I have an alternative to the expensive new Naderite abomination of a lawn mower. It’s an antique tractor. It’s roughly 70 years old and it’s a working man’s machine. It’s not a spotless museum piece. It’s age is a badge of honor. It will not (cannot!) depreciate further. It simply is what it is. There are no new machines like it and there never will be. It has character.
(Could the presence or absence of character in a machine reflect presence or absence of character in the society which created it? Whoa! That’s a Crimethink right on the tip of my tongue! It’s also a rabbit hole into which I’d better not delve. I’m part of the era that witnessed not only the cold war but the AMC Gremlin. The mind boggles.)
Old tractors, like motorcycles and love, induce poetics in men who wouldn’t otherwise admit such thoughts. My tractor probably lived a fuller life than many humans. Who knows how many more years it’ll run? It has stories it won’t share and history I can’t know. Since it probably fed a lot of people and plowed a lot of fields its benefit to society might exceed several city blocks full of modern cubicle drones. Imagine that!
It was built with the intention it would last forever. Like the Parthenon, my tractor will still be standing when all that’s left are ruins.
I like the permanence solid old machinery. With proper maintenance (or at least barely adequate care) I hope to keep it running as long as I can. I do this just to honor it’s bad ass original design. Someday simpletons clutching Obamaphones on the bus ride to Wal-Mart will marvel that ancient civilizations made such things. That day will either be the opening scene from the Planet of the Apes or next Tuesday.
I feel good about the old tractor. Buying a new riding lawn mower is consumerism. Fixing an antique tractor is a duty and an honor.
The old girl doesn’t have any Nader gadgetry. If you fall off it’ll keep rolling until something somewhere (whether a hundred yards or a mile away) finally flips it. You won’t mind because it will have already chopped you to shreds when you bounced off the mower deck.
Nor does it have a cup holder. I wouldn’t even look at this beast if I’d been drinking anyway.
If you can’t operate a clutch you’re too stupid to drive it. Which is as it should be.
It has massive wheels which will roll over anything smaller than a garbage can. I know this because I once drove it over a garbage can. I could, if I wished, drive it over my new riding lawn mower. Someday I might.
The hefty engine block has more metal than a dozen modern riding lawn mowers. You could line up ten grand worth of new mowers, throw in two refrigerators and a Honda Civic and you’d still have less metal than the block. The rear wheel hubs are dense enough to have their own gravity.
The throttle doesn’t have a freakin’ rabbit. If you can’t figure out what the lever does you need a different line of work. I suggest something where being stupid won’t hurt so much; possibly politics.
It could use some repairs. The throttle is a little out of adjustment. I’ll fix it when I get to it. There’s an oil pressure gauge which broke in when Reagan was president and an amp meter which conked out during Carter’s time. None have cartoon icons. The lights conked out again. I think my tractor wants me to stop mowing too late into the evening.
Installing the mower deck requires a deft hand. When the deft hand doesn’t work (and it usually doesn’t) you quit pussy footing around and use a big ass hammer. Don’t forget to install the PTO shaft which, in case you’re wondering, is the deadliest thing you’ll touch all week. You could caress a PTO shaft with one hand and a cobra with the other and it’s hard to know which is more likely to bite you. Only after you’ve installed the PTO shaft can you try and start it.
Every time I start my tractor a microscopic wave of common sense reverberates through the cosmos. OSHA hyperventilates. Ralph Nader weeps. Al Gore shudders. Obama’s teleprompter falls over. Nancy Pelosi drops kicks her armed bodyguard in the shin. Michael Bloomberg spills his big gulp. Domestic aerial drones lose their beaings. Twitter is delayed a half second. The NSA accidentally deletes someones’ Facebook profile. I smile!
Mowing the lawn is a whole different experience with an antique tractor. The hefty little beast chugs along utterly unconcerned by anything in front of it, behind it, under it, or in the vicinity. It’s fairly quiet and oddly stately. It mows a swath twice as wide, moves twice as slow, makes half the noise, and inexplicably burns half the gas. On the downside it takes an acre to turn around.
It has brakes. You won’t need them.
There’s only one reason why I don’t mow my lawn with the tractor every time. It doesn’t always start. Tragic! I think my tractor wants to instruct me on the ephemeral nature of all things and does so by occasionally taking a day off. At least it’s running great this week! I’m enjoying our time in the sun.
Sooner or later it’ll have “down time”. I’ll have to tear it apart and swear until the beast is live once again. During that repair period (ranging from hours to years) I’ll resort to the modern lawn mower. I’ll fire up the same chipmunk powered, overclocked, market tested, rapidly depreciating, hydrostatically driven, litigation averse, piece of crap that everyone owns. The new mower will do an admirable job while it shakes itself to death. The antique tractor will wait patiently because it knows it’ll outlast us all.