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By Staff | Jul 16, 2010

Whenever things are floating along nice and smooth, it’s a sure bet that something is about to go haywire.

That’s just one lesson I learned from revivifying our 1949 John Deere “A”. Another is that working on a rusty old hunk of machinery is an intricate dance involving one step forward, two steps back, one step forward, three steps back, one step forward aw, crap! Must be time for a beer.

I also discovered that one must sometimes eat one’s words. A prime example would be when I mentioned that I wasn’t skinning knuckles or breaking bolts like when I was younger. Ouch! Hubris is a bitter pill.

Despite the headaches and aching knuckles, it felt good to be out working on the “A.” It brought back memories of the bygone guys who also knew this tractor – Clifford Tisdal, Martin Rud, my uncle Wilmer, my dad’s uncle Stanley, and, of course, Dad.

These days I make a living by talking to people and tapping on a computer. Those guys probably wouldn’t understand that, but would appreciate on a gut level what I was attempting to do with the “A”. At times it felt as if they were watching over my shoulder.

For every problem that was solved with the “A,” several more would crop up. I began to feel like the fabled little Dutch boy as I strove to plug all the holes. Except that I was running out of fingers and toes and patience.

After a long and greasy slog, the day finally came when I was able to grab the A’s flywheel and throw the engine over. It responded with a hopeful cough. Encouraged, I engaged the electric starter and the venerable tractor popped back to life!

I jumped off the platform and did my little happy dance. I then drove the tractor out of the ruts where it had sat for 15 years, thus accomplishing a major goal.

A silly grin split my face as I stood and simply watched the old tractor chug. But then it began to smoke. And smoke some more. And even more.

This was troubling, but I wrote it off as a fresh overhaul bugaboo. The “A” was restarted several times during the next few days with similar results.

We’re not just talking about an annoying little stream of smoke. This was an epic plume that was spotted by the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. I received a call from the U.S. Geological Service inquiring about a possible new volcano that was erupting near my workshop.

The smoking problem was upsetting and vexatious. I dearly wished that I could talk to Fritz Schultz for just a minute.

Fritz was a hard-bitten, no-nonsense mechanic who worked at our local John Deere dealership. He bled green when cut and probably knew more about two cylinder tractors than the John Deere company itself. He could have diagnosed the A’s affliction in a matter of seconds.

But Fritz is gone, so I began to consult with a multitude of John Deere mechanics and assorted Johnny Popper aficionados. Various theories were put forth and I was told more than once, “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

The A’s smoking habit became somewhat of a community cause, with people calling to ask about its progress and expressing concern regarding the patient’s health. An older John Deere guru I consulted even told me he had lain awake one night trying to unravel the riddle.

If you talk to enough people about your troubles you will, eventually, get the right answer. The tough part is figuring out which one it is.

The key that unlocked the A’s smoking issue came from Gary, an old friend and a two cylinder enthusiast. Gary, who once worked alongside Fritz, gave me two invaluable nuggets of advice.

“Try unhooking the air cleaner from the carburetor,” he said. “And don’t work on the tractor for a while. Take the weekend off. You have to remember that it’s just a hobby.”

Gary had somehow sensed that I was a tad bit stressed about my ceaseless string of setbacks with the A. Perhaps he was tipped off by the large number of expletives I used when describing the tractor’s truculence.

He was right. The tractor had sat for 15 years and it wouldn’t matterone whitif it continued to do so for another 15. The trouble is, I’m the kind of guy who simply wants to GET IT THE HECK DONE! It’s a character flaw I’ve struggled with my entire life.

The A now runs reliably and her problems seem to be mostly solved. She is very close to done.

But I could be wrong, because nothing has going haywire for the pastcouple of minutes.

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

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