Tractors brought back memories

Published 4:43 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

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My sincere thanks to John R. Edwards Jr. and his son Chris for putting together what we called the “Short Rows Antique Tractor Exhibit Saturday.

The Edwardses brought a fleet of 1950s Farmall tractors to town and parked them in front of The Smithfield Times for Olden Days. The tractors ranged in size from a “Cub,” a petite little thing that was used for lightweight farm work such as cultivating crops to an “M,” the muscular Farmall giant that was a bear to drive but could pull a hefty pair of moldboard plows.

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Those two functions — plowing and cultivating — were two primary reasons for shifting from horses and mules to tractors. While it might take the better part of a day to plow 10 acres with an “M,” it would take days to do the same thing with a team of mules, and you couldn’t plow as deep.

And cultivating with small tractors, whether Farmalls, John Deeres or Fords — the most popular brands here — was like a day at the beach compared to walking behind a mule that seemed forever flatulent, according to those who did so.

As a matter of fact, the day at the beach image is strengthened by the fact that tractor manufacturers back then offered umbrellas to shade the driver from the summer sun. And I know from personal experience that those tractor umbrellas actually found their way to the beach on occasion.

Tractors did far more than cultivate and plow, though. Simply hauling materials in a trailer or wagon was greatly simplified by not having to hitch up a team.

Then, there were the other farm chores that tractors revolutionized. Every tractor had a “belt pulley.” From that device, the tractor was attached, by means of a long, continuous “belt,” to any number of stationary devices. A wood saw driven by a tractor could turn small logs into firewood for the winter in short order. Various types of feed grinders or mills were used to produce livestock feed. Stationary peanut pickers were used to harvest goobers from shocks.

While those and other images came to mind Saturday as I looked over the tractor exhibit, I also recalled that when our “B” Farmall came new from a local dealer, it didn’t have a starter, generator or battery, and it was never retrofitted with them. To start the tractor, you cranked it.

Even the “Super H” we owned had a crank in case of a dead battery, but I never could crank the thing.

Cranking tractors and other gasoline engines wasn’t unusual back then, and agricultural and 4-H training materials routinely carried a section on safely cranking a tractor. There’s a right way and a wrong way, you may be sure. Engines turned with a crank tend to “kick” backwards, sending the crank backwards as well. Farmers were known to have broken their thumbs and even wrists when cranking a tractor. You could break a leg as well if you stood in what would be the likely path of a crank “kick.”

The exhibit created lots of memories, for me and some other old farm boys who stopped by the exhibit Saturday. I heard comments throughout the day from people who grew up on farms from here to Minnesota and recalled that “I drove one of those” or another brand.

And all those memories were compliments of Johnny and Chris Edwards. It was a great addition to Olden Days, and my sincere thanks go to both of them.