Downwind"Retiring an Old Workhorse"
The ditty “the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be” popped into my head as I started to write this month’s column. I could be talking about myself with my whining about aches and pains increasing each day but actually, I’m thinking about my old, snowplow tractor.
As a result of my farm background, I really enjoy tractors… large, small, new, old, diesel, gas, propane, four-wheel-drive, open-air, cab, row crop. It really doesn’t matter… I just like tractors. As a kid, I poured over the tractor and lawn tractor for sale ads in farm magazines and newspapers. Dreaming about the possibilities.
I call it a “tractor” because it makes me feel closer to my farm roots. However, my snowplow “tractor” is really a big, old hunk of iron lawn tractor minus the mower deck. It is nearly 50 years old. It has chains for the back tires and a hefty 42-inch steel blade to move snow around and pile it high. Part of it is held together by baling wire.
The snowplow tractor comes with some idiosyncrasies much like me…
- like me, the tractor usually has to be jumpstarted.
- like me, it prefers to be kept in warm climate.
- like me, don’t pop its clutch because bad things happen related to “breaking”.
- like me, grind the transmission a bit to get it into gear.
- like me, put some air in the tires before each operation.
- like me, driving faster is better than slower to accomplish best results.
- like me, there’s plenty of rust under the hood and carriage.
Despite these idiosyncrasies, that old snowplow tractor has always gotten the job done. Back in 2012 when we bought our house featuring a long, winding driveway with a grade, I could not convince my wife that her strong back and amazing shoveling skills would be sufficient for our snow removal needs. So, I picked up the well-used workhorse to provide some assistance to her. Since that time, I have changed the oil, greased faithfully, tuned it up and learned the various tricks to keep it functioning. However, it always feels like just one incident away from total mechanical breakdown.
Eight years later, my snowplow tractor and I have enjoyed some big snow events (not so many in recent years). Speed racing up and down the driveway, snow flying provides a special thrill. Top gear, full throttle!
That is, until January. I was clearing 4 inches of fresh snow…no problem. Until it became a problem. No forward, no reverse but plenty of smoke and burning rubber smell. My wife and I hooked the tractor to the SUV and towed it up the hill of the driveway and pushed it into the garage. I had a baaaad feeling.
We jacked up the snowplow tractor to inspect the damage and discovered missing parts to the transmission system. Those parts were probably essential. Finding parts for a nearly 50 year old machine is not simple neither in a snow drift nor online. At that moment, the appeal and delight of keeping the snowplow tractor running vanished.
Off my wife and I went to shop for a snowblower… Wow, I really am becoming a suburbanite! We picked up a hefty two-stage, 24 inch walk behind with 6 forward and 2 reverse gears that could allegedly throw snow 40 feet. Following a month that featured daily snowfall including several big events, I become a reluctant fan. My wife enjoys using the new snow blowing machine whereas the tractor always scared her to run. Bonus!
And yet, I feel a sense of melancholy…like I have deserted an old friend. I put the old workhorse out to pasture (the corner of our garage). The crusty, old tractor accepted its fate silently and without resistance. Now, an accumulation of old carpet, coolers, tables, and chairs surround it. Every time I go in the garage, I know it is over there…looking and watching me, patiently waiting to go play in the snow again.
Did I act rashly? Perhaps I can find parts to repair it? It would feel great to be plowing snow with reckless abandon again rather than cautiously creeping up a driveway behind that shiny snowblower, afraid a stone will lodge in the snow auger and shear the pins.
Perhaps the tractor’s retirement was premature. Or maybe, I should just buy a bigger, newer tractor. A true farm tractor. Did I mention, I like tractors?