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September 2010 Archive for Your Favorite Tractor

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Tractor Lessons

Sep 29, 2010

By Margret Aldrich. This story first appeared in "My First Tractor" which is available at bookstores and online booksellers and from

Margret Aldrich is an editor and writer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband Gary and sons Abe, age three, and Asher, age one. While Margret enjoys driving her VW station wagon, she looks back fondly on the days of driving tractor on the family farm near Beaver, Iowa. In this story, history repeats itself as her dad gives Margret and then Abe their very first tractor lessons. Driver’s ed was never so much fun. . . .

“The first thing you need to learn about driving a tractor is how to shut it off,” my dad said matter-of-factly, looking me straight in the eye and pointing a finger at my nose. This was how he began my inaugural tractor-driving lesson, which was a rite of passage for every farmkid. I knew that this was serious business.

Tractor Lessons 1It was summertime in central Iowa, and I had just finished fourth grade. The corn, soybeans, and alfalfa were in the ground; our flock of sheep was in the pasture; and since Dad had some extra time on his hands (and a ten-year-old girl to entertain), he thought this might be a good time to begin tractor-driving lessons. I had been on a tractor plenty—sitting on Dad’s lap and “helping” him steer as he plowed a field or drove a wagon of beans the two miles to the elevator—but I hadn’t been tall enough to reach the clutch and break pedals and, therefore, hadn’t been old enough for driving lessons. Like the amusement park signs that said, “You must be this high to ride,” I had to pass the clutch-pedal test before I would be allowed to pilot the tractor.

So, before he imparted any further tractor wisdom, he motioned for me to climb up into the driver’s seat of the IH Farmall 806D and show him that I could press the clutch all the way to the floor. I pulled myself up into the seat. It felt good up there. I looked to my right at our farmhouse and felt about as tall as the third-floor attic window. Over my left shoulder, I saw our border collie patrolling around the sheep in the east pasture, subtly herding them into a loose group. I enjoyed the scene for just a moment then took a deep breath, grabbed onto the steering wheel, and stomped on the clutch as hard as I could. It groaned as I pushed it down, down, down—all the way to the floor.

“All right,” said Dad, “that means you’re ready!” In one motion, he climbed up beside me and started up the engine, because, as he had promised, our first lesson would be shutting it off.
“How do you think you do it?” he said over the roar of the engine.
“Turn the key off!” I yelled. I tried, but the key didn’t do it.

Dad moved the long throttle handle behind the steering wheel all the way to the left to cut off the fuel supply, and the engine stopped. He started it up again and let me kill the engine. Lesson one, check! I was anxious to get moving and tear out of the gravel driveway.

Well, as with most tractors, that Farmall wasn’t exactly going to tear anywhere. I suppose that was the beauty of teaching me to drive a tractor rather than one of my grandpa’s beat-up drag-racing cars. I wouldn’t be moving fast enough to do any damage. The rest of the lesson creeped along, too, and went something like this.
Step one: Turn on the key so the battery connects to the starter.
Step two: Move the throttle a little to the right so the engine gets some fuel.
Step three: Push the clutch pedal all the way down until it engages the safety switch.
Step four: Keep your right hand on the steering wheel for bracing. Then with your free hand, push in the starter button.

With my skinny fourth-grade leg standing on the clutch, I had the best of intentions, but you know how the next few minutes went: Start, chug, stall. Start, chug, stall. Start, chug, stall. Until, finally, the tractor lurched forward, hiccupped, and kept going, breathing a black, smokey sigh of relief from its stack. We were on the move! Dad helped me steer the tractor onto the main road and then let me bump the throttle up bit by bit. The tractor roared louder and louder, vibrating every tooth in my head and every bone in my body. There was no sign of stalling now—I glanced down at the big back tires, and they seemed to be spinning at breakneck speed. On either side of the road, black fields were lined with straight, healthy rows of new plants, and red-winged blackbirds watched us from the fence posts.

We drove like that for a while, Dad offering up comments about the soybean crop or the cows eating grass near Beaver Creek, me loosening my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel ever so slightly.
Then, trouble. (I might have gasped, but the tractor was too loud for anyone to hear it.) Coming toward us was a big green machine—our neighbor, Mr. Hunter, on his new John Deere. My heart raced as I wondered how two tractors could possibly pass each other on that thin strip of gravel. We chugged closer. And closer. I felt like I was playing the slowest game of chicken the world had ever seen. I could read the seed logo stitched onto Mr. Hunter’s cap. I could see the dirt of a morning’s work on his face. Dad guided the tractor farther and farther to the right, until I was sure we were going to topple over into the ditch. Our Farmall and Mr. Hunter’s Deere finally met, with merely inches (I was sure of it) separating them. And then, the most wonderful thing happened: As our tractors squeaked by each other, Mr. Hunter looked at me, offered the hint of a smile, and lifted his index finger off of the steering wheel to say hello. I finger-waved back. The rite of passage was complete; I was a real farmkid now.

As the years went by, I graduated to faster-moving vehicles. By age twelve, I was allowed to drive Dad’s 1960 Chevy pick-up by myself as long as I stuck to gravel roads. If I had a friend with me, we were allowed to drive it only in the pasture. That was safe for innocent bystanders, but not for that poor old pickup. My best friend and I drove it as fast as we could over every bump in the field, knocking our heads on the ceiling and knocking the battery on top of the engine. It was a long walk to the house to tell my dad about that one; it made me think I should have stuck with tractors.

These days, I live in Minneapolis with my husband Gary and two young sons, but my parents are still on the farm. Not much has changed there, happily enough. The Farmall 806D and the ’60 Chevy are still around, though they’re now housed in a Morton building instead of the gray, weathered barn. The red-winged blackbirds still watch the comings and goings on the stretch of gravel that runs past the farmhouse, though the road is now called 210th Street instead of Rural Route 1. My husband, boys, and I like to visit as often as we can, and we celebrate every Christmas there. I particularly love being at the farmhouse toward the end of the summer, when the corn is high in the south field and the fireflies are thick in the evenings.

This summer, my oldest son Abe was two and a half when we were on the farm. Old enough to walk out to the old sheep barn with the dog (and me not too far behind); old enough to eat three ears of corn on the cob in one sitting; and old enough, I found out, to learn how to drive tractor.
Although he wasn’t even close to passing the clutch-pedal test, my dad (ever after known as Grandad) thought it was about time Abe had his first tractor lesson.

“That’s all right with me,” I said, and the two headed off to the machine shed.
“Now, Abe,” I heard my dad say. “When we’re done, I want you to tell me if the tractor was loud or if it was quiet.”
“Okay, Grandad,” Abe answered, as he practically galloped to the big, red tractor.

Abe scaled the Farmall and looked, I thought, particularly small in the driver’s seat with my dad. The two had a grand time. Abe took his steering duties quite seriously, only taking a hand off the wheel to wave at Gary and me as they left the driveway and headed for open road, his smile stretching from ear to ear.

When they finally pulled back into the driveway and turned off the tractor, my dad posed the question, “So, Abe, was the tractor loud or was it quiet?”
“It was LOUD, Grandad!” Abe answered approvingly.
Later that night, Gary jokingly asked my dad why he had never been invited to drive the Farmall. Apparently, Gary had never driven a tractor before.
“What?” Dad exclaimed. “Never driven a tractor? Well, don’t you worry, Gary. I’ll be sure you get to drive the Farmall all you want at Christmastime. And I’ll be sure there’s a snow blade on it.”

When we got back to Minneapolis after that visit, Abe was already thinking about the next time he would get to drive tractor with Grandad. I wondered if we should start practicing the index-finger wave, just to be prepared.

We put some pictures of Abe and the Farmall in a photo album and, later, I overheard him showing them to a friend.

“That’s me, that’s Grandad, and that’s MY tractor,” he explained. Could this former farmgirl’s heart be any more filled with pride?

Red Power Round Up Highlights Quilting Talent

Sep 29, 2010

The 21st annual national Red Power Roundup took place June 24 to 26 in LaPorte, Ind. In conjunction with the event, a Case IH "Red Tractor" quilting contest was held.

The quilts celebrated the Case IH and International Harvester history.

100 3021The winning entry was a sister partnership of Evie Schlief from Glenwood, Minn. and Ceci Loch from Gordon, Wis. As winners they received the $1,000 prize. Their entry was "A Man on his Tractor," a 78" by 92" quilt featuring fussy-cut patterned panels of vintage International Harvester tractors in farmyard settings with the historic "Red Driver I" inlaid in the sashing throughout the quilt.

The sisters are both members of the #26 Minn-Dak Red Power chapter, and Schlief says they've used Case IH equipment on their farm for more than 36 years.

Schlief's grandsons, ages three and six, were involved in the the quilt making. After the Roundup, the quilt went to the county fair, and it's now on display in Schlief's spare bedroom. She says when her grandson gets older, she's going to give him the quilt.

Only Survivor of the Series: 1946 Massey-Harris 101 Senior

Sep 28, 2010

You're looking at an extremely rare classic tractor. Only seven M-H 101 Senior Orchard models were built, and this is the only known survivor.

The 101 Senior Series was built in Racine, Wisc., from 1942 until 1946. It featured a 6-cyl. Continental industrial engine with a bore and stroke of 3 5/16" x 4 3/8". The motor had a rated speed of 1,500 rpm on the drawbar and was rated at both 1,500 and 1,800 rpm on the belt. At maximum rpm, it nearly produced 40 belt hp. The M-H 101 Junior had a 4-cyl. Continental engine.

1946 Massey Harris 101 Senior



Owner: Bill Parrish

Harrisonville, MO


This Massey-Harris collector specializes in standard tread models, including rare orchard versions. He does some restoring, farms out a few. Bill has about two dozen total, from cannibalized to pristine restorations. "Parts for older Masseys are almost impossible to find, so you buy extra tractors," the Show Me State collector points out.

The world-famous Classic Farm Tractor Calendar from Classic Tractor Fever is in its 21st year of publication with the 2010 calendar available now. They have calendars, videos, books, and much, much, more. Click here to visit their online shop.

Tractor Trendsetters: McCormick-Deering WD-40

Sep 15, 2010

Written By Larry Gay

It was not a surprise that every new farm tractor on display at the recent Farm Progress Show was powered by a diesel engine. In fact, it has been that way since 1978 when the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab evaluated its last tractor with a gasoline engine, the International 284 utility tractor.

Diesel engines first began to appear in U.S. crawler tractors in the early 1930s. Then 75 years ago, in 1935, International Harvester introduced the McCormick-Deering WD-40 and advertised it as “America’s first diesel-powered wheel tractor.” The WD-40 was the standard-tread W-40 tractor with the diesel engine from the McCormick-Deering TD-40 TracTracTor crawler. IH advertised it operated on diesel fuel which cost less than gasoline or kerosene and used one-third less fuel than a gasoline engine with the same horsepower. The WD-40 was rated as a 4-plow tractor with 44 belt horsepower and 28 drawbar horsepower. It could be equipped with steel wheels with a variety of lugs or rubber tires. A PTO and lights were optional. 

This early diesel engine had four cylinders with a 4.75-inch bore and a 6.50-inch stroke, resulting in a 460-cubic-inch displacement. The engine started with gasoline and then switched to diesel. As a result, the engine had a unique appearance with the left side looking like a diesel engine with an injection pump and four fuel lines. However, the right side of the engine had the appearance of a gasoline engine with a carburetor, magneto, and spark plugs. An auxiliary combustion chamber for the gasoline operation was provided for each cylinder and after the engine was warm, the auxiliary chambers were automatically closed and the engine switched to operating with diesel fuel in the regular combustion chambers.

During the 25 years from 1935 to 1960, diesel engines for farm tractors grew in popularity as farmers recognized the advantages of a diesel engine. During 1940 and 1941, the diesel-powered Oliver 80, Farmall MD, and the McCormick-Deering WD-6 and WD-9 tractors were introduced. Large standard-tread tractors by the 1950s were available with diesel engines and for some models, diesel was the only choice. By the mid-1950s, most tractor manufacturers offered a choice of diesel, gasoline, or LP-gas engines for row-crop tractors. Diesel engines started becoming available for utility tractors by the end of the 1950s.

Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. These books may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or, click publications and then click history books.


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