Let’s Talk Rusty Iron: ‘It’s just a mile or so. You can just tow me.’


One thing that seems to be common to most every man who’s into old trucks, cars or tractors is the periodic need to pull one of these vehicles with another.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this exercise, it requires two people to accomplish — one driving the towing vehicle, and another on the one towed, to steer, apply brakes, or to pop the clutch with the transmission in gear in an often futile attempt to get the engine started.

And, since most of us don’t have another man about the house, it usually is the unfortunate spouse who’s pressed into service as either the puller or the pullee.

Telling tales

Over the years, I’ve read many sad tales in the tractor magazines of these adventures going comically wrong (often with a real potential for disaster), and I’ve a few such stories of my own.

Recently, my sister, B.G. Theiss, and my niece, Cindy McCrary, both from North Carolina, were visiting here and gave the following accounts of their experiences along these lines.

Many years ago, B.G. and her husband had an Oldsmobile that wouldn’t run, so he decided to tow it several blocks to a repair shop. He hooked a chain between his work truck and the Olds, put B.G. behind the wheel of the car, and instructed her briefly on what to do, before starting off.

Um, honey?

What he had neglected to tell her was that the power steering and power brakes didn’t work when the engine wasn’t running.

B.G. said she got quite a surprise when they came to the first stop sign — he stopped, but she didn’t and banged into the truck. Fortunately, they were going slow and no damage was done.

Then he turned a corner and she couldn’t steer the thing and the Olds had to be dragged around by the chain.

It was a hairy journey, with the Olds banging into the truck again before they finally arrived at the garage.

Side by side

Many of the stories I’ve read referred to the wife in the towing vehicle looking out the side window to see their husband alongside with a look of horror on his face.

Cindy’s husband, Blaine, had a Massey-Harris tractor that wouldn’t run, and he, too, opted to tow it to a shop several miles away, with a rope as the towing connection.

Cindy was to drive the tow truck and Blaine emphasized to her that she must keep the rope taut between them. However, the old Massey’s brakes weren’t much good, and on a downgrade Cindy was astonished to see Blaine out her right window bouncing along the berm. He was headed for a mailbox and standing on the brakes without much result.

Somehow he missed the mailbox; they finally got everything under control, and finished the trip without further mishap.

My own tales

Shortly after the lovely Nancy and I were married, I moved everything from my house in town out to the place we’d bought. I had a Triumph TR4 sports car that wasn’t running at the time, so I winched it onto my trailer.

To unload the TR4, I used a tractor and a chain, putting Nancy in the car to steer it down the ramps. All went well until the car was coming down the ramps and, as there was 15 feet or so between the car and tractor, I stopped the tractor. Unfortunately, Nancy didn’t apply the brakes and the Triumph rolled into a tractor tire, pushing in the rear bumper.

Just a couple miles

Another time, I bought a 1940 John Deere A about four or five miles from home. It wasn’t running, but had a front hitch, so I made a six-foot tow bar and determined to pull the thing home.

The left rear tractor tire had a hole on the inside sidewall and a leaky inner tube, but I pumped it up, hitched up the tow bar to the pickup, and we set out. Nancy drove the truck while I bravely mounted the tractor.

I don’t remember what I told Nancy, but probably it had something to do with keeping the speed down to around 15 mph. We started out pretty well, except that every time the hole in the tire came around it sprayed me with calcium chloride solution.

When we reached the main road, it seemed Nancy kept going faster and faster and I’m bouncing along, just 6 short feet behind the truck.

At one point, about a mile from home, the slow moving vehicle sign, which I’d attached temporarily to the back of the tractor, fell off. No matter how much I waved and yelled, Nancy never looked in the mirror and we roared on.

We finally safely reached home before the rear tire went flat and, although my nerves were a little frazzled, we, as the books say, lived happily ever after.

Poor assumptions

I think the reason there are so many of these stories is that husbands just assume that their mates will always know exactly what to do in an unfamiliar situation — and they don’t, usually.

Of course, if the guy had to fill and start the dish washer, or do a load of clothes, he probably would need detailed instructions from his wife.

I well remember the time I put regular dishwashing soap in the dish washer and it was a disaster, with billowing soap suds all over the kitchen floor.

By the way, I went back for the SMV sign and someone had picked it up already.

If you have such a story, I’d love to hear it.

(Send responses to Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038.)


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.



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