

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Grandpa’s Field Trip

Little did I know that the famous Pioneer Woman and I are leading parallel lives this week!  No, I’m not suddenly living life on a cattle ranch in OK, married to a man called Marlboro Man who makes my heiney tingle.  [I am married to a man who smokes Marlboros and makes my heiney tingle, but that’s another story…]  No, my brush with fame is #8 on her to-do list: planning the garden and fixing the rototiller.

 For weeks, Grandpa and I have had this day set aside to take his beleaguered rototiller to the tractor repair place, and I think we both jumped out our beds this morning with the same thrill, akin to Christmas morning, that buzzed in our heads excitely:  It’s tractor field-trip day!

Since Grandpa can’t drive himself these days, we had to carefully pick the best day to drive the trailor with the Landpride RTA 1558 Rototiller Attachment down country roads to the rural outpost of Griffin, Georgia and Wade Tractor Repair.

Okay, Griffin is no longer a rural outpost of Atlanta, but is now a bedroom community of suburban metro-Atlanta, but there is still just enough agriculture in that neck of the woods to keep a tractor repair and sales company in business.

Tony was gracious enough to drive Grandpa’s big van for us, and I just sat and enjoyed the ride, trying to catch all the country wisdom that my grandpa let fall.  The sky was bright and wintery, and the sides of the road were still covered with patches of snow.  Where the Flint River had puddled out into swollen pools, the last residues of ice-crusts floated on the edges and the murky surface.  In all, it was a lovely drive through woods, pastures, and old country homes.

But it’s when we arrived at Wade’s that the real fun began!  It was like a tractor wonderland!  Even as we drove into the service entrance, Grandpa and I were itching to check out some of those shiny new tractors on the lot.  But first, the rototiller…

le rototillerHere’s our sad little rototiller, just waiting for expert service.  Apparently, the drive chain broke and ballbearings knocked around inside the drive case. That sounds really bad…..but we have to get it fixed before spring!  Afterall, the mule is long-dead, so we have to make the tractor work.

Grandpa wavesWave for the friendly readers, Grandpa!  He’s such a sport to ham it up for the camera.  Yeah, I know, he’s just as besotted with his grown-up granddaughter as he was with his baby granddaughter.  That’s the benefit of being a granddaughter…you really don’t have to be grown-up all the time.

Wow, what a relief that can be, too!

Now that the rototiller was safely entrusted to the care of the service department, we were free to browse the sales lot.  Wild horses couldn’t have pulled us back into the van without poking around!

rtvHmmmm maybe what we need is a new Kubota RTV, Grandpa.  Can’t you just hear him saying, Oooooooowheeee! I gotta get me one of those! This once independent and still fiercely proud man can’t help but think, Maybe they can take my driver’s licence away, but they can’t keep me from driving one of these beauties around my farm….  And Grandpa, you’re right.  I’ll be your enabler….

We just have to sneak the RTV past Grandma and we’re home free! 

Oooooo Tony! You look HOT in that Kubota Supergrand Cab tractor! 

You can till my fields anytime you want!

Slide on over, Sexy, and make room for me!  (And turn that luxurious heater on, too.  It’s really cold out here! )

tony in kubota

But WAIT! What do we have here, tucked in between the newest, fanciest, prettiest tractors on the market today?

old ford

There it is, the perfect tractor…the tractor that revolutionized small-scale farming in America.  The 1953 Ford Jubilee.  All the shiny, all the climate-control, all the new pales in comparison to this old friend of Grandpa’s.  Here’s a tractor he can really appreciate.  [Of course, he has a 1954 NAA Jubilee at home.  Never buy the first year of any model!]  Grandpa, tell Tony all about it…

How does it look under the hood, Grandpa?

 gp and old ford

Do you mean to tell me that you didn’t know this tractor originally came with a positive-ground battery?  [Uh, no, Grandpa, I only know what you tell me…but I believe you…]

jubilee 2 

So, it just goes to show once again that new and shiny may catch our eye, but old and familiar warms our hearts.  I’ve learned that this is true of tractors, and it’s certainly true of Grandpa’s.  And even when you think you might know enough to recognize a Ford Jubilee when you see one, you can always learn something new about how it ticks.

I hope I never stop learning about how my Grandpa ticks.

To wrap it up, here’s a final picture of my Grandpa’s old tractor, taken today with snow still in the tire treads.  It’s old, dependable, strong, familiar, and fun.

Just like my Grandpa.

snowtire

 

 

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My friend, Evan, has commented that I may be obsessed with tractors, and I’m not saying he’s entirely wrong…he knows me too well.  He’s seen me go through some crazy things in the past ten years or so, and he knows I can get a bit fixated sometimes. 

Which made me consider whether or not I actually am obsessed with tractors, and I can honestly say I’m not.  I like them, sure. I like being able to drive one and work the soil, but it’s not the tractors that fascinate me, it’s what they can do. It’s what I can do with them, how they have influenced my family, and what they represent for me.

A few years ago, I became fascinated with sailing ships of the past, galleons and brigs and frigates, Jack Aubrey, Horatio Hornblower, and pirates of the oceans blue.  I even took a few sailing classes before I realized that I was a bit too clumsy for sailing.  But although I learned as much as I could about ships and rigging, sailing and fighting, I don’t think it would be fair to say that I was obsessed with ships. 

I was obsessed with escape.  Escape from my problems, escape from my hopelessness, escape from my pain.  And for that period in time, ships and sailing represented freedom for me, the ability to leave my life behind and never leave a trail.  I wanted to visit brave new lands, live carelessly and free, anonymously, unattached, unfettered, and unafraid.

I’ve changed, and my “vehicle of choice” has  apparently changed, as well.  Instead of looking for mental escape on the ocean roads, I seek to plant seeds of stability and put down roots in the Earth.  I’ve stopped trying to run away, and have invested myself in cultivating relationships and planting seeds for my future.   The hours I spend on the tractor and in the garden have yeilded a harvest, not only of food, but of memories, traditions, wisdom and closeness with my family that I’ve never allowed myself before.  The tractor, the ability to drive it, to work it, to till the land, and raise harvest with my own hands, ties me to my family, my heritage, my grandfather.  It is a bond between where I come from, and who I am.

I’ve come to realize that, if my dreams for the foundation and for the land come to fruition, I will, in essence, be “grounded”, rooted to that place and to that work, and strangely, I welcome it.  I long to leave a legacy for future generations, to leave a mark of my passing through in the same way that the tiller leaves a path in the soil from which a plentiful harvest can grow.  I want to stay in one place, for the first time in my life, and cultivate a life of growth. 

My running with the wind days are over, it seems.  My setting down roots has begun.

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On my way into the big city every morning, I drive through some of the most beautiful rural countryside in Fayette County, and as time progresses, I watch more and more of it disappear. 

No, land doesn’t actually disappear.  In fact, as Gerald O’Hara states in that epic of romantic Southern fiction, Gone With the Wind, “Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts. ” 

Well, okay, I don’t quite hold with that sentiment, because I happen to think that people are the only the only thing worth all that, but there’s no denying that this Southern girl has a deep bond to the rich red soil of Georgia.  Maybe it’s because I spent so much time away from it, growing up in the military, and yet my soul has a spiritual umbilical running back to my mother’s agricultural heritage.  Either way, it moves me.

But the rural characteristics of the land around me, the land-ness of it, is rapidly disappearing beneath the manicured landscaping and cookie-cutter predictability of over-priced subdivisions as Metro Atlanta creeps ever farther outward, towards the rural heart of Georgia.  When I soak in the autumn morning sun on vast fields of hay grown to sustain cattle over the wintering, when I gaze on relics of country homes still surrounded by towering oaks and pecan trees, I cannot help but wonder how long they can maintain their stoic eloquence in the dauntless advance of suburban development.

Sandy Creek Road is one of those places, and last week I observed with pain that a large swath of pastureland had suddenly been cleared and tilled over. It was only a matter of time, I supposed, before this too would be covered in the “McMansions” of the New South.  But today, as I was driving along, a sight so comforting and reassuring stopped me, and made me turn around, go back, and take a second look. 

IH TractorThere it was, in all its dusty splendor, the International Harvester Farmall 1066, manufactured prior to 1976.  Now, there’s no logical reason why old farm equipment should be comforting; afterall, it’s machinery, a tool for working, not for giving comfort to the soul.  But I, having expected on any day to see a herd of heavy industrial earth-moving machines preparing the landscape for half-million dollar homes, found much comfort in that one old tractor resting in that tilled field.  It was not the equipment of a large construction crew.  It was the tool of one lone man, the only evidence of him being the barncoat draped carelessless over the tractor seat.

And in that brief moment, I drank in the morning air, felt the softened ground beneath my boots, and savored the thought that maybe, just maybe, he was preparing the field for winter grazing crops, or for an early spring planting, and not for suburban architecture.  I could be wrong, of course, and I probably am, but the sun on my face, the autumn breeze in my hair, and that tractor in my camera frame stopped the progress of development for just that one moment.

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Yesterday was a beautiful day, and I awoke for church with a song in my heart, and a most unworthy prayer…”Please, Lord, let there be tractoring today.” Yeah, I’m embarrassed to pray such a lame prayer, especially when there’s so many other things to go to the Lord about, like world peace, orphans and widows, and such. But I couldn’t help it! I looked out the window at the gorgeous bright autumn day, and thought of all the fun things I could do in the garden with the tractor, and my petty prayer just slipped out.

[I’m almost to the point of being allowed by my grandfather to drive the tractor unsupervised. Soon……….oh soon!]

Sure enough, when I get to the homestead, Grandpa says, “Let’s go see if we can get the old tractor started.” He always says this, and it always starts, and then he looks proud and says something like, “Don’t it sound purty?” while he listens to the engine putt-putt-putter-ROAR. It gives him great satisfaction to hear his old 1954 machinery still running. But I digress.

Granpda on his 1954 NAA Jubilee
The first thing I need to do is drive the tractor around for a bit, and then back it into the area to take off the rototiller (a Land Pride 1558 that broke a chain and is partially dismantled). I do it remarkably well, and am very proud of myself. Then I drive the tractor over to the beechnut tree and pick up the spring-tooth harrow, which also involved a tricky bit of backing up directly perpendicular to the furrow.

When out of the blue comes Chris, Grandpa’s Polish neighbor. No, he’s really Polish. It’s not a slur. But he does slur, thanks to Heineken, but that’s another story. Chris comes sauntering up and says to Grandpa, “What are you trying to do here?” and then he gets all involved and starts hooking up the implement and getting in the way, in general. Then he starts making fun of my driving, and says he had to come over because he was afraid I’d run over my grandfather. And THEN he says, “would you like me to drag the vines out instead of her?” [I’m seething now, and trying to keep my cool around my grandfather.] I jump in and say, no thanks, I can do it. Then men finish hooking up the implement (which I’m perfectly capable of doing) and then I drove away to clear away the remains of the pumpkin patch (sorry, Emilie!).

Of course, Chris and Grandpa follow, and I can see them laughing and Chris pointing at me on the tractor. It’s probably not flattering. I pull the vines, and pause to ask my grandpa a question, when Chris says, “Do you want me to show you how a MAN drives a tractor?”

The thought that immediately passed through my head was, “Honestly officer, I don’t know how he got under my tractor tires….twice.”

What came out of my mouth was, “No thank you, I wouldn’t want to learn to do it wrong,” with a sideways wink that wasn’t at all heartfelt.

You know what’s so hard sometimes about being a woman in a man’s environment? The presence of men.

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