Big Machines, Big Fun?

My, what big machines you have!

As spring planting is in full swing (and maybe even finished in your part of the country), I can’t help but notice how big all the equipment has become. Of course, it is a function of the amount of ground that the operators of today’s larger farms have to cover in a day, and I’d sure like to have the chance to drive one of those behemoths. On the other hand, I often wonder if the drivers of those large rigs get as much enjoyment now as we did with our tillage equipment then.

My first tractor-driving experience was that of many farm kids: standing on the platform ahead of Dad and simply steering down the well-marked field roads. Dad’s long legs extended on either side of me and worked the clutch and the brake pedals, and he set the speed and shifted gears as needed. When I was big enough to drive on my own, he traded our John Deere 530 for a 2640 Utility tractor that was easier for me to handle. My first job was moving the hayrack, loaded with bags of fertilizer and corn seed, from field to field. I wasn’t allowed to go above fourth gear, with its top speed of about 4 mph. I also had to keep an eye on the weather and be ready to cover the fertilizer and corn with a canvas tarp, should rain come. By that summer, Dad started teaching me how to rake hay on our flatter fields. I graduated to fifth gear on the 2640 and was even allowed to haul loaded wagons of hay as needed.

My duties kept increasing, and, within a year or so, I was running a rotary mower behind the 2640 to cut weeds around the buildings in the summer and chop cornstalks in the fall.

When I was big enough to drive the 3020 Diesel, I quickly learned how to disc plowed ground: a job I enjoyed immensely, even with the rough bumps caused by that type of turned earth. I had to remember to use the hydraulic controls to raise and lower the disc and not run it through the grassy areas between strips that served as spillways for rain and that prevented erosion. While the disc was only 11 feet wide, it could be ticklish maneuvering it through some of our narrower gates. More than once, I ended up scraping a little paint or wood off a gate post, courtesy of the edge of the furthest disc on one side or the other.

The corn planter I grew up with was a four-row model that could plant corn in rows 30 to 42 inches wide. Later, Dad upgraded to a six-row model. I was never allowed to plant corn, since that was a job in which Dad took special pride. (It almost killed him one year, when the planter malfunctioned in the middle of a large field, leaving a bare spot a few rows wide.)

Once I’d mastered the disc and then operated our roller harrow (though I had to compete with Mom for that job, since she enjoyed running it behind our 4240 Diesel), I eventually graduated to plowing with our four-bottom plow. (For some reason, Dad always let me plow on the fields running east to west in the evening as the sun was setting—which made it hard to see where I was going and where I’d been.) When our clay ground was wet, it made for hard going, but we’d keep on until all the soil was ready. Although we didn’t work our ground all night long (the way some farmers do these days), there were days that started at 6 a.m. and didn’t end until nearly 10 p.m. I ate more than one meal on the 3020 and in the cab of the 4240.

Keeping all the equipment functioning was a task in and of itself. While we did plenty of pre-planting preparation (say that three times fast!), we had to lubricate parts constantly with plenty of grease and keep an eye on our hydraulic oil levels to make sure we had plenty of lifting power. More than once, I can remember seeing a wheel on the disc start to wobble, as an inside bearing went bad. (Replacing a bearing was not fun.) We also spent plenty of time changing teeth that had dulled on the roller harrow, tightening drive chains on the corn planter, and making sure all the cutting surfaces on the disc were sharp.

For those managing larger operations today, I can only imagine the extent to which the demands of maintenance have also increased. I can’t say I’d be eager on an ongoing basis to be required to inspect and maintain equipment twice the size of what I used to use. But, you know, it might be fun for a day or two!

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