I was only in second grade. Approximately. Dad was going to teach me how to rake hay. We were on the International Harvester McCormick model “M” and an old iron wheeled ground driven side delivery rake. He drove the first round and the second too if I remember right. I rode on the rear axle right by his side to get the directions on what to do and what not to do as we went around the forty acre patch. Literally the north forty. Well the northeast forty to be exact. It was a rectangular field that ran straight north of the building site and as wide as the building site if you include the small three acre pasture directly east and south of most of the buildings. The field ran up the highest hill on the farm then on north down to another lower hill then on north all the way to the farms north line fence most of the way back down to the bottom. There were a couple grassed waterways that crossed it and a row of three pear trees.
Dad raked around the outside and turned around by the entry gate and went back alongside the windrow of hay he had just raked up to double rake up a bigger row. After turning around and pointing it down the second double raked row to rake he slid off the seat onto the other rear axle with it still going and had me slide onto the seat. He road until the first corner and after I had negotiated it successfully he told me not to tip the tractor over running the rear tire up the trees. He further told me to look where I was going, not to look back to where I’d been and I would do just fine. Then he hopped of to the side as the tractor kept going with me at the wheel. It felt both scary and kind of good to be finally raking hay on my own. I had driven tractor pulling the hay rack for a few years by then but that was only steering straight down a row of bale in low gear while the brothers walked along side picking them up onto the hay rack.
Other than pulling hay racks and the harrow with the old John Deere “B” I had never been cut loose on a “real” tractor before. (The B could only push a two row cultivator, the M could push a “real” four row one) But if I wasn’t looking back I wouldn’t be me. If I wasn’t looking back I wouldn’t be writing this either. I wasn’t sure exactly where Dad had said to drive vis a vis the edge of the yet to be raked hay and it looked different from the drivers seat. So I was still loooking back when my rear wheel started to ride up “Dad’s Tree” up near the top of the hill. I couldn’t react fast enough to turn forward and push in the clutch with my foot. Fortunately at the last second, just as I thought I was a goner, the motor cut out and the front wheels slid over and there I sat. All jihad but back on the ground with both rear wheels. Once I got the motor started and was able to back up and renegotiate the tree I looked back one more time. Against advice.
Only to see Dad had turned from his spot under a shade tree where he’d obviously been watching me to walk lumberingly back towards the house yard. I can only imagine the terror he’d just been through. Maybe not at the time but as a man who’s raised a boy on this same farm I now know it is terror. But what else can you do, if you forbid the kid a chance to drive the tractor he will take it for a ride by himself when you’re not there. It’s best to teach them while you’re watching. I know I did. So how do I cut down an old dead tree like that? It has more history than some of the buildings around here. All the dead pines do. The two left in the yard I’ll have no choice as they become unstable and a threat to the house and it’s occupants. But I don’t think I’ll be able to cut down Dad’s tree. I may have to wait until it blows down in a storm.
I’ll let you know when that is.