Monday, February 20, 2017

For the love of tractors (part 2)

We had lived south of Oak Grove for seven years when we decided to put our twenty acres up for sale and buy ourselves a farm in north Missouri.  Now, any farmers reading this will understand just how crazy this idea was when I tell you the year was 1974.  People were getting OUT of farming then, not getting into it.

Gerald and his wife found a place near them we could rent, so we moved with our cows, alfalfa hay, the tractor, and other worldly possessions to an old farmhouse near Coffey, Missouri.  Cliff got a job at a butcher shop in Trenton.  Now that we lived near Gerald, Cliff got to help him get his fields ready for planting again, but this time he REALLY did it in style!  Now Gerald's big tractor was a 1750 Oliver.  That was a thrill in itself, Cliff says, because of the size of it.  You knew at a distance it was the 1750 by the noise from the transmission gears.

Cliff went with Gerald to an Oliver dealer during that time to look at a 2255, but Gerald said it was too big for him; it wasn't long afterward, however, that he had one.  "What a horse!" Cliff said, mouth agape.  Driving that tractor, he later informed me, improved his manhood.  He only recalls running it one time, but what a thrill.

Cliff is having trouble establishing the actual timeline here, but at various times Gerald had other Olivers, a 1955 he still owns, and an 1855.  There's a reason you will always find an Oliver in Cliff's collection, and that reason is Gerald York.  He's also why we have an Allis Chalmers D-17.  

Gerald has always been a perfectionist in everything he does.  He's built cabinets and can weld like a pro, and when he makes up his mind to do something, it will be done right.  He once built a huge blade from scratch that Cliff couldn't even believe, it was so marvelous in its perfection. 

But Gerald's passion has always been in restoring classic cars to like-new perfection.  He taught himself to paint and do the body-work and wiring.  He did the motor overhauls.  When he was done with a car, it was an unbelievable thing of beauty.  You can go HERE to see an entry I did about the car above when he was still working on it.

Here's another prize-winner.

Cliff carries Gerald's influence with him always, and speaks of him often, referring to him at times as "genius".  I hope and pray my cousin realizes how much he really means to a city-boy gone country, and how important he has always been to both of us.  

I leave you with a quote from my favorite movie, "It's a Wonderful Life":

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

We are going to miss Gerald.  He doesn't have much more time to live on this earth according to the hospice nurse.  I hope he knows how we feel.  Keep the light on for us, Cousin.

How my husband's love for tractors turned into a passion (part 1)

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 to 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.

When we bought our first place, my dad sold us an old Minneapolis Moline with no brakes. so Cliff finally owned a tractor.  Then he 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 him 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 loved watching them at work.  

All my uncles were farmers, as well as some cousins.  My mom's side of the family got together often.  Before I met Cliff, I used to complain about the conversations being boring at our Stevens family dinners because the men 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.  

I had our babies, and Gerald and his wife were having babies around the same time.  We'd travel north to visit them.  Cliff always went outside to look over the tractors on the place.  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 turned too sharp 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 with it 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 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.  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.

Cliff had gotten enough of a taste of farming that he wanted to try it himself.  

Stay tuned for the next installment.