Thursday, October 13, 2016

Remembering the Farm: Tractors of my Youth

Dad farmed with horses until 1950 when he bought his first tractor, a Massey Harris 33. The dealer wanted $600 for the used tractor and the bank would loan 2/3.  So the dealer wrote out a bill for $900, showed dad as having paid $300 and the bank coughed up the $600.  The pretty much describes my dad's dealing with banks for the next 50 years.

My brother and I helping Dad feed the cattle with the MH 33. c 1951
The tractor was rated at 28 hp.  It had a pulley for belt driven stationary equipment such as a saw or grain chopper.  It had a 540 rpm PTO but it was not "live", which is to say when you stepped on the clutch whatever machine (eg swather or combine) it was driving also stopped operating.  This was not good when harvesting as you could easily plug the combine if you were not fast enough getting the tractor out of gear and releasing the clutch. It did not have hydraulics of any kind. That didn't matter much as we had no equipment at that time that needed it.

Dad traded it after a couple of years for an Oliver 77.  It had 37 hp and live 540 rpm PTO.  But no hydraulics. Dad bought a Char-Lynn hydraulic pump which was driven by the PTO and made life much easier as he bought a 12' deep tillage cultivator and a 12' discer both of which were equipped with hydraulic lift.  The 12' swather and Massey Harris Clipper combine remained manual lift as they needed the PTO to drive them.

Oliver 88
In the late 1950s Dad traded the Oliver 77 for an Oliver 88. It was rated at 46 hp, live 540 rpm PTO and built-in hydraulics.  The built-in hydraulics meant Dad could buy a Du-Al front end loader in 1958 which lasted the rest of his farming life. It was a great investment for our farm. The Oliver 88 was the tractor I learned on as a 12 year old boy, running the deep tillage cultivator, 21' double disc or harrows as well as the swather in the fall.  The swather was still lever lift and it took all my strength to move it.

Then in the early 1960s Dad got a Cockshutt 40 Perkins Diesel rated at 55 hp.  This had power enough that we could move up to a 15' discer and 15' deep tillage cultivator.  The front end loader fit the new tractor with a little work and remained there for the next 45 years. This was the tractor I spent my highschool years on: seeding, working summerfallow, combining.  It was expected that boys would miss at least a week of school in spring and again in fall.

None of these tractors had cabs.  You worked in the heat or the cold and the ever present dust and the noise.  To this day, I blame the tractor for some of my hearing loss and my father's also. Open tractors had some disadvantages.  I had stopped to grease the equipment one day and our dog, who always tagged along, managed to flush a skunk who proceeded to flush him.  He was in agony, having taken the load of spray directly into his face.  He came running to me for sympathy.  I am standing on the tractor seat hoping he can't jump or climb up.  Eventually he gave up but he was mad.  With nothing to lose, he went back after the skunk and finished him off.  Took a while for him to smell normal again but he survived and so did I.

Picking rocks, Dad on the Cockshutt tractor, me doing the picking, 
With small equipment came long hours.  By the time I was in highschool, Dad farmed 7 quarters, 4.5 cultivated and 2.5 in native pasture.  Summerfallow made up at least 25% of the cultivated acres and required cultivation several times in the year, plus preworking land for seeding.  Cultivating was boring but enjoyable. Your GPS was a distant fence post and all you had to do was keep it straight with minimum overlap.  You could sing at the top of your lungs or what I enjoyed more was simply thinking about stuff.  I never minded the sound of my own thoughts and don't to this day.

Many the lunch or supper was eaten either in the truck or on the tractor.  Mom would pack food and a thermos of coffee in a knapsack (we didn't have backpacks in those days) and you headed out after breakfast or after school.  In cold weather you put on numerous layers and last of all the ubiquitous one piece coveralls.  When lunch was a quart sealer of home made pork and beans, the coveralls which were airtight except at the collar were a disadvantage.

Dad had more tractors after that but these were the ones I remember from when I was growing up.

Illustration of how a Power Take Off (PTO) transfers power from the tractor engine
 to the implement.  Early PTOs were 540 rpm, modern ones are 1000 rpm


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Pretty basic compared to today's big behemoths with the air-conditioned cabs, wifi and GPS, eh? Course they cost an arm and a leg too now.

The Blog Fodder said...

I expect not many 12 year old boys operate $400,000 tractors with all the hi-tech needed for seeding or spraying

Kulkuri said...

I think Cockshutt made the Co-op tractors.

The Blog Fodder said...

Yes, they did. Dad may even have bought the tractor from Coop Implements as the manager was a long time friend.

Diane Henders said...

Thanks for a trip down memory lane! (And a chuckle at "the coveralls which were airtight except at the collar were a disadvantage"!)

Our tractors were the IH FarmAll H ( and the slightly newer IH FarmAll M ( One of our neighbours rigged up a canvas sunshade on his tractor, but that was considered slightly wussy and nobody else did it. Another neighbour actually had a cab on his tractor! And it had a front-end loader, too, which we regarded with with wistful envy as unattainable. If Dad was alive today, I don't know whether he'd remember the FarmAll with fondness or consider it good riddance.

The Blog Fodder said...

I know those tractors. My second cousins' dad who farmed two miles down the road had several FarmAlls. The oldest of the boys, now retired from farming, has several which he has rebuilt and painted up. Something to keep in the machine shed.
Anyone with a front-end loader was considered fortunate. It was one of the best investments Dad ever made, I think.

Shammickite said...

I like those older pieces of farm machinery. We had a small hobby farm, and used an Allis Chalmers row crop tractor with the two front wheels close together, no idea what the model number or HP might have been. It was orange.

The Blog Fodder said...

There the odd Allis around our area but no row croppers

Shoshanah Marohn said...

Those are great old pictures!

Some of the tractors cost $200,000 now. I don't understand it. $900 is more my scale. We have an ATV that pulls farm equipment. It's pretty much the same idea! We wear the noise blocking headphones. :)

Thanks for sharing.

The Blog Fodder said...

Thanks for dropping by and commenting. The big tractors are more in the $350-$400 thousand range, I am afraid.

Shoshanah Marohn said...

That's insane! I wonder how farmers make money? I raise sheep, and I make no money off of it, so far.

The Blog Fodder said...

Farm large acres, produce large quantities, control costs per unit, market wisely

Heidi Sutton said...

I love the pictures you shared along with the story; they look straight out of a history book and compliment what you wrote well. Tractors sure have come a long way since then, huh? My husband's tractor is a beast and has all the bells and whistles, but it's interesting to see where the technology started.

The Blog Fodder said...

Thank you, Heidi. Yes, today's tractors are not the kind you let a 12 year old kid learn how to drive with today's implements.

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