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An old friend

In times such as these we turn to things that are familiar and comforting. We long for things that seem permanent and unchangeable, such as the faces on Mount Rushmore or Cher.

I am fortunate to have a familiar face that has been there for me across the decades, through rain and shine, in good times and in bad.

This is an accurate description of my wife. But it’s also true for another family member, specifically, our 1949 John Deere “A” tractor.

A popular notion these days is that you should rid yourself of anything that no longer sparks joy. The “A” certainly sparks for me. This is especially so after I gave her a rebuilt magneto.

I could no more get rid of the “A” than give away our cat or our dog or any other family member. In fact, I’ve known the “A” longer than I’ve known some of my younger siblings.

I was perhaps 9 years old when Dad purchased the “A” at an autumn farm auction. The arrival of this new — new to us, anyway — source of horsepower thrilled me to the bone. I instantly fell in love with this provocative creature with her flashy yellow accents and her suggestive headlights. I couldn’t wait to get her alone and see what she would do!

I didn’t have to wait long. The next spring, Dad hooked the “A” onto our ancient disk harrow and tasked the “A” and me with tilling a field of corn stalks. Dad’s plan was to follow us with our John Deere “B” tractor and a grain drill.

Things went swimmingly until we arrived at a waterhole. We ventured too close to the swamp and the “A” became mired in the muck.

The walk of shame across the field to tell Dad about our misadventure was excruciating. I explained to Dad that it wasn’t my fault, that the “A,” being older and more experienced, should have steered us clear of the water hazard.

Over the next several years, the “A” and I spent a lot of quality time together, cultivating corn, plowing stubble and hauling wagonloads of grain. Together the “A” and I endured wind and rain, heat and cold. I never once complained about her lack of a cab. After all, most tractors didn’t have cabs back then.

As with many love affairs, ours eventually ran its course. Dad purchased a newer, bigger tractor and I was instantly smitten by its voluptuous horsepower and its seductive rear axle assembly. The “A” was eventually consigned to a lonely spot out in our grove.

Time marched on. Many years later, I was passing the grove and espied my former paramour. Weeds had grown up around her and her glossy green skin had become badly weathered. I was shocked. “What has become of you, my sweetest friend?” I asked.

Our two then-teenaged sons and I extracted the “A” from her weedy exile. We quickly discovered that her engine had become a solid mass of rust. It took copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears (and WD-40), but we eventually got the engine unstuck. We tore her engine down and gave the “A” a new set of rings, a fitting symbol of my new commitment.

These days, the “A” sits next to our granary, enjoying a leisurely semiretirement. I will call on her whenever I need to till our garden or move some hay. And late this winter, the “A” proved that she still has the power to perform epic acts of heroism.

A feed truck had come out to our place to fill our steer feeder. The truck became so stuck in our muddy cattle yard that its rear wheels nearly breached the earth’s mantle. I phoned a neighbor and asked if he could come over with his million-horsepower tractor and extricate the luckless truck. He said yes, but that it would be a couple of hours.

I glanced toward the granary and wordlessly asked the “A” a question. As always, she said that she was willing.

I fired the old girl up and chained her to the truck. A mighty struggle ensued; it was by no means certain whether the tractor or the mud would prevail. But the feed truck was soon on solid ground again and the “A” again solidified her place in my heart.

On balmy spring days, I will take the “A” out for random joyrides on the gravel road that runs past our farm. The wind in my hair and the aroma of warming soil makes me feel young and brings tears to my eyes.

Or maybe it’s just the exhaust fumes.

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