The View from Faraway Farm: I'll probably regret this

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I sold my tractor today. I rarely use it anymore, so I figured I could use the money for something else, or just save it. Anyone who owns a tractor is probably shaking their head right now thinking to themselves, "He's going to regret this." Maybe so. I just need to go back and remember why I bought it in the first place, and how I used it.

My need for a tractor came about when I expanded the house. In order to build the addition, we had to move a raised area of land where a barn probably resided some hundred years ago. My place could have been a sheep farm at one time because a fulling mill was less than a mile away. Our valley had mostly sheep farms in the 1800s. Come to find out, the pastures that stretch out above and below our place, like any Vermont farm, had to have an abundance of rocks. All of those rocks were used for the stone walls that carve up the hillsides. Any excess was probably used for fill. In the case of my place, they were used to build up a solid, raised foundation; right where we were building an addition. When the excavator dug into that foundation we learned that it was nothing but rocks. Really good rocks. Knowing the value of good field stone, I asked the operator to pile the rocks to the side for later use. I had all sorts of grandiose ideas for utilizing those rocks. That's why I bought the tractor.

The 35-horsepower, three-cylinder diesel tractor was as much as I could afford. It came with a hydraulic bucket. I didn't waste any time putting it to work. I moved rocks for a walkway, for steps, for a ditch header, for a short stone wall. Then when winter came I used it to put the snow exactly where I wanted it. That was the best because the driveway is rather oddly shaped, and space for piled up snow is limited. There's nothing like a bucket to stack the white stuff precisely where you need it to be. Because this tractor was equipped with a rear P.T.O., I entertained the idea of affixing a snowblower to it. Then I saw the prices and figured I would never get my money back from the investment.

In the summers, I used the tractor to move a bunch of rotted wood lying about. I also moved the occasional rock from the pile, but there were a few rocks that the 35-horse tractor just couldn't handle. We're talking rocks that weigh as much or more than a car. Some of the bigger rocks had to be levered into the bucket, smaller ones I simply picked up and placed in the bucket; until I noticed an out-pouching of skin in my navel. Oh, boy. My doctor said it was an umbilical hernia. Not bad enough to require surgery, but my straining against rock days were over.

I used the tractor to move vehicles, reposition a camper trailer, deliver bucket loads of firewood to a neighbor, spread out stone for the driveway, move a compressor, pull over trees to ensure that when I felled them they wouldn't hit anything of value. I also prepared an area for a portable garage. The biggest job we ever gave that tractor was a property clean-up where we dumped loads of refuse into a huge demolition box. Then there was the inevitable snow removal.

One year I welded up a rudimentary frame and threw an ATV canvas cab over it and called it all-weather. I ran that until the cab rotted out from the sun. I replaced it with a huge sheet of plastic and a plexiglass windshield. The cab never required heat because enough came off the machine to keep things quite toasty during snow removal. It was well worth the effort to build that cab.

So here we are, years later saying goodbye to a true and faithful workhorse. It is headed up to the Northeast Kingdom where I'm certain that it will serve its new owner for many more years. While I know I'll miss the tractor, it has come down to where it is just in the way and the need for it is rare. Like any useful tool, you miss its capabilities most when you don't have them any longer. Will I regret this? I certainly hope not.

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.


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