I sometimes feel sorry for you city boys. You are destined to go through life unsatisfied. Even with your many accomplishments and all those degrees and awards, when "the role is finally called up yonder," you'll grudgingly admit that there was - your entire life - something missing. You can't define it because you've never seen it. You've never been able to verbalize it because it has always been ill-defined. Ethereal. But you know that there was something lacking in your life. An imbalance. A dark void in your being.
And I know what it is. You see, I am centered. Among the many triumphs that I can look back on now and take pride in, and along with the wonderful family that God has been kind enough to bestow upon me, and with the worldly wealth and good physical health with which I am truly blessed, there is one event that towers above all others, and that has made me the man that I am today.
I bought a tractor.
They say that in the days of the wild west there was a special bond that existed between a man and his horse. Well, I have no way of knowing whether that was true or not, but I can relate the fact that there is an attraction between me and my tractor that transcends time and space. Wherever I go, my tractor is near me - in spirit if not in reality. And I take care of it just as in those moments, after a heavy rain or snow, or when the grass in the pasture is knee-high, or when I've got some heavy lifting that needs to be done, and I call upon my tractor for help, it has always been there for me.
When we moved from Kentucky to the Detroit area in 1996, I left my beloved Ford 9N tractor behind, prompting my need for a new one when we got settled. After a short search, I came upon this Ferguson TEA20 in Ortonville, Michigan that the owner had fixed up and was attempting to sell. I say "fixed up" because it looked like it had been used as a battering ram over the years and was in pretty rough shape. I used the term "over the years" because the tractor was built in 1952. As any vintage tractor man can tell you, you are able to determine the age of your tractor from the serial number on the engine block (assuming the block has never been replaced), and thank God for the internet, there are sites from which you can find the year your tractor was built based on that number. The downside to owning this particular tractor was that it was built in Coventry, England for domestic (make that European) use. Which meant all the screws, nuts, bolts, etc. are metric (my guess is that the tractor was exported to Canada where they have no better sense than do the English when it comes to weights and measures). You can imagine how hard it is to come by parts here in the USA for a 52 year-old machine that was intended to be used in Europe.
But a bond was quickly formed. As my wife can attest, the only vehicle that I own that is never exposed to weather is my tractor. It has its own building at the entrance to my property and is never left out at night. Unlike my trucks, ATV, and car, the mechanics of which I make no great effort to understand, I know my tractor. I know carburetion. I know hydraulics. I know the charging system. I know the starting system. And I've learned - begrudgingly - the metric system. In the eight years that I've owned it, I've completely rewired it, I've repainted it, I've upgraded parts on it, and I've kept it in excellent working order. And I've found joy in the process. I remember the time when I wanted to mount a rear tail light on the tractor - the original one had disappeared at some point in time in the past - and so I did what any self-respecting vintage tractor man does, I went to Ebay. Low and behold, somebody who had no idea what it was that he was selling (fool!), had listed one for sale as a "car brake light." I recognized it immediately for what it was - a taillight for my 1952 Ferguson tractor. I gambled with an opening bid of $4.00, being fully prepared to go a lot higher, but nobody else seemed to be interested in an old light. Go figure. So It was mine.
Now my tractor can be ornery. The carburetor needs seasonal adjustments. I don't know why. And I think the oil pressure gauge is sometimes playing tricks on me. And it's crying out for a new leveling arm. But when I am in need, my tractor is always there for me. Plowing snow. Grading the driveway. Mowing pastures. Harrowing. Hauling.
So if you have an overwhelming feeling of angst or feel like you are drifting through life without purpose, take my advice. Go out and buy yourself a brand new 1952 Ferguson TEA20 (gasoline) tractor. Your world will never be the same. Your life will be complete.
* Originally published on September 20, 2004
** Photo depicts Dylan Swank, Lisa's son, piloting the old Ferguson TEA 20, around 1999.