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By Staff | Jul 2, 2010

It came over me rather suddenly. After all, she’d been sitting there for so long she’d become part of the scenery, nearly invisible. Maybe I was afflicted with nostalgia, as she had been among my “first.”

In any event, I began to fantasize about doing certain things with her. I could envision the two of us tooling around out in the country, the wind in our faces, the summer sun smiling down.

The most difficult part, I knew, would be breaking the news to my wife.

Tact and finesse are needed in such situations, but I am congenitally short of both. So I simply turned to my wife one day and blurted it out.

“I want to fix up the old ‘A’,” I announced.

She shot me her well-worn what’s-this-dope-up-to-now look and replied, “OK. If you think that’s the thing to do.”

Dad purchased our John Deere A at auction when I was a kid. It was one of the first tractors I ever drove.

Time and progress marched onward and we obtained bigger and better tractors. The A was consigned to a spot out west of the trees, an ignoble retirement for a noble servant.

And there she sat, largely forgotten, for many years. My wife and I had boys of our own and I thought it would be fitting if they also got to know the trusty old tractor.

But time and the elements had their way with the A. Her muffler had corroded away, allowing rainwater to seep deep into her innards. Her engine had become a solid block of rust.

We removed her head and soaked her cylinders with diesel fuel, WD-40, panther urine, anything that was purported to cut through rust. The engine remained steadfastly stuck.

So we called in George Pander, who could be described as a self-taught hillbilly mechanic – except for he lived out on the prairie.

George stuck a colossal spud bar into the flywheel. He pulled with all his might and emitted a deep groan. The A groaned in return as the rust finally released its grip.

The boys and I removed her engine, gave her some new rings and a valve job. The A was returned to service, but mostly just light duty.

That fall I told the oldest boy that he should take the A out plowing. I’d heard that working an engine was the best way to seat the rings.

So he went out to plow – but soon returned to report that the A was coughing oil out of her muffler!

He was not mistaken. Sitting on her operator’s platform with the engine running was akin to showering in crude.

I discussed this oily problem with several folks and got several opinions. One guy said a piston had cracked when George cracked the engine loose; another diagnosed a broken ring; a third theorized that the A had a bad valve guide.

I removed her head for inspection, but nothing seemed amiss. Life and the imperatives of making a living then grabbed my attention and she gradually slipped out of my mind.

The A spent the next 15 years in this headless condition, her assorted parts laying scattered on the ground. A jungle of weeds grew up around her, partially concealing her. She became part of our yard’s landscaping.

One recent day my wife bought me a retro reproduction sign to hang in my workshop. It advertises the new, styled A and contains the image of a tractor just like the one that molders outside said workshop.

Inspired, I inspected the A. She looked hopeless. Her tires are flat and she’s sunk into the ground as if the planet is trying to reclaim this former hunk of iron ore. She has been thoroughly colonized by lichens and moss.

I experimentally moved her gear shift and it slid easily into place. I found that her PTO lever was only somewhat gummy and that the clutch seemed quite operable.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I saw life. But there was definitely a glimmer of the possibility of life.

My wife’s apprehension was, as always, on target. There are numerous known unknowns, such as how badly the engine is seized. But there are also many unknown unknowns, including “what’s this gonna cost?” and “why would anybody even think about tackling such an onerous task?!”

I can’t answer the cost question, but have a clear picture of the why.

In my mind’s eye I am driving the A across the field, the heady perfume of freshly turned soil wafting on a cool spring breeze. I am 12 and the whole world stretches out before the A and me.

And if that isn’t worth some time and materials, I don’t know what is.

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

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