There is a John Deere 4240 hooked to the unloading auger at our family farm right now. Its sole purpose for the season is to auger the harvested grain into the bins as trucks brimming with bright yellow corn and soybeans are unloaded. My young nephews can amp it up and get the auger running when the semi drives across the unloading dock, which saves their dad a few steps. My own dad bought that tractor with 600 hours on it back in the 1980s. With over 6,000 hours now, “The 42,” as our family has deemed it, is a reliable tractor. It is a jack of all trades being used throughout the years to spray countless loads of herbicide, haul tons of manure and silage, and push snow with the loader attachment. I still remember the day a cocky teenager managed to get a front-wheel assist John Deere stuck in a snow drift on a flat field. Realizing the trip was taking too long, her dad came to the rescue with The 42. His sixth sense must have told him to just bring the loader instead of the pickup because he would have to dig me out.
Many long summer afternoons have been spent in that tractor hauling chopped hay, haylage, and corn silage. That’s how you learn how to drive as a farm kid. One day, your dad tells you to ride along out to the field, gives you a five-minute tutorial on the way about all the gears, levers, and pedals, then sits on the arm rest after you hook up the first wagon and tells you to drive. All the way to the silage pile, your dad pulls the steering wheel one way or another to keep you centered on the road while telling you everything you are doing wrong. You get another ten-minute tutorial on how to back into the silage pit, again chastised for turning the wheel too far or the wrong way the whole time. (Word of advice, your tractor driving skills will never, ever meet the level of skill required to pass “dad standards,” even when you think you’ve done the perfect job.) Then, you unload for the first time while trying to figure out what the wild arm flailing from the guy on the ground means. Either you weren’t jerking the wagon hard enough or you jerked it too hard like a dumb kid trying to break every piece of equipment you touch. Finally, dad unhooks the hydraulics and sends you on your first solo voyage. Just like that. Only a parent who knows their child can have that kind of faith. All the same, you crawl out to the field in 6th gear because you are scared of the repercussions at home if you damage or destroy something, only to get yelled at once again by the cutter driver because he had to wait two minutes for a new wagon. By the fifth load, you have the radio so loud that you can’t tell if you’ve blown a tire or thrown a fan through the side of your front engine panel. Adult wisdom and consequence have crushed all of my unabashed teenage naivety found in The 42. Hooray for responsibility. (Sense my sarcasm?)
Although it has lost some of its staying power throughout the years as parts, pistons, and o-rings have worn, The 42 still can pull a heavy load up a hill with minimal downshift. The steering isn’t squirrely (yes, “squirrely” is a highly technical lady-tractor-driver term in case you didn’t know) like some tractors tend to get over time. It drives straight and true so long as the driver isn’t trying to take a call while on the road. If you drop her into 4th gear, open up the throttle and lock the rear differential, you can power through the slick silage near the foot of the pile to get to the unload position. The gear shift pulls back hard into park, and you have to push in the clutch if you want to jump from 6th to 8th gear without throwing yourself through the front window. It can push a faulty hydraulic hoist through the floor of a wooden wagon like nobody’s business and make you cuss the entire time you have to scoop the wagon empty by hand. The cab is dusty and there is a pile of wrenches on the dash shelf in case you need to beat on something in the field. The rear window squeals like nails on a chalkboard when you slide it open because of all the dirt and debris in the track. And, there is still a push button AM/FM radio mounted over the steering wheel that will get you some hot country, Z98, and Spanish mariachi no matter how deep the draw. On a hot day, if you get her on a steep enough sidehill, the A/C condensation will drip out of the ceiling and land on your left leg for a little wake up call. And, even at full bore, that A/C won’t keep you quite as cool as you think it should. The paint is faded, and you have to slam the door three times to get it shut tight.
She’s a runner. Many lessons in responsibility, reliability, trust, and taking care of business have been learned while in the driver’s seat. I’ve done lots of daydreaming in that cab. I’ve studied for tests, taken naps, made dates, planned a wedding, picked out baby names, negotiated deals, and even formulated a business start-up. It is a place of great inspiration…of solitude and solace. A place where I can witness the vastness of creation and contemplate my part in it. Yeah, highly technical lady-tractor-driver things. Never underestimate from where it is you come and where it is you want to go. But, first, you have to learn to back up that wagon into the silage pit according to dad standards. Welcome Home.