The tractor you see there, operated by the most handsome and intelligent male model I could find, is an Allis Chalmers C. It was (probably) made around 1941 and listed for about $1,200. (Source.) I picked it up in North Dakota from a nice fellow several years ago for about $1,600 in cash. He helped me load it and told stories about how much he liked it and we drank beer together. I didn’t so much buy it as adopt it for fair market value. The former owner probably cried when the rusty old beast left with me.
It’s a work tractor (albeit “working” on my tiny and insignificant little homestead and not on a real corporate farm). It’s almost cosmic that she’s still running. She’d already put in a lifetime (or two) of hard work before I was born. She’s probably logged more hours pulling hard loads in the baking sun than all my readers (if I have any) combined. It’s an honor to know her.
So it’s a lovingly restored garage queen in the hands of a yuppie wanna be eco-weenie? Nope. It works for a living and it knows that anything on my farm that doesn’t pull it’s own weight gets taken behind the barn and shot. (I’m looking at you cats…make with the mousing or you’re next. This is not a union shop!)
It could use a lot of repairs. Everything that can break is broken. Everything that isn’t necessary is gone. Everything that can warp, dent, or tear is well and duly warped, dented, and torn. I use a mallet to remove the mangled oil filler cap, never fill the tank more than halfway because it leaks if too full, and charge it between uses because the generator has been gone since the Carter administration. (It’s a total loss system. Theoretically I can hand crank start it but I’m hinky about that.) It lacks an “off” switch and probably never had lights. Etc… But old tractors, unlike new consumer goods, can be nearly infinitely rebuilt so I don’t see it as “trashed” so much as exhibiting “deferred maintenance”.
But still…she starts and runs. I use it at least twice a week rain or shine. Hauling firewood in the winter and mowing grass in the summer. I feel an affinity for this old piece of junk and am joyous each time I use it.
Also, I consider it a solid “investment”. Why? Well since I mostly use it to mow (and I really need it’s monster sized mower deck) lets compare it to a new lawn tractor that can do what the aged beast can do. It’s got a 60” mower deck and roughly 18-20 HP. Sniff around the web for a 60” mower and you’ll get sticker shock from John Deere (price so high I refuse to type it!) or settle for a narrower mid quality machine for about $2,000.
Are new machines better? Sure, they’ve got cupholders for beer, various Ralph Nader safety features, and more ass friendly seats. But they are weak and hard to repair and I very much prefer stuff that’s built like a brick shithouse. A lawn tractor is likely to last about ten years before it’s more or less shot (yeah I know some folks can make them run forever but they usually avoid the modern plastic clad toys). Nobody in their right mind thinks a tractor from a box store is going to last until 2079. On the other hand the old critter in the photo has already done just that and shows no signs of going belly up. I fully expect it to outlast me. Maintenance free? No. Depreciation proof? Yes! So I could sink two grand in a lawn tractor and in ten years have a lawn ornament or limp along with this one for a good long time and (maybe when it’s needs can no longer be ignored) rebuild it. If I spent the same two grand rebuilding my piece of junk I’d be able to mow the lawn during the week and ride it in parades on weekends. Try that with the shit they sell at a box store.
Tractors of the WWII era, it seems, are one place where machinery attained a level of bulletproof strength and rock hard simplicity that almost nothing since (certainly nothing for sale at WalMart) can match. I mow my lawn on a piece of art that can be infinitely rebuilt, wont depreciate much from it’s current level and makes me smile. It’s one of the little things that can really make my Curmudgeonly day. If you already have a consumer grade lawn mower I suggest you set it on fire and replace it with a nice ugly 69 year old hunk of iron!
Same reason I drive a 20 year old Camry. I can troubleshoot it with a VOMeter, a paper clip, and the manual. No need for fancy code readers or taking it to the dealership.
My father bought a Farmall Cub in 1952 for $800 for it. That included a disk, harrow, cultivators, round breaking plow, sickel-bar mower and some odds and ends and other parts. He used it until just before he died in 1998. He rebuilt it one time. We used the Cub to level land, prepare our garden, cultivate the same, haul wood, mow the yard, stretch fence and whatever else that needed doing. He sold it finally for $2000 in 1998. Good tool.
That’s inspiring! I love the “rebuild it and use it more” concept!
Old tractors are a glimmer of what a world would be if things were endlessly rebuildable. I also note that I can find parts for a 1944 Ford Tractor easier than a 1990 Chevy truck.
2011 is a world where we recycle paper and throw out cars. I hardly think that’s a step forward!
My father had an Allis-Chalmers of the same era and type that he just loved. You brought back a lot of memories with this post.