It's always nice when a father and son can bond by going out and getting plowed.
The recent arrival of frosty mornings was a portent of things to come and a reminder that we will soon need more shelter than can be provided by a poor tent. Combines are chewing through corn and soybeans, colossal bees busily gathering the season's nectar. The lonesome moan of these gigantic machines carries for miles in the crisp fall air. At nighttime, the lumbering leviathans light up the fields like mobile Christmas trees.
I took these as clear signs that the growing season had ground to an end, and that it was time for fall tillage in the patch of ground we call our garden.
Thank goodness I have the exact set of tools needed to do this job properly: a 1949 John Deere "A" and an ancient International Harvester plow. And by "ancient" I mean "it was probably originally purchased by a Neanderthal man."
But it does the job, which is all that counts. That and the fact that I purchased the plow for cheap at a junkyard. I literally rescued the crusty, rusty old thing from the scrapheap.
The "A" has been in our family for about five decades now. The tractor sat moldering in the weeds until a couple of years ago, when I decided to resurrect the old girl. Among other things, this involved the purchase of pistons, rings, a gasket set and a head job. The cost of it all caused my wife to often remark that the tractor wasn't the only one who needed a head job.
But the venerable "A" now pops gaily along and pulls the two bottom, 16" plow like a seasoned Belgian workhorse leaning into its well-worn harness. I figure that the more autumns I use her to plow the garden, the cheaper it becomes. I would guess that we are currently averaging a mere several hundred dollars per plowing.
Our youngest son recently came home for the weekend. We would like to think that we're such "hip" and "cool" people that he came just to see us but hunting opportunities and a bachelor party for one of his buddies may have been part of the equation.
I mentioned that it was time to plow the garden, and he expressed an interest in assisting. He even added that he would like to drive the "A," saying it would be a new experience for him.
This took me by surprise. I had assumed he had put in some time on the "A" when he was a kid, but I was assured this was not the case. We decided to immediately remedy that situation.
Both our boys have jobs that involve high technology, so it's quite a throwback to operate a machine that is nearly as old as me. Many farmers now have tractors that can do everything but brush the operator's teeth with the flick of a switch. Our "A" is so ancient, the operator has to do all the thinking himself.
I got the boy up onto the operator's platform and gave him the same instructions I received when I was nine years old and drove the "A" for the first time.
"There's the clutch. There's the throttle. Don't kill yourself."
After a jerky start and some confusion about which way the throttle lever goes, we got the "A" down to the garden. I set the levers on the plow and instructed him to aim down the center of the garden.
"OK," I said after all was ready, "Now pull the rope and go!"
He pulled the plow's trip rope and went. The trouble is, he kept pulling the trip rope, causing the plow to keep going into and out of the ground. It looked as if he was trying to draw a huge dotted line across the garden.
He stopped, and I clarified that you only need to pull the trip rope once to get the plow into the ground and once again to lift it out. He circled around and lined up for another run.
Things went better the second time, except that the plow plugged with garden residue. And he also pulled the rope an extra time and cut a deep groove into the lawn.
"Is this how it always worked?" he asked as we yanked trash from the plow.
"Yeah. A used Kleenex could plug these old plows," I said.
"There's a lot going on with this rig," he said. "The clutch, the throttle, the brakes, the rope. You really have to think!"
Some dirt must have gotten in my eyes because they suddenly watered. And there was sense of bonding deeper than any furrow.