Tractor Trouble

DSC_4868 copyLightning and thunder have driven John in from the fields as I get home from afternoon errands in town. We watch the rain come down, pouring hard for five good minutes before tapering to a sprinkle. Not a gully washer, but enough to make a difference after this record-breaking first-week-of-September heat.

John gets off the phone with the place that repaired our tractor tire last year. One of the big rear tires on our 1950 John Deere B is flat.

“How much would it be for them to come out here and fix it?” I ask.

“The guy said it’s a hundred bucks just to drive over and shake my hand. We can take it there. We just need to get it off first.”

I’m not overjoyed at this news. Tractor repair is dangerous and we’ve had some close calls.

“I’ll jack it up, put blocks under the body, and pull off the tire. No problem,” he says.

“And you won’t have to get underneath or stick your hand in anywhere? You’ll block the wheels so it can’t roll? You’ll use a good jack that won’t slip?”

“Come out and see. It’ll be fine.”

DSC_0725A few minutes later, in boots and a raincoat, I go out to the tractor barn and find John’s got the John Deere up on a jack with blocks of wood under the body. He ratchets the jack higher to get the weight off the tire and slip another board under the tractor’s belly. The jack, not quite heavy or agile enough for the job, slips a little. No harm done, but it’s a good reminder that this tractor is a heavy piece of machinery. John lowers the tractor again and starts over with a better jack to get the last board in place. The tire’s hanging just off the ground, ready for removal.

Now comes the hard part: getting the tire off the axle. But there’s a trick. Like those magic boxes where one panel squeezes another tighter so the door can slide open, the John Deere requires removing three bolts and placing two of them in different holes where the force of their tightening will narrow the plate that holds on the tire and allows it to slip off the axle.

Since the bolts haven’t been removed for 13 years when the tire fell off accidentally, they need a little rust remover and a lot of torque to get them moving. John works them, back and forth, tapping here and there with the mallet to loosen the metal plate that holds the tire in place. Finally, it comes off, exposing the axle shaft through the cast iron center of the tire’s hub. As I monitor the tractor for slippage off its bed of boards, John hammers and heaves the tire off the axle, pulling it free with a big “Humph” that nearly knocks him off his feet.

The tire’s off! Now all we need to do is get it in the bed of the pickup. I back the truck up to where John holds the heavy tire and he rolls it to the lowered tailgate. But it’s too heavy to lift into the bed. John’s got a better idea, one that involves yet another tractor. I groan, but he’s right. He’ll lift the tire in the bucket of the Farm-All and lower it into the truck. Easy, right?

Getting the tire into the bucket is no problem—we just roll it in–but depositing it in the back of the truck isn’t as simple as it sounds. The tire is 55 inches in diameter; the truck bed is barely wider than that, and the frame on the back of the truck, the one we use for hauling lumber and pipes and even a cupboard all the way from North Dakota, might be in the way.

This is where John’s skill with the big red Farm-All really shines. Lifting the tire in the Farm-All’s bucket, he approaches the truck carefully, easing just close enough to the edge of the bed to tip the tire in. Still, the tire doesn’t slide off and I’m afraid if it does, it will smash the tailgate right off the truck.

John gets off the tractor and walks over to where I’m looking skeptical. As he judges the angle he needs to lift the bucket for dumping the tire in the back of the pickup, I come up with my own better idea for the next phase of this project. “I know, after they repair it, let’s pay the place to bring the tire back and put it on the tractor.”

John looks at me askance for a long second and then shakes his head. “You don’t really have the sensibility for this, do you?” He sounds annoyed but I can tell he’s teasing by the way his dimples are flashing.

“Nope. I really don’t.” I have to admit that all this tractor ballet makes me nervous. I don’t drive tractors so I’m less confident about what they can do. For John, the worst of the job is over. Getting the tire back on will be a cinch. For me, we still have a tire to transport and re-attach.

John laughs as he swings himself up to the seat of the red tractor. “We can do it!” he shouts over the engine. The bucket lifts & tilts; the big tire slides perfectly into the back of the pickup.


John gets down, closes the tailgate, and grins. “Nothing like the satisfaction of a job well done.” I have to agree, but in my case, it’s more like relief. Nothing bad happened. We didn’t wreck the tire, tractor, or pickup. More importantly, no one was hurt.

Tomorrow morning, John will take the tire out east of the highway to be repaired. We’ll ask Joe to help wrestle it back on. For now, our tractor work is done. We walk back to the house in the evening light as more thunder rumbles. It’s time for dinner with the first of the Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers roasted with Manchego cheese, golden brown eggplant slices, fresh-fried rosy potatoes, and a toast with Stonebridge wine to our tractor success.

johndeere copy



Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

6 responses to “Tractor Trouble

  1. Rachel Martin

    I love love love “tractor ballet,” that old John Deer does have a graceful quality to it and I saw the image perfectly in my mind. Glad everyone is safe!

  2. I really appreciate posts like this that demonstrate the hardwork of farming. You made it real. Thanks.

  3. “Nobody hurt”: the elder farmer’s motto.

  4. Lorna Yoder

    Glad you got that thing off safely. I was picturing your watching Kayann…
    Oh, and back on as well.

  5. The postscript to this story was more tractor ballet this afternoon on the tire’s return. All went well. John got everything hooked up and I lowered the bucket with the tire dangling from a chain. When it comes to tractors, it takes one to repair another!

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