Father’s Day is just two days away, and I suppose that has me thinking about my Dad. He passed away back in 2005… hard to believe it’s been that long. But as I say, I’ve been thinking about him, and I remembered a few incidents that still bring a smile to my face, and I’m pretty sure two of them happened in the same summer back in 1982.
One morning early (must have been ten AM, knowing my summer sleeping habits back in my High School days), Dad stuck his head into my room and told me he had just one job for me. He had baled hay in the south pasture (the one between the house and Hurdland, for those of you who know the area) and he wanted me to move the bales up near the barn. He was going to be somewhere else, I don’t remember where, but I do remember that he said all I had to do was that one job and I was done for the day. Sounded good to me.
By the time I was dressed, he was already gone. I walked out the back door and immediately noted he had left me just the Allis-Chalmer One Seventy tractor (that’s how it read on the side of the cowl, One Seventy, not the number 170 but the words, and in italic no less). At that time he had two tractors, the Allis and a larger John Deere. Well, I didn’t really care; in fact, the Allis was just a bit easier to drive, so I was fine with it.
The bales, though… they were wet, and thus pretty heavy. Dad had just switched from small bales, the kind you pick up with a hay hook and your own muscles, to large bales, the ones you used a fork or spike on the back of a tractor to move. Dad had taught me that, when moving heavy bales, you lift them only just off of the ground; that way, if the bale is too heavy and lifts the front of the tractor, the bale slips off and the tractor doesn’t flip over.
Flipping a tractor over onto yourself is not a good idea. Just in case that’s not obvious.
So I spent the remaining bit of the morning and half the afternoon (give or take) driving repetitively back and forth from the barn to the pasture. Most of the bales weren’t too hard to move, but a few lay down in the draw where they had soaked up more moisture. One was really heavy… I dropped it off the back several times, and was getting pretty frustrated. I couldn’t just run up the hill, I had to drive around it kind of slowly, or the front would come up and the bale would fall off. But I got it done.
When I was finished, I put the tractor away and went back to goofing off. When Dad came home, the look on his face made me wonder if I had done something wrong. “Did you move all those bales with the Allis?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, “it’s all you left me.”
For a moment he stood there, and then he just shook his head. “I thought I left you the John Deere,” he said. “I can’t believe you moved them all with that little tractor.” Then he just turned around and walked off.
I’ll always remember that look of incredulity, though. That I had gone ahead and moved the bales with the “wrong” tractor, and that I had succeeded, had somehow impressed Dad, but I’m not sure if he was more impressed with my skills or with my insanity.
It runs in the family, though.
Later that same summer, Dad told me we were going to the south farm (down near Locust Hill, for those of you keeping score) where he had baled a bunch of straw. Our mission was to move the straw from the field on the bottom (in the extreme southwestern corner of the farm) to the machine shed (in the extreme northeastern corner of the farm). In between were a couple of hills, one of them pretty tall, and good old Muddy Fork, the creek that cuts the south farm in half.
In case you don’t know, straw is lighter than hay, but it was a little wet still, so Dad told me he would be taking the Allis and I would be running the John Deere. With two tractors, we got the work done in half the time, which was good because there were a lot of bales.
At one point, I was coming down the hill from the machine shed, and I saw Dad on the Allis with a bale on the back rounding the hill on the other side of Muddy Fork, and he was obviously in road gear… the One Seventy was flying, at least for a tractor.
Then I realized… he was rounding that corner fast enough with a heavy bale on the spike that he had the inside rear wheel of the tractor off the ground.
It was my turn to wear the incredulous look. I mean, damn.
He let off the hand clutch and hit the brakes just before he got to the creek crossing, swung the sharp corner neatly and crossed over without incident. I think he even waved as he went up the hill past me… at least, that’s how I remember it.
Dad and I worked together a lot after I was in High School. For some reason, neither I nor my brothers was expected to help much when we were younger… I really don’t know why. But when I was old enough and tall enough to work a tractor, Dad put me to work with him. We fixed a lot of fence, hammering steeples into hedge posts that didn’t want to hold them; later I helped him build new fences on the home place, fences made of steel posts instead of hedge, to which you attach the wire with more wire instead of steeples or nails. Dad hated white oak posts… they look nice, but they rot out too fast. Hedge is hard to work with and looks like crap, but it lasts almost as long as steel.
Dad always complained that fences I lined up curved just a little bit, but he kept taking me out to line them up. I suspect he might not have actually been better at that than me, or why else would he keep having me do it?
But we worked well together. Dad didn’t really understand my interests, but when we had a project going, I was the only one who understood what he was doing. I was the one who understood his hand signs; when we were running the elevator, or the feed grinder, or whatever, I knew what all his strange signals meant. I’m not sure anyone else did, at least not reliably.
I miss that now. What I’d give to spend a miserably hot afternoon building a fence with my Dad right now…