Stories Told

It’s done its job

Lots of big, broad trees filled the suburban neighborhood where my first wife and I made our home. They shaded our sprawling red-brick ranch house, confident and serene. I wanted that confidence, that serenity for my family. It’s probably why I bought the house.

And then the leaves started to fall that first autumn. Prodigiously. The first Saturday she and I and my stepson spent all day raking and bagging. And the next Saturday. And the one after that. And then one weekend it rained. Relief! A weekend off! Except that the next weekend it took both days to rake and bag it all up.

It was awful. It dragged on for weeks before the last leaf finally fell. The next autumn was worse because my wife was pregnant — the job fell mostly to me and my stepson.

I did not want another punishing autumn. “If we had a lawn tractor,” I said sweetly to my wife, “one with a bagging attachment, I could line it with lawn-and-leaf bags and just suck the leaves into them. I’d drive the bags down to the curb, tie them off, and leave them for the city to collect. I could do this job by myself in half the time it takes all of us to rake.”

That pushed her right over: she bought me a tractor and a bagging attachment for my next birthday. It cost $1100, a lot of money for my young family. It was worth it for her to never wield a rake again.

Craftsman tractor

Oh my gosh, but I loved cutting the grass with it! I felt so suburbanly manly on it. And it really did make leaf season bearable, and free my wife and sons to do other things. They were happy, I was happy, everybody was happy.

My new baby boy was fascinated with it, so I put him on my lap and drove him around the back yard at low speed. To my happy boy it was the coolest thing ever! He wanted a ride every time I got the tractor out. His younger brother, when he came, was wary of it and didn’t like the noise it made. But if his brother was going to ride around on it with me he wasn’t going to miss out.

Craftsman tractor

And then of course our marriage crashed and burned, and I moved out. The tractor stayed behind while the divorce wound through the system, eighteen painful months. After the trial and the decree, my ex-wife somehow didn’t realize that she had agreed to give the tractor to me. When I asked for it (and my tools, and a few other things she also didn’t seem to know were awarded me) she refused. And then she reread our agreement and realized she had no choice. And then she called at dusk one drizzly day to say my stuff was out on the front lawn and I needed to come get it.

I managed to rent a U-Haul just before the place closed, and I managed to find a friend willing to help on short notice. The tractor and most of my tools were there. But the U-Haul’s ramp was narrow and slippery and so we had to lift the tractor up into the truck, and back out again at the house I was renting. Five hundred pounds, I hazard to guess. I’d put my back out for sure if I had to try that now.

Craftsman tractor

But I was so happy to have it back. I was renting a house on an enormous lot, and the tractor cut my mowing time down to about three hours! Even that was a burden. I was relieved to finally buy a house of my own on a much smaller lot, about a third of an acre.

And here I’ve been for ten years. The tractor just keeps going, 20 seasons now. Every second year I changed the oil, air filter, fuel filter, spark plug, and blades. It has needed a few repairs: the starter, the steering gear (which broke the first month I owned it), the front tires, and the drive belt. Not bad. Oh, and the welds that attached the hood failed a few years ago. I bought two cheap locking pliers and clamped the weld points with them. It worked great!

Craftsman tractor

The tractor has continued to be a blessing in the autumn. Or at least it was until my 21 ash trees died a couple years ago. I could probably rake up all the leaves from my yard on just a few autumn Saturday afternoons now. But because the tractor just kept running, I kept using it.

But now I’m preparing to move into my wife’s home. Her yard is small, far too small for a tractor. So about a month ago I sold my tractor. A fellow who keeps the grounds at the nearby cemetery bought it. He paid my asking price in twenties, drove it onto a trailer, and hauled it away.


I thought I’d be sad about it. I wasn’t; I’m not.

This surprises me.

I lost so much to which I was attached when I divorced, first and foremost the ability to live with my sons every day as they grew up. But I lost a great many possessions, too — things that I had to sell, things that were not awarded me, things that were awarded me but never reached me, things that my ex damaged or destroyed.

Of the many possessions I really enjoyed, the tractor was one of the few that found its way to me intact. I always loved using it. Even though it’s loud, I was at peace driving it. In that seat I could really think. And when I put it away, I had accomplished something and my yard looked good.

Tractor and Bagging Attachment

But it has done its job for me. I don’t need it anymore. I’m happy that someone else will get good use from it.

Another thing to which I’ve become deeply attached is my house. I wasn’t remotely in love with it when I bought it. The floor plan is weird. One bedroom is tiny. The main bathroom was in terrible condition. But it was structurally sound, it had enough bedrooms for me and my sons, the location was right, and most importantly I could afford the mortgage after the divorce left me broke. (It was just before the housing bubble burst. I bought the house with no money down.)

And as I rebuilt my life and built good relationships with my growing sons, I came to love this house.

Or at least I thought I loved the house. This year as I did heavy, long-procrastinated repairs and (with help) painted the interior stem to stern, I came to see it: this house represents what I built while I lived in it, namely, a happy, healthy life and good relationships with my sons. Neither was assured when we arrived. This house was the quiet, safe, stable place for us to do the work. I love what we built!


And now my sons are grown and gone, and I’m remarried. This house has done its job. I don’t need it anymore. I’m happy that someone else will get good use from it.

This blog was less than a year old when I moved here. I wrote a post about the place then, called A Place to Start Again. I hope you’ll read it; it’s here. I wrote, “I’m making a new start in my little house, and who knows how I’ll grow while here.” I grew, all right, beyond what I could have imagined or hoped. I made something good out of a horrible mess. I’m mighty satisfied.

P.S.: I wrote this the day before the listing appeared. The morning the listing appeared, I got two very strong offers and accepted one.



Oliver 70
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Film Photography
Stories Told

The ponder seat

I was reminded of this story from five years ago as I have been driving my old lawn tractor around the yard, picking up the fallen leaves. The tractor looks a little more beat up now, and comically its hood hinges both broke and are being held in place by two Vise Grips, but it still runs well.

This is where I do my best thinking.


My tractor was a birthday gift from my wife 17 years ago – the biggest and most expensive gift I’ve ever gotten. We had a half-acre yard full of mature, prolific trees. Before the tractor, every autumn Saturday my wife, stepson, and I went at full tilt all day raking and bagging fallen leaves. Those Saturdays were brutal, and woe betide us if we skipped one. I dreamed of driving a tractor around the yard, sucking up the leaves into a catcher, my family sitting on the patio sipping iced tea and smiling brightly and waving whenever I passed.

After the tractor came, of course I mowed the yard with it every week. It didn’t take long before I could do the work on autopilot, effortlessly navigating obstacles. The world slipped away while I drove my tractor. Even the Briggs and Stratton roar faded into the background, and my mind was free to think and dream. It was time just for me. I can’t remember any epiphanies or even darned good ideas that came from my ponder seat, but when I put the tractor back in the shed I was always mentally refreshed.

I’ve downsized to about a quarter of an acre where the autumn leaves are a more bearable chore. I could get by without a tractor now, yet I clean and tune up my tractor every spring for another season. I can’t believe it still runs after this many years – I wish my cars lasted as long! As long as it keeps starting, I’ll keep looking forward to my weekly mind-renewing trip around the yard.

Photography, Road Trips

At the tractor pull

Dawn and I drove to tiny Roann in northern Indiana to see its covered bridge and nearby historic grist mill, and found to our surprise that it was the weekend of the town’s annual Covered Bridge Festival. All of the trappings were present: carnival rides, food booths, and a parade featuring fire trucks from a five-county radius. Big doings in small-town Indiana!

The best part was the antique-tractor pull. I’m absolutely not a guy you’ll find at the fairgrounds on Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! with a lite beer in hand watching multi-engined, fire-breathing, smoke-belching megatractors. But it was undeniably charming to watch this motorsport in its elemental form: everyday people from rural Indiana who brought their antique tractors to compete at a small-town pull track.

I followed one woman driving her 1950s Farmall from start to finish. Here she is, queued up and waiting her turn.

At the tractor pull

She drove onto the track and backed up to the weight. I’m sure there’s an official name for the contraption she pulled, but I’m not hip to the lingo.

At the tractor pull

Then she was poised and ready to start pulling.

At the tractor pull

As she made her way down the track, I zoomed out to take in as much as my camera could see. The fellow reclining in the back was the official scorekeeper. I guess the object was to see how far each tractor could drag this weight down the track.

At the tractor pull

More tractors were queued up behind her. Here are the next three to go. It must be comfortable to lean forward and rest a forearm on the steering wheel.

At the tractor pull

This Allis-Chalmers got its turn soon enough.

At the tractor pull

As did this beautiful Cockshutt 40. Its style reminds me of the Streamline Moderne design movement from the 1930s, but these tractors were first built in 1949.

At the tractor pull

I have no idea who won. I barely understood how this whole competition worked! But it was great to see this old iron put to the stress test.

When I was a boy, my dad worked at the Oliver tractor factory. Read about it.

Stories Told

The Oliver years

What? Another rerun? Well, yes. You totally get what you pay for at Down the Road. This is a favorite post from 2010.

Though I’m a city boy through and through, I have a soft spot in my heart for vintage farm equipment, especially vintage Oliver farm equipment.

Oliver 1850

You see, my dad worked in quality control for Oliver Corporation from about the mid 1960s, through the time the company became White Farm Equipment in the mid 1970s, to the day the plant gates were locked for the last time in the mid 1980s.

Oliver 1850 and Oliver 1800

Every time I go to the Indiana State Fair, I wander through the rows of vintage tractors hoping to find some Olivers from the years my dad worked there. I hit pay dirt this year.

Oliver 1555

I don’t care at all about the White tractors. During the White years, Dad grew weary through repeated layoffs and the South Bend plant’s closing, after which he spent months unemployed. I associate White with bad times in our family. But Dad always seemed proud to make Oliver tractors. I remember no time when he was happier. The Oliver years were good to our family.

Oliver 1800

After Oliver gave way to White, my dad came home with stacks of castoff Oliver logo stickers like the one below. I’ll bet he still has some.

Oliver tractor

Also spotted at the Indiana State Fair: a 1939 International farm truck. See it here.