Monday, February 7, 2011

Confessions of a tractor-challenged farmer...

Hi Loyal Followers!  I know it's been a while....But what can I say, the writing comes when the inspiration strikes.  This story is a bit of different take, more about myself than the family characters.  But then again, maybe I am a character!  (A girl has to dream...).  Hope you like it!
I had to admit I was a hopeless case the day I tried to drive the tractor with only three of its usual four wheels.
It wasn't driving the three-wheeled tractor that was the final straw.  Afterall, that was accidental.  How was I to know that my father had discovered a flat, had jacked the tractor up to remove the front right tire, and left it like that?  Deceptively level and upright, I might add (in my defense!).
 I approached tractor from back, climbed on via the left side and did not notice the missing front right tire until the subsequent - bang, clank, screech - as I backed off the jack and landed on the rim, screeching across the concrete barn floor.  Oops.
(BTW - This did teach me a important lesson in tractor maintenance.  For the record. - before operating tractor, walk around the ENTIRE tractor assuring all wheels are present.  Very important.) 
No, this accidental incident wasn't what made me have to face and admit my inherent ineptness with tractors (and most things mechanical).  What did that?  Well, after the horrible - bang, clank, screech - and as I sat atop a now somewhat lopsided tractor, I did momentarily consider, albeit briefly, whether I could "still drive it like that."
I immediately banished such blasphemous thoughts from my head and proceeded to take the most prudent actions – namely exiting the scene as quickly as possible.  My father, Mr. small-engine, big-engine, driving a semi truck with 2 million miles, diesel and old equipment mechanic extraordinaire…. returns, fixed tire in hand and asks “Georgie, what happened to the tractor?” one eyebrow arched dubiously.
I profess complete and total denial.  “I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”
But I could escape the truth no more.  I suck at tractors.
Unfortunately for me, my tractor fiasco history precedes me.  Greatly.
There was the time I tried to clean the spark plugs.  Father left for three weeks and gave me instructions on how tp clean the spark plugs on the reluctant tractor when she (all tractors are she, I do KNOW that much!) starting acting sluggish.  I brought along one of my eager, doe-eyed farm interns.  Some good farm learning to be had here! 
So we diligently took all the plugs off, cleaned them up with the wire brush, as instructed.  And then, as we reattached wires and plugs to sparks, asked the question – “Hmm…does it matter if they go in the same order as before?”
Well, Yes…It… Does!  Two days later, complicated, multiple attempts at putting on plugs this way and that way and then this way but not that way, we gave up.  And waited for father to come back.  Obviously something was inherently very wrong with the spark plugs.  Maybe something major was broken.  Definitely a big issue.
Father comes home.  Five minutes later and the tractor is started.  My father drives by me on said “broken” tractor, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.  I try and salvage the situation and say to my, now suspicious, no longer doe-eyed farm intern. 
“And so THAT’S WHY you clean and replace ONLY one spark plug at a time.”
There was another time I couldn’t figure out where to refill the water in the 1954 Farmall cultivating tractor.  Once again, father was out of town.  And I had heard this statement before that “Oil and water don’t mix.”  So, keeping this slice of wisdom in mind, this led me to believe I had probably better not pour water into anything that smelled like oil.  Well, it’s an old tractor.  Everything smells like oil. Or gas.  Or a little bit of both.
Finally, I swallowed my pride and called one of my neighbors.  I returned from some errands to find a sign on my tractor “Water goes here.”  Ah the shame.  Almost as bad as letting your weeds go to seed.
I can never, ever remember the names of parts and things.  I have a complicated list of “thinga-majiggies” and “do-hickeys” and “watchama-bobs” that need to be fixed with one of those, you know, cranky tools that you can loosen and tighten stuff.  You know, a, “what is it called” oh yeah a “crescent wrench!”  I also, to my husband’s everlasting amusement, continually confuse which one is a screw and which is a nut.
For years, I was sensitive that this inherent, embarrassing, debilitating mechanical stupidity was gender related.  Yeah, I’m a girl farmer.  So what????  I can get dirty with the best of them (and usually do).  I don’t mind manure (one of my favorite smells) and eating dirty vegetables straight out of the field is one of my favorite things to do.  I can out-work and out-lift many men I’ve worked with.  But I DEFINITELY became the stereotypical “dumb blond” when it comes to tractors.
So I felt bad about my “female failings” until my Dad told me a story about my grandfather.  My much revered grandfather, famous for his strength, his common sense, his love of horses and his great humor.
This was the day we were digging potatoes.  I preceded to break one part, which apparently still allowed the digger to keep working (although not that well) until it proceeded to break another, more significant, part, at which point no more potatoes. 
My Father.  “Didn’t you hear the awful racket when you broke the (obvious tractor part word inserted here which I just remember as the “do-hickey”).”
Me:  “Well, yes.   It did made a lot of noise.  But it ALWAYS makes a lot of noise.”
Father.  Shakes head and rolls eyes. (Again!).  “You’re just like your grandfather.  He’d drive the field in circles until he got high-centered on all the parts he had been breaking off and leaving behind him.”
Apparently, he too, had the “tractor inept” gene!  So now, at least, I can own up to my tractor woes.  It’s not a failure on my gender  - it’s a failure on my genetic structure!  And since my father shares the same DNA, it is obvious to me what the problem is.  Tractor smarts skip a generation!  So now, I have high hopes for my two daughters.  I’m sure there must be a mechanic in there somewhere…
“Hey girls!  Now which one of you can tell me the name of this cranky, do-hickey thing? No really, I have no idea…”