Thursday, September 1, 2016


There were tractor names
I quickly grew to love.
Massey-Ferguson was my
favorite. What a beautiful
product name. Allis-Chalmers
was another. They did merge
eventually. But there were
some Massey-Ferguson
models around Columbia
Crossroads and Troy, PA  -
where a dealer was  -  that
were stunning. A few from
the late 1950's (really only
12-or 15 years old, nothing
for tractors) that were pure
visual delights. I immediately
found myself at a crossroads
(not pun, not Columbia)  - in
that these things were tractors,
man, tractors. Not 'Visual'
delight crap.  Utility. Use.
Work. Right off, that was
my conflict. In a hardware
store, looking at the beautiful
shapes and forms and certain
finishes on shovels and
hammers. Here, in this
countryside of work and
toil, use and need, I could be
seen surely as a crazy-man.
Aesthetics in Farmville?
Nutso. I had to learn to
rein all that in  -  these people
had no idea, had a completely
different viewpoint, and just
did not look at things in that
fashion. Be careful, buddy, be
careful, you'll blow that nice
cover you've established.
Everywhere there were
tractors. The old ones,
beautiful relics, if no longer
running, were often to be 
found just tucked in sheds,
behind barns, under covers.
I used to wish I had a million
dollars dedicated just to
buying up all that precious
old steel I'd see. Tractors
everywhere. Stuff I'd never
heard of : 'Silver King', which
had ceased production in 1957
or so, and which was basically
a Chrysler/Plymouth tractor
brand but which lost a legal
battle over use of the name;
'Minneapolis-Moline', which
also ceased any production
about '57 too  -  a huge,
blundering beast of tractor
force and power-plant. Like
the snorting hot-rod of its
agri-day; 'Ford', and
then, almost humorously,
'Fordson', which was a
smaller tractor, squat,
muscular, tough, that Henry
Ford named for, well, his
son!; 'John Deere', of course;
'Farmall', a brand name which
was everywhere around, they
seemed tight, tall, and strong,
always in red. Everyone had
one; 'New Holland', another
brand I loved; 'Case'; 'Oliver',
always green, and a great
brand; and then there was a
really nice one, seldom seen,
but around some  -  'David
Brown'. I never knew much
about that brand, but saw a
few, really nice. By the
mid-'80's, things had started
changing: Volvo, Kubota,
and  some other Japanese
names. There's even a
'Porsche' tractor around.
I was fascinated by all that
heritage, all those old names
from the American past  -
'the plow that broke the
plains', as Virgil Thomson
put it; the way the engines
just hung out there, open to
the air, on most anyway, built
into the really rugged frame;
the weird metal seats, those
two little turn-wheels, real
low and small, way out front.
The fenders, and the lights on
the fenders, when that all started
happening, or like car-style,
lights and stuff began to be
built into the fenders. Turn
signals. Beeps. By the time
all the new, really modern and
expensive stuff began coming
out, most farmers around me
were going broke and there
wasn't really any call  -  nor
any large enough farms for
that sort of thing - 300 acres
around there was about tops.
The newer tractors were being
built more for out on the Great
Plains, the thousands of acres
per farm or irrigated wheat or
soy; big time stuff where the
tractor guy was out for the day,
riding on the field  -  hot sun
and weather. The new rigs
had cabins, gauges and dials,
windshields and wipers too;
radios, even air conditioning  -
just like a big-time semi-trailer
or car. All those old tractors
of my own heart were as
outmoded and primitive as
spit. No matter  -  that's where
all things were for me.
Though that had little to
do with this, there was a
wonderful US Resettlement
Agency, Farm Bureau, 1936
Depression era film out, by
some guy named Pare Lorentz,
with music and a soundtrack
by composer Virgil Thomson.
It was called 'The Plow That
Broke the Plains', and it had
long before taken my spirit
and pulled it back from the
dead. Great narration, with
wonderful music and pictures.
How to transfer any of that
into the farm aesthetics of
1973? Well, that I didn't
yet know. I just watched
and kept quiet.
I grew, also, to love wood  -
there are some old barn panels
and wooden sheds and the
like, where the aged and
lingering patina of the old
wood has turned the just-so
side of a curled black/brown
that has to be seen to be
believed; that has hardened
and curled itself just enough
to show the decades; that
has pulled against, and
sometimes dislodged, the
primitive, nativist nails
which had held it in
place; and where the grain
of the very wood itself
has separated into planar
segments, drying apart
from each other, widening
and splitting, while yet
remaining secure and
in place. I've seen large
barns and old sheds that
literally lean, 8 or 9 degrees,
I'm guessing, to one side
or the other, bending
into the landscape around
them, forcing nothing but
reciprocating all, and where
the doors and jambs still fit
and function, at almost weird,
funhouse, leans. Buildings
that have broken their own
glass windows with the slow
twist and turn and pressure
of the slowly falling world
they are in. The creak and
the groan of old lumber.
The snap of sundering.
It was like that in most
every direction  -  I was
in the very situation I'd
imagined  -  a pleurisy of
the lungs could have been 
no different. Constriction,
Difficulty breathing. All
the new things presented to
me were demanding to be
accepted on the most literal,
boring levels  - so as to be
'going along', but to me they
each presented completely 
different and deeper and
more meaningful levels, 
about which I couldn't say 
a thing. I felt like Andrew
Wyeth painting 'Christina's
World' and gazing at a 
young 'model' girl in the 
field with people only 
seeing it as an artist
appreciating the scene  -  
while actually he was 
head over heels with 
the poor, crippled girl 
before him. Man, was it
ever something else. 

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