The building blocks of our youth


The first sunny day of spring on the farm always found us kids fighting over the pedal tractors, remembering that some were old reliable while others might cause us some headaches in the operating department.

We learned, even as sidewalk farmers, that there were a couple of necessary items to carry in our childhood tool boxes.

When friends, neighbors and cousins visited, we rounded up every toy with wheels so we could farm together. We had fields to plant and far-off grounds to check on.

The old pedal tractors of our youth were definitely built to last. Some of them certainly weighed more than we did, put together with cast iron determination to last forever. That solid frame, however, didn’t always insure great sidewalk performance.

One of my favorite in the line-up of miniature machinery was an old Silver King pedal tractor. We had a very old International Harvestor, an Allis-Chalmers, and a generic off-beat that had once carried green paint but was now mostly just gray.

We would line up the pedal tractors along with a bike or two, trying to find wheels for everyone who wanted to spend a nice afternoon sidewalk farming with us.

One day, with our Smalley cousins visiting, we had just found enough wheels for everyone when, unfortunately, the chain came off one of the red pedal tractors. Our little blondie cousin said, “I’m pedaling fast, but I’m not going anywhere!”

We all groaned. We knew better than to bother Dad, busy in the machinery shed, getting ready for spring planting. My older sister tipped the tractor over and tried her best to get that chain back on the sprocket. She went in search of tools, she found WD-40 to make the chain more pliable, she used her best mechanical engineering knowledge, and she might have even whispered a word under her breath that we knew better than to ever use. That darn old chain seemed determined to keep right on floppin’ in the wind.

So, we did what every good farmer does. We went in search of baler twine and duct tape and tie straps. We all know that a fellow just can’t farm without ‘em!

Krissy’s pedal tractor was quickly set up to be towed behind my sister Sher’s Allis-Chalmers. Up and down the sidewalk they went, Krissy pedaling and steering as if she was in full control of her dead-beat pedal tractor.

By the end of the play day, we were all worn out, feeling as though we had really accomplished something. Our sidewalk farming was a great enterprise. I have wondered dozens of times just what became of our old pedal tractors. Dad loved collecting restored Allis-Chalmers pedal tractors, and had a perfectly restored model of every one ever made. He had those orange beauties displayed on raised shelves in the garage, enjoying showing them off to both grown farmers and little people who would have loved to give them a spin.

Each time I looked over his collection, one of the first thoughts that popped in to my head was, “I wonder if the chain would hold on this one.”

Heck, there’s always baler twine!


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.