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.
Back in ’98 my Lady and I moved into the New Jersey countryside (yes, there is some. Lots more than most people might imagine). I was, at the time, vastly overestimating my own competence and energy, and we had bought a house with seven acres (mostly wooded). Several of my new neighbors were actual farmers, and I asked them to recommend a tractor for someone who was mechanically incompetent; one that would put up with abuse. Every one of them told me “Kubota”, so we bought a Kubota. Far too much Kubota, as it happens (that’s OK, we’d bought too much land, come to that). After finally admitting that the Tractor and the land were beyond me, we sold the tractor (which had been misused and neglected) for about as much as we payed for it, by someone who had a professional inspection done.
Now, lots of people look down on Japanese tech. But the Japanese farmers is a sensible farmer; he wants a machine that will do the job without a lot of fuss. And that’s what Kubota builds. He also wane a machine that will work in a rice paddy, so the tires are made for traction in swamp, not for surviving sharp trash left about. They are balloons and they puncture a lot. But as you might expect from a people who believe that inanimate object develop spirits as they are used, the Japanese build things with personality.
Kubotas are pretty awesome. I’ve run a number of their diesels, none of them new, and all tend to run with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Then again, they also tend to skimp on the pretty plastic and Nadar trash, so there’s that.
You, sir, are darn near poetical. And quite possibly deserving of the old tractor. I am jealous.
A worthy paean to the Ford N-series, or any other old, reliable small tractor! Pilgrim’s (proud lack of) Progress? Zen & the Art of Fuck-you-it-works-&-I-don’t care-what-you-think?
I’ve known & loved (& comprehensively cursed) a couple of 8Ns. Like a good barn tomcat, they may piss you off, but they do the job, so you develop a kind of grudging love for them.
More tractor pondering on my part. The new rubbish is designed to be serviced by “Factory Trained Technicians” and owned by people who rely on same.
Old tractors, as it was understood by the men who designed them, would be worked on by either the cheapskate farmer who bought it, or by that kid down the road who’s nuts about fixing things.
Likewise, the new rubbish is meant to be tossed after a minimum number of years has past.
I’ve operated and worn out a goodly number of consumer mowers purchased used off Craigslist or picked up abandoned behind a dumpster. I’ve got a graveyard full of MTD products behind the barn from 10HP singles to 20HP twins. You kind of get used to spending a hundred bucks a year on something- belts, idlers, starter motors or solenoids, inner tubes, spindle bearings.
If your yard is glass smooth and comprised of soft Kentucky bluegrass the big box store stuff works great.
If, like me and most people in the country, your yard is full of weeds, tree roots, ditches, half-buried tree stumps, dead possums, and the kind of herbage normally found in a “before” advertisement for Scott’s products, you beat up equipment.
For the price of one of the big-box brand name mowers (all made by one or two companies, but painted a different color) I was able to score a Japanese Diesel powered 3-cylinder tractor. I held out for one with real bar-tread tires and not turf tires. Sure it leaves hash-mark tracks in the yard when it’s wet. But I don’t get stuck on a muddy spot. And yes, I have recently run over and crushed flat a metal garbage can. But I also mow down areas that haven’t seen a blade since a Republican was in the White House, with 3″ saplings and tangles of raspberry bushes and thorns.
Sure, my tractor isn’t pretty. It’s over 30 years old. It doesn’t have a rollover bar or any more safety equipment than a clutch interlock switch. And my headlights aren’t working again. But I can plow my driveway in the winter or level the gravel with it, and let’s see you do THAT with a zero-turn.
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