True tales from the tractor seat


Back in the dark ages, in the early ’70s, the government, in its wisdom, decided to make Memorial Day come as a Monday, regardless of the calendar, in order to make a three-day weekend for the working class.

The first year it came early, and we were still trying to plant on Friday as the holiday was starting. I had made a 40-foot spray rig that mounted onto my 930 Case Comfort King. It had front and rear tanks, and the outer booms were removable so the same rig could be used for spraying while planting.

I finished spraying a field on Route 6 in Cherry Valley and parked the tractor at the driveway with the booms still out. We were moving to another farm 10 miles away, and I was in a hurry. The plan was to get a ride back to the tractor with a neighbor who was helping me until his pager called him to his trucking job.

Then, I forgot about it.

Wake-up call

I remembered it at 4:30 the next morning when Dad called me. The neighbor across the road from where the tractor had been could hear it running in the field, in the dark.

I threw on clothes, rushed to the farm, and saw what was left of it come to a stop against a power pole.

Sometime in the night, a vandal shorted the hot battery lead to the solenoid wire and started it. He put it in fifth gear, which was over 10 MPH with balloon tires, pulled the throttle down, and jumped off.

Auto steering?

The next hour or so, as near as we could reconstruct, must have been amazing. There were two-foot deep ditches on both sides of the road. The telephone cable was on the south side, the power poles on the north.

The tractor jumped the ditch into the neighbor’s field and started making circles. The wheels jammed to the left, so each circle took it across both ditches to the north, then back across both ditches to the south. Each time it crossed a ditch, it did a wheelie, hit the rear tank frame, and slammed back down.

It gets worse

On one pass, it broke off a telephone pole. On a subsequent pass, it snagged the phone cable on the boom and carried it back across the road. There it wrapped it around a power pole.

Eventually there were 50 wraps of cable around the pole, representing 25 trips with the cable. The wraps worked to the bottom, so gradually, strain pulled the pole from the ground. It fell on the steering column. The hand throttle was bent past the detent that shut the fuel off, so the tractor stopped.

The tractor was a mess. At one point, the radiator was holed, and the resultant overheating cracked the head. Every piece of sheet metal was mashed. The steering column and seat were broken off. The spray boom was twisted.

And, the tractor had kept running until the fuel was shut off.

In the process, seven telephone poles were broken from the strain, and a quarter mile of power line was replaced.

Silver lining?

There was good news and funny news, if you twisted your mouth just right.

On a U.S. highway in the middle of the night, no one came along for all this time to run into the telephone cable. And, a half mile down the road, Terry Mills was awakened by a strange ringing of his phone. In the days when they were hard wired, his had been pulled off his table, up the wall, and was trying to leave the house through the wire hole in the wall near the ceiling!

I rebuilt the tractor over the next winter, and it went on to log over 8,000 hours before I sold it.

Memorial Day is still on Monday, and I still remember, not the troops, but my tractor.

By the way

Oh yeah, for those of you who thought you would be reading about grain prices, I will tell you what I told a farmer this morning — I don’t know what is going to happen to prices.

Overnight we are down a nickel on corn and a dime or more on beans. The beans are now back to the February lows, after being nearly a buck higher. The corn had rallied, but is now in the middle of the recent range, at 3.65 July futures.

The outside markets continue to dominate, making actual grain news irrelevant. The Dow was down 126 yesterday, the European financial mess continues, and our resultant rising dollar is hurting soybean exports.

We now question if we will make the USDA export projections for the year.


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