Cliff was born in Versailles, Missouri, but he was raised in Kansas City. His only ties to farm life were aunts, uncles, and grandparents in Morgan County. We've been talking about his love of tractors this morning because I'm trying to document the journey of a city boy who becomes a tractor addict. He's told me many times about his lifelong fascination with tractors, but I wanted details.
I asked him, "What is the biggest tractor you ever drove before you married me?"
"Jim (an uncle) let me drive his John Deere B one time," he answered.
"By yourself?" I asked.
"Yeah, but he was standing on the drawbar behind me." Obviously Cliff wasn't very old at the time.
When we bought our first place, my dad sold us an old Minneapolis Moline with no brakes. so Cliff finally owned a tractor. Then we bought an old Ford 8-N, a big improvement over the Moline, and later traded it in on an Oliver 550. Now he was sitting in tall cotton! About that time John Deere came out with the 4020, and a local farmer bought one. One time Cliff saw the guy on his big tractor plowing a field and pulled over to watch. He sat there so long, the farmer finally stopped and asked him if he needed something. Cliff loved those big tractors with lots of horsepower. He knew he'd never own one, or even get to operate one, but he enjoyed watching them at work.
All my uncles were farmers, as well as some cousins. My mom's side of the family got together often on various holidays. Before I met Cliff, I used to complain about the conversations being boring at our Stevens family dinners because the men only discussed farm-related topics, especially tractors. Hey, I was a teenager... what do you expect?
Of course all this was right up Cliff's alley. In his book, there's nothing more interesting than men talking about tractors. At the first of these gatherings he attended, my cousin Gerald greeted him, introduced himself, and made him feel welcome. Over the years, thanks to Gerald, Cliff's keen interest in tractors soared to new heights.
When I had our babies, Gerald and his wife were having babies around the same time. We'd travel north to visit them and compare babies. Cliff always went outside to look over the tractors on the farm. One spring Gerald asked if Cliff would be interested in coming up for a couple of days and helping him do some field work. Cliff's dream was about to come true!
Gerald put Cliff on his biggest tractor, an Allis Chalmers D-19 with (get this) DUALS on it, pulling a spring-tooth harrow. Cliff was beside himself with excitement. Gerald was following behind him on the D-17, planting. Cliff made too sharp a turn at one point, and the spring-tooth harrow hit a tire and climbed up on it, scaring and embarrassing my poor husband. No permanent damage was done, though, and Cliff's dream of sitting on a big tractor and actually working a field had come true.
Gerald bought a motorcycle, so guess what? We bought one too. In fact, at that time a lot of our friends and relatives bought motorcycles. Maybe it was something in the air. We couldn't do a lot of riding together, since the kids were small, but sometimes our group would leave kids with grandparents and go for short road trips. Gerald wasn't in on all this activity, but he was busily planning a big trip.
He invited Cliff to go along, as well as another cousin, Doyle. I wasn't crazy about the idea, but whatever. They went out west and saw all the scenery out there, and came back wind-burned and worn out. Cliff, back then, wasn't an early riser, but Gerald was. Cliff said they'd wake up to see Gerald sitting there smoking his pipe, motorcycle loaded up and ready to go. Don't even think about waiting until the dew has dried off or the chill is out of the air, because time is wasting! Then in the afternoon around four o'clock, when Cliff was ready to ride till dark, Gerald would announce, "It's time to pull in our horns and look for a place to stay."
And they'd go get some bologna and beer and call it a night.
Meanwhile, Cliff had gotten enough of a taste of farming hanging around with my cousin that he wanted to try it himself.
Stay tuned for the next installment.