On the day Kevin and I married down by the duck pond on Hobbit Hill, by his sister, we were gifted this 1952 Farmall 350 by my grandfather. That was in April 2018, and as of writing this is within days of when we moved to Hobbit Hill in August of 2017. With constant house repairs and upkeep, new farm animals and huge garden—we were hard pressed and had decided to wait on the tractor. Our incredibly kind neighbors leant us their tractor to first bush hog, then till the field before we could put in the garden. We used it to pull rocks and unload hundreds of pounds of organic manure.
The catch was it hadn’t run in a very long time. Exactly how long it sat in dark slumber with only barn swallows for company depends on who you ask. We had to dig it out of the lumber barn and try to turn it over. When I say dig it out, what I mean is the tractor had sunk several inches if not a foot into the dirt floor over time.
My grandfather dug it out in his usual meticulous and awkward way. Last winter he fell off the log hauling trailer out in his woodlot and crushed a few vertebrae in his neck, causing him to have severe hump. Being 87-years-old, he decided it was not worth the money or possible health risks to have a corrective surgery. Instead he spends less time in the woodlot and more time in the garden.
He is a tough albeit socially awkward man. He raised dairy cattle and was a maintenance worker at a psychiatric ward, and before that when his children were younger, a school teacher. My grandmother also worked as a school teacher in addition to long days working at home on the farm and raising children. He used to help me with my math when I was in grade school.
Having been a school teacher who is socially awkward was hard on my mother and aunts who went to the same school. It’s hard to be cool (or back then, groovy) when your dad’s a weird hard ass. Nonetheless, they survived the expirience and even came out of it with some stories which were became more amusing with the passing of time.
You see, my grandfather can build, make or fix about anything. When I was in my early twenties he showed me how to tear apart a sewing machine and put it back together. He built me a shelving and desk unit for my apartment in college from wide pine boards. lightning had struck a towering pine in the meadow that had long-shaded the frog pond in the old cattle pasture. He hasn’t kept a dairy cow since I was in college. Somewhere there is a photo tucked away of my daughter in my lap on the tailgate of the old pickup truck feeding fresh grass to a curious cow.
I respect my grandfather. He is a self sufficient, frugal and mild mannered man. He drinks the cooled water after boiling vegetables as to not waste any nutrients. I’ve watch him eat a burnt on cookie so dark it could have been a lump of damn coal. That man is lucky not to have broken his teeth on it! He shakes hands but doesn’t give hugs. I tell him I love him and he nods his head with approval. I know he loves me too. It’s just good for someone to tell him that as father time catches up with him.
I appriciate all he has done for me. My love for farm life and my work ethic is in great part instilled in me by this man. Every spring I can’t wait to get my feet muddy and poke seeds into the moist, cool soil.
Let’s face it, I’m quite awkward myself. I wear my underwear inside out so the seam at my hip doesn’t dig into me. It just makes sense. I save dumb things forever knowing they will have some use, someday—then can’t find them when I figure out what to use them for. That’s a classic Grampa Grant trait if there ever was one.
When I run into a problem I learn to fix it, prevent it from happening again and learn all I can about it. Like when I lost two goats to bloat this spring—something I still cannot come to discuss in detail. The next week, after the dust settled, I bought three books and went to work reading them. Within a few days I had a full grasp of the biology and chemical end of it, in addition to prevention and how to release gasses through puncturing the rumin if it ever happened again. I called a vet and they were damn near useless. They took four hours to call me back then told me to just put him down. Two goat breeders since said I ought to have punctured the rumin. My grandfather has as little trust in vets and doctor’s as I do. They both do a lot of guessing.
Grampa Grant has to have everything done a certain way, the right way, his way, every time. He will be the first to tell you he prefers to work alone. Which I understand, because much of the time I do too. It seems to me he chooses the most difficult, ridiculous and outlandish ways to overcome otherwise simple problems, and leaves many projects half done. He will buy some piece of heavy duty, industrial equipment to do a task once. The equipment that did the menial task is built to last forever—like the meat grinder he gave us, or the hand crank corn mill the bolted to the floor in his bedroom.
Well, this 1952 Farmall 350 is one of those cases. He bought it when it was only a few years old and didn’t like some aspects of it. He swapped out the old style narrow front end for a wide one less likely to tip or get stuck. It distributes the weight better and doesn’t make a third rut when running over soft soil or rows. He made some kind of a hydraulic box which I don’t quite understand yet—but plan to. I want to know this tractor inside and out. They were built to last and made simpler back in the 50’s. Two things I value greatly in any vehicle. Kevin’s new truck has a screen in the dash and so many auto-quirks it drives me wild. I’ll stick with my 12-year-old 5-speed Subaru wagon.
We tried and tried to make the time, but April turned into May and the garden needed planting. May merged with June and somehow July had happened. We finally assembled a plan, rounded up a team and set a date for July 14th. Kevin’s father, Kevin, myself and my Grandfather all went to work.
After only a few hours the problem was tracked down and fixed with a screwdriver. The wires in the distributer had been dirty and a bit loose. Of course, it was nearly impossible to get to the little screws inside. With great excitement I turned the key and grampa’s 1952 Farmall 350 roared to life as if it had been backed in last week.
I bounced on that spring seat so much I looked like a kid on a carnival ride. I asked how to work it and grampa shut the gas line off. For him, the work was done—but I wanted to drive it out so bad! He’s half, who am I kidding—99% deaf, so I had to holler to have him turn it back on so I could drive it out. Grampa looked at Kevin and asked him if I was planning to drive it out (his way of asking my husband’s permission). Kevin told him I was as he hopped up on the back.
First gear just about bucked him off. The clutch went up and up without doing a thing. Then suddenly it went all at once! Luckily I was bracing myself for anything at that point and stomped it back down. Knowing where the lurching point was on the old tractor, I tried again and jerked it out the door, not much wider than the tractor without too much trouble. We replaced the tin can over the exhaust and called it a day.
On the way home we lined up a trailer to borrow and picked it up the next day to haul the old girl home. Luckily the seat goes forward just enough so my feet can reach the petals. The breaks could use something to make it stop easier and faster. The other day fourth gear went and Kevin had to fix some linkage in the transmission. The bucket connection needs work as grampa modified that too.
Below is a photo of my grandfather on his Farmall Super C, one of three he keeps around, he uses this one to haul logs in the woods—yes, in his late 80’s. He might be a little odd, but deep down he’s an old fashioned bad ass.