Last fall I sold my 35-horsepower diesel tractor. At the time, I said that I may regret having sold it. All it took was a day of yard cleanup this spring to confirm the sad truth. I missed it. More specifically, I missed the hydraulic bucket. I had never used the rear power take off three point hitch for attachments, but I used the trailer hitch to haul all kinds of things around. As Bodie Kelton said when I bought the tractor from him, "It's like having another set of very strong arms." He was so right. One spring we picked up all kinds of construction debris and wood around the property, and there was nothing more effective than that bucket for lifting things into the huge demolition box that we rented. Now I simply cannot seem to get along without that lifting power.
Admittedly, I did not want my big tractor back. I have no place to store it out of the weather, it took up a fair amount of real estate, and I had thousands of dollars tied up in it that I knew I could use for other things. Selling it wasn't difficult. The day I listed it on Craigslist it was sold. A fellow came down from the Northeast Kingdom the very next day, counted out the cash on my kitchen table and off it went. As winter set in with hardly any snowfall, I did not miss it. Knowing that it was probably its last season with the heavy duty battery that came with it did not hurt my feelings, it helped my wallet. The back yard did not seem to miss it ... the expanse where it sat for the last nine years seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
All of the downed branches, twigs and acorns could have been easily raked into the bucket and dumped into the pickup bed for disposal. All those depressions and uneven areas on the lawn could have been filled with a load of topsoil with a minimum of effort. Yes, now I had regrets. Replacing the tractor with a like-sized unit was out of the question. In fact, if I did replace it, I'd want it to be able to replace the lawn tractor all at the same time. My reliable 17-year-old mowing lawn tractor is starting to show its age, but I know I can get at least another five or six years out of it. However, if I could get a larger garden tractor with a small hydraulic bucket, the world would be right with me. A month long search began.
I scoured on-line tractor sites, looking for a unit that was just the right size. It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This one is too tall, the other one is too tiny, and on it went, day after day. Eventually, I stumbled upon a genre of garden tractor that had about 20 horsepower and some hydraulics. This class of tractor is no longer produced to my knowledge, yet it is the perfect size for my needs. After more searching I ran across a few that met my criteria, but they were all fairly old. In the world of tractors, old is a very subjective thing. In many instances old is better. Heavier gauge sheet metal was used, weight was greater for stability, and reliability was greater. I decided to take a chance on a 40-year-old Wheel Horse in West Townsend, Mass.
The Wheelhorse was housed in a nice neighborhood about 30 miles southeast of Keene, N.H., so it wasn't a bad ride at all. The fellow who was selling it restored older Bolens tractors for show, but this one was one of daily use units that he had. The 20-horsepower engine seemed adequate, the hydraulics passed all of the usual criteria, and it even came with a rototiller hooked up to its three-point hitch and power take-off. After some negotiation, I put down a deposit and promised to return the next day to retrieve it.
Thanks to the generosity of my next door neighbor, I was able to use his trailer to pick up my new acquisition. The retrieval was uneventful, and as I backed it off the trailer into my driveway I got the feeling that this old rig had found its home. I played around with the bucket for a bit, went for a jaunt across the lawn and parked it right where the big diesel once resided. A new shelter is being ordered to protect the new/old rig from the elements, and I'm ordering a rear mounted PTO driven finish mower. Depending on how it all functions, the trusty lawn tractor will go on the market and the Wheelhorse will be put to work. Yes, selling my diesel tractor created regret, but this smaller tractor just might be exactly the thing to make me forget the regret.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.