By Rick Houser –
It is safe to say that operating a tractor in a field on a hot summer day would be easily one of my greatest memories from my years of farming. To be on top of that tractor and in charge was to me a privilege I will always be glad that I had. However, with every great privilege there is always at least one thing that could go wrong and ruin everything you considered to be great.
I think that when you are out in the field, far away from the house and any building with a roof on it, then your day is going as good as any bright sunny summer day can go. You just drive along smiling and thinking just how good you have it in this world, and then that one thing goes wrong. As you are driving across the field, you feel a sudden breeze getting stronger. When you look at the trees in the fence line, you notice the leaves are beginning to turn over. You immediately look towards the southwest and there you see black clouds moving in your direction. Those signs will quickly remove the smile off of any farmers’ face.
I know when I encountered the oncoming storms I began sizing up the field and how much of it I had left to complete. It always seemed to be just about a draw between getting done and when the rain would start. Next I would begin looking for the nearest shelter I could find to be protected from a storm. Now right here is where that great day you were having would go bad. Every field I ever got caught in with a storm near was always in the field the furthest from the house and any other type of shelter that could be of service. It always seemed I was in the “back 40” so to speak.
There were always two approaches to addressing this situation. One was to stop what you were doing and head for cover. Doing so you were more than likely done for that day as the rain would soak the ground beyond being able to put a tractor back on it. The second plan was to race the rain clouds and wind and lightning going for the finish. You were living on the dangerous side as lightning is nothing to mess with. One accurate strike and your worries were over. But if you beat the rains, the crop was all done at the same time and this is the goal a farmer has when he begins.
Being one who was a little stubborn and a lot foolish, I would declare the race on and give the tractor a little more gas. Between working the ground with the tractor, I would divert my attention to the skies and occasionally look toward the nearest shelter, hoping one would appear.. I thought I was one tough fellow who dared to challenge the elements. Sometimes I might have been but most of the time as I neared the finish, the rains would begin. Since summer days are hot and humid, the beginning drops felt cool and refreshing, but as the rains fell the drops became cold and sometimes would hit so hard they would sting you.
Once the rain was coming down in sheets, there was only one option left. Either turn off the tractor and try to get far enough under it so you could maintain staying somewhat dry, or stay on top of the tractor and drown. Getting under a tractor sounds like the obvious choice but let me explain something. Our tractor was a Ford 8N and a Ford Power Master. The wheelbase is approximately five foot wide by nine foot long, so your area of cover was none too roomy under there.
Along with limited space and the winds blowing the rain under the tractor with you, there was that cracking of thunder and the breathtaking sound of a lightning bolt striking near you to make this event one that you wanted to remove from your memory. The longer you laid there the more you wished you had taken option number one. (No the field wouldn’t be complete, but I would be dry and definitely alive.)
After thinking on this, there was a third option and that was as soon as the rains began, turn your tractor toward the nearest trees or a building. Of all the options listed, you were never going to come out of the field dry. Also, as a summer rain moves in the temperature drops quickly and a breeze will quicken to help you become colder faster. If anything looks sadder than a wet hen, it has to be a soaked farmer!
When the storm passes and the sky begins to shine again, you either crawl out from under the tractor or look out from a barn door and begin to think back on this day and how such a wonderful day went from being to where you are now. This is when you have to tell yourself you knew something like this could happen. But why?
These days the farmers have tractors that not have water-proof climate controlled cabs to keep the driver dry. But as they are working their fields these days, they move faster and cover more ground than when I was out there getting an early Saturday night bath.
More than likely if the sky becomes cloudy, today’s farmer just turns on his radio or cellphone and tunes in the weather channel and finds out how much rain to expect and what time it will begin. If I had that technology back then I probably wouldn’t have had to choose an option in the first place. But just remember that lying under a tractor in a rain storm gives that farmer a look at farming he would never have seen. That would have been great in my book.
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.