I never worked horses. They were long gone by August, 1949 when we moved back to Pap’s home place on Cacapon River from Maryland where he’d worked in animal disease research for the Federal Government. I was barely five years old and new to the country and farming.
Our first tractor came from my Grandfather Cook in Chillicothe, Ohio. Grandpa made Pap a deal he couldn’t refuse on his Ford 9N tractor, two bottom plows, a side mounted mower and iron, bolt on, rear “paddle wheels”. I still have “Isaac” (Grandpa’s name given to the tractor) which still runs and the iron wheels it hasn’t worn for sixty years.
Isaac wasn’t first tractor I ever drove, though. First solo drive was a Farmall, a Cub, I think. Bright red. Smaller than gray Isaac with driver’s platform offset to the right of the engine, out front. From where I sit writing today I can see the field where Mr. Angus Jenkins, Foreman of adjoining Reymann Memorial Farm, first set me up in that tractor’s seat.
I had the steering wheel figured out, except I wasn’t strong enough to turn it unless tractor was moving. He showed me the small throttle handle and told me not to touch it. He’d take care of it.
The clutch pedal was for stop and go. Problem was that I had to nearly slide off the seat to push it down far enough to stop. Seats weren’t made adjustable in those days. Death grip on bottom of the steering wheel was all that let me slide down far enough to stop and then pull myself back up into the seat to go. My stops were slow. My starts were abrupt jerks.
First driving chore was pulling a hay wagon which the crew was loading with baled hay. I don’t remember all their names now, but they were my angels because I was in heaven. I’d drift a little too close to bales and someone would jump on the hitch behind me and help me steer to miss a bale. I’ve claimed I was eight years old on that solo drive, though I don’t really know for sure. I only know I was doing man’s work with a real farm crew. Thank you, Mr. Angus.
Second driving chore I remember was with Isaac. Because the State Farm had only hay baler in our area and we couldn’t borrow it, we still made hay loose. A long heavy rope connected Isaac’s drawbar through a series of wooden pulleys to a hay fork used to lift loose hay off loaded wagons, up and into our high barn mows. When the man on the wagon who set the fork hollered “GO” I drove slowly straight ahead, lifting hay, a big fork full at a time, up to a track which guided the lift across the barn to a high mow. When man in the barn yelled “WHOA”, I stopped, he pulled a smaller line to drop the lift. His “OK” brought me back to starting point again for next trip. Perhaps a half dozen pulls per load were sufficient to empty a wagon.
That hay was mostly mowed, raked and shocked in our lower river bottom land. Isaac pulled empty wagon back to the field for another hand loading. I think third driving job I did was probably pulling our old dump hay rake. Built to be pulled by horses, we put a pin hitch tongue in it and used it behind Isaac.
Pap sent Floyd Strosnider and me over to rake hay one morning. I wasn’t strong enough to dump the rake, which required coordinated arm and leg power, but by then I was able to follow the edge of unraked hay at a steady pace with the tractor. Raking consisted of dropping curved gathering tines until they filled, then dumping their load on the go. Trick was to dump successive passes up and down the field in a string so that a “windrow” was built up. From the windrow, hay could be loaded directly onto a wagon or shocked in place for future hauling to our barn.
This column was influenced by sight of a big mow fork just like the one I still have in a pile of old farm iron work. This sighting was in a restaurant, the fork hanging as a decorative piece on a wall. I wondered how many guests seated near me had any idea what it was or how it was used. I saw no man sitting around me who might have ever used one. I felt special.