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By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

It’s either the seven-year itch or I’m beginning to backslide on my road to recovery.

These extra-early snows we’ve received have caused me to think of the coming winter and the extremely unpleasant task of snow removal. Prior to my exit from dairy farming seven years ago, we had a loader and a tractor so snow removal wasn’t much of an issue. It was mainly just another annoying chore.

I haven’t driven a tractor since my auction. That is, except for that one time when my neighbor Stan Hesby let me pilot his elderly Oliver in a parade. No field work was accomplished, so I don’t think that counts.

Plus, Stan was riding along on the drawbar, probably to guard against the possibility of my absconding with his old Ollie and making a 12 mph getaway.

Lately I will drive past a machinery lot and might happen to see an M Farmall. I’ll think, “Ah, the trusty old M! We had one of those when I was a kid. Maybe I should buy me an M and a loader. It wouldn’t cost all that much.”

But then I’ll recall that the M didn’t have power steering. Or power brakes. Or power anything else, as far as that goes.

It would thus make more sense to set my sights on something a bit more modern, perhaps a John Deere 3010. We owned a 3010 that had a narrow front, a tractor I thoroughly enjoyed. It could turn on a dime and give you a nickel in change.

Plus, a 3010 would have a three-point hitch. I could get some tillage equipment and use it to work up my garden. Perhaps I could even buy a mower and clip the road ditches. I could then rake the hay and have Ziggy come over and bale it up. Certainly there is value in that.

But then it occurred that very few 3010’s had cabs. I thought about what it would be like to push snow while sitting out on that open platform when the temperature is 20-below and the northwest wind is howling. Been there, done that. Didn’t especially enjoy it.

So the logical thing would be to get a tractor with a cab. And a heater. And air conditioning and a radio. And while I’m at it, why not get something that has front wheel assist?

The price tag for my idle idyll suddenly jumped from perhaps a few thousand bucks to tens of thousands. All for what? To push a little snow and till my little garden and put up maybe three big round bales of ditch hay. How would that work out in terms of cost per bale? Cost per tomato?

Yes, climbing back onto a tractor would be akin to jumping onto a slippery slope. I would soon own a lineup of rickety old farm equipment, the kind of stuff I cursed as a kid. It would make a lot more economic sense to pay someone to remove snow.

The issue was all but settled in my mind when I happened to hear an old rock tune playing on the radio.

The song, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” suddenly thrust me back to my youth. I am perhaps 17 and have just started spring field work on the ground north of our house. I am driving our John Deere 60, pulling a rickety disc back and forth across the crackling dry corn stalks.

Gulls hover and cry, swooping down to the black earth behind the disc to gobble up bugs and grubs. A brisk spring breeze cools my face while the sun warms my back. The aroma of moist, freshly-turned soil is as intoxicating and as thrilling as a stolen kiss.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the soundtrack to that particular memory, blasting out of the AM tractor radio I had installed. The chugging “johnny popper” kept pretty good time to the music, except for when the pulling got tough and it came to be a long while between the pops.

Recalling that spring, that feeling, made me yearn for a tractor more than ever. But aren’t I just trying to recapture a long-ago moment when spring, summer, and all the heady possibilities of youth stretched out before me like the infinite and shining prairie horizon?

Maybe the answer is: so what if I am? Is it a crime indulge one’s sense of nostalgia? Does everything we do have to make fiscal sense? If that were that the case, none of us would have hobbies. Or kids.

This tractor issue is something I will likely grapple with for as long as my recovery lasts. All I know for sure is this: Stan might be well advised to hide the key to his old Oliver.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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