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By Staff | Jun 1, 2012

It really didn’t make any sense to put new tires on that 63-year-old tractor. But I do a lot of things that don’t make sense.

It didn’t make any sense to rescue the rusty John Deere A from the weeds in the first place, to resurrect the old girl and bring her back to life. We don’t have much need for a tractor nowadays, other than to plow the garden and clip a few weeds. But those were reasons enough for me.

I’ll frankly admit that it was a struggle to get the old gal running once again. There were times when I nearly gave up, such as when she began to barf oil out of her exhaust pipe. Add in a malfunctioning magneto and few other problems and no one would have blamed me for simply walking away.

But that’s not my style. I persisted and was eventually able to resolve all her issues. I figured I owed it to her seeing as how she was my chief consort back when I was a teen.

I fired up the old A this spring and together we tilled the garden. As we worked, I couldn’t help but notice how rotten her tires had become.

To think, those tires were only 40 years old. Can’t they make things that last anymore?

I could clearly recall when the A got her last set of rubber. It was in the early 1970s – Nixon was in office – when we suffered a severe spate of springtime sogginess. Dad was still using the check planting system, and I remember the dispiriting sight of the check wire lying across the bottom of what appeared to be a small lake. Only days earlier, we’d had high hopes of raising corn in that pond.

A disaster was declared and those affected eventually received checks of up to $5,000. A brand-new four-wheel-drive pickup truck cost a bit less than five Gs back then, so a lot of new pickups suddenly appeared in the countryside.

But not at our place. Dad used the funds to pay bills and buy new tires for our two main workhorses, the A and our Farmall M.

And after just four decades, those tires needed to be replaced. Not because they were worn out, but mainly due to the fact that they had developed cracks that were so deep they put the Grand Canyon to shame.

So I drove the A the six miles to the farmers co-op that had installed her last set of tires. I figured I’d give them one more chance.

They say that the body can develop “muscle memory.” Sit a long-retired pianist at a keyboard and his or her fingers will reflexively find the right notes.

So it was when I drove the A to town. The orchestration of the clutch, gear shift and brakes were as smooth and silky as when I was a teenager.

It had rained the night before, so I had to dodge some mud puddles. Despite my best efforts, flecks of mud soon freckled my shirt. It was wonderful.

The worst part about driving old tractors such as the A is that you are totally exposed to the elements. The best part is that you are totally exposed to the elements.

And you have time to savor the environment when traveling at a stately 12 miles per hour. The wondrous aroma of new-mown hay, the earthy scent of wet soil. Passing a grove of trees, the air turns suddenly cooler and is laden with the dank smells of rotting wood and decaying leaves.

Out on the highway, people were zipping along at 70 mph, hermetically sealed in their climate-controlled cocoons. They were racing through a glorious spring morning, but not experiencing any of it. I felt sorry for them.

Each spring, Grandpa Nelson would drive these same six miles to have his Farmall Super C serviced at Bob’s Texaco. This didn’t make much sense to us as this task could be accomplished for a lot less if a guy were willing to get his hands a little dirty.

But I don’t think it was about clean hands for Grandpa.

It was more about the slow and stately drive to town, enjoying a grape soda and getting all the latest news from the guys while Bob installed new points and plugs.

I drove the A back home feeling refreshed and victorious. She even seemed to have more pep.

“What’s the news?” asked my wife as I mopped mud specks from my face.

“Nothing much,” I replied. “All I heard was that some sentimental fool is paying good money to have new tires put on his junky old tractor.”

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

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