By Rick Houser –
I often remember the 1950’s and when I think about farming, the tractor was always in the picture of how we did things. Not the huge Goliaths that rule the land as they do today, but what we thought were big, a Ford 8 N that might have had 24 horsepower and could pull a two-bottom breaking plow, double what a team of horses could pull. Yes, the times have changed as has the technology but one fact remains- a tractor whatever the size demands the most attention on a farm. There are self-propelled combines and other equipment but their presence is brief compared to a tractor, a must in the farming business.
When I was big enough to sit on a tractor and run its operation from the steering wheel, I can tell you that there is no feeling that commands any more acknowledgement. The man on the seat with hands on the wheel operating equipment is by all means the one responsible for what will happen. When I got on the tractor, I remember the sound of the engine and the smells of the gasoline or diesel fuel fumes as they mixed with the smell of the crop being farmed or just the smell of the land if plowing or discing the land. A tractor gives a vibration and a feel that it is almost alive and the more you operate that tractor the more you and it seem to understand each other and operate smoothly together. As a day passed, the smells and sounds from the tractor helped you know just how well or not your tractor was functioning.
I truly loved being on a tractor and whether just driving up the road to another field or going across a field, no matter what function was being carried out I felt so much in charge. It seemed that being on top of a tractor also caused me to feel like I was on top of whatever we were trying to accomplish. No matter that by the end of a day I might be sun and wind-burned or cold and wet. It just depended on the season and the very unpredictable Ohio Valley weather. But when day was done and I climbed off the tractor, I would look back and think that all the work that day had been accomplished because of the tractor.
If a person couldn’t be the tractor operator the next best thing is to be riding what we call “shotgun”. To get on a tractor and ride with the driver could be pretty enjoyable if the terrain wasn’t too rough. To ride on our tractors a passenger has to stand with feet on the running board on the left side of the driver and lean against the fender, and a rider better keep a firm grip on that fender.
While I was trying to get the promotion up to a tractor operator I was almost always a rider. I knew where to stand and how to grip and Dad allowed me to ride with him more than most men did with their sons, but Dad said it was safer to have me there so he could see where I was and not run over me. (Like I said the tractor was exciting and it excited me.) When I got to ride with my brother Ben, he not only let me ride but he quickly began teaching me how to operate the tractor and likely in a much shorter amount of time of training than my Dad would have done. I was on my own and on top of the center of attraction in the field, therefore I too became the center.
I’m guessing at this time some readers are saying they never got the chance to ride on a tractor. Well, maybe not the big machines, but I am also including the riding mowers. Along with driving over your lawn, you could take your child along with you as they sit on your lap. While you are becoming a big hero in your child’s eyes, they also are getting to smell the aroma of that newly mowed lawn. I learned with my children when they were small enough to ride with me that after 15 to 30 minutes of the constant and steady sound of the engine they would fall asleep. They would get their ride and I would get to be a hero and when they fell asleep, their Mom got to enjoy their nap time.
The feeling the tractor emits is just one more reason a farmer wants to get outdoors in the spring. Not only the fresh air and the huge sense of accomplishment, but also being in command of a machine that can do so much for them. It did back in the 50’s when it was an 8 N and it was as we moved up to a Ford Power Master with somewhere in the low 40 horsepower and then the Ford 4000 diesel with almost 50 horsepower.
The market has continued to create larger horse power tractors and larger pieces of equipment and continues to do so even today. But no matter the year or size, the feeling one gets from being on top of one of these machines never changes. I always return to the feeling of being in control. That feeling that this will allow you to achieve so much with you in charge. Even the person who gets to ride along has a feeling that they are more important than all the others who are watching on or even driving by.
For all those people know the rider is supplying the driver much needed advice. When you are on the seat with your hands on the wheel, you can feel the tractors power in your hands, up your arms, and into your mind. It is safe to say I felt so powerful, in my mind anyway.
Rick Houser Grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.