Spring on the Farm

It’s been Spring for over a month and the average temperature is now in the 60’s. I’ve been reading Frank James blog how he’s waiting for his fields to dry out and it brought forth several memories of life on our farm when I was still living at home.

Our farm was relatively small as compared to the farms of some of our neighbors. Our largest field was nineteen acres and bordered a small four acre woodlot. We normally planted wheat, soybeans or corn in this field on a rotating basis.

Smack in the middle of this field was a large, very large oak tree next to a well that contained clear, sweet water all year long. I suppose that a house stood there at some point in earlier years, but the only remains were the tree and the well.

Dad bought the farm in 1953 and we never had a clear understanding of the history of the place, who had lived there, when, nor of any structures that had stood on the property. There was ample evidence of habitation with many abandoned buildings, barns, old houses around us, but none on our farm.

It was Spring and Dad still worked days in the mines. That Spring, it was my job when I came home from school, to gas the tractor and begin prepping the fields for planting. I had finished discing a field where we had planted corn the previous year. Discing cut up the remaining stalks, turned the surface and readied the ground cover for plowing. Plowing turned under the vegetation and that vegetation provided nutrients for the coming crop.

On this day, I was to start plowing. The rains had been light for a couple of weeks and the ground had firmed enough to support the tractor and our 2-bottom plow. Like many teenagers, working on the farm after a full day of school was not my idea of a fun time.

I gassed the tractor and drove out to the field. Cutting straight farrows is almost an art form. You can start at the edges of the field and work your way to the center. This approach will leave a hump in the middle after a few years and will affect water drainage. Or, you can start in the middle of the field and plow a loop that shifts from one edge of the field until it reaches the initial farrow. If it’s done right, you’ll also reach the far edge of the field at the same time. That is much harder but it affects the topology and drainage of the field much less that the other method.

I drove to the spot were we’d previously marked for the center, took an eye-ball lock on a tree on the opposite end lowered the plow and started off. In road gear.

Tractors have multiple gears to provide power to the driving wheels as needed. The lower gears provided more power and were also slower. In road gear, the tractor would speed along at 25-35 miles an hour depending on the load. A tractor, even in road gear still provides much more power than a car or pickup. (We did have a neighbor that attached a plow to his WW2 era jeep and it worked well while his tractor was out of commission but that’s another story.)

With both eyes on the distant mark, I was tearing across the field at quite a clip. I was throwing dirt for several yards from the farrow. I’d do anything to get the job over. I started around 3:30 in the afternoon and by supper-time had about a third of the field plowed.

Everything was going well—until the plow hit the pipeline.

At some time past, a 6″ steel pipeline was laid across the field. No one knows who, nor what it carried. Dad later guessed that it was a private water line fed from the well in the field. In any case, I was tooling across the field in road gear, dirt clods and dust flying until I hit the pipeline and the tractor stopped dead. It stopped so suddenly, the engine died.

I was standing while steering the tractor. It was a common practice while moving over rough ground and allowed your knees to take up the shock of rugged surface. When the tractor hit, it stopped dead in place and I went flying. Over the steering wheel. Over the hood of the tractor. Over the freshly plowed ground from the previous circuit, flying through the air, not touching down until I’d traveled about twenty feet in front of the tractor. On landing, I did a little plowing of my own, scooping a farrow through the dirt for another yard after touchdown.

I had dirt on my face along with numerous scraps and scratches. Dirt in my hair. Dirt in my shirt, in my jeans, in my shorts. Dirt everywhere. After impact, I just laid there for a time while inhaling about a quart of dirt.

When I decided that I was still alive, I raised up to see Dad running across the field. He’d come out to call me in for supper and had seen the whole thing. “Are you all right?” he hollered.

I just nodded and probed with my tongue to see if I still had all my teeth.

Anyone who knew Dad also knew that he was a bit lacking of a sense of humor. He kept trying to ask if I was hurt while trying not to laugh at the same time. The two actions were not complimentary. Finally, he just gave up and laughed. He laughed so much he had to kneel down to keep from falling over.

Farmers have weird ideas on what is funny. I remembered how he laughed when I was charged by the sow and had jumped a 6′ 2×4 fence to get away. He also laughed when, during hay season, I missed a hay-bale thrown into the loft and had fallen out into 10″ of mud.

He told me, while I limped back to the house, how I’d traveled in a perfect parabolic arc over the front of the tractor, over the plowed ground and had plowed a rut into the fresh dirt. Later, he told our neighbor across the road, our neighbor down the road, and all his friends at the mine. Years later when I graduated from high-school, he told the same story to all our relatives.

But, I’m gonna get revenge. Someday, I’m going to tell the story about how Dad shot the car and blew out the windshield.

I’ll get even. Heh, heh!
(h/t to John Smith for the Ford Tractor photo.)

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