Tag Archives: farming

Feeling Sick and Marking Time… With Tractors

I was fishing for ideas to keep my every-day-of-2015 posting streak alive even though I am ill and feeling too congested and head-achy to write much.  Then, an Iowa friend of mine who still lives in the town where I went to junior high and high school posted pictures of old restored tractors from the Belmond Area Arts Council photos on Facebook.  Voila!  I can post about tractors!


This little work tractor is just like the one that Uncle Alvin used to teach me how to drive a tractor.  He set me to driving it in circles, actually a rather large square, around the farmyard at his place near Sheffield, Iowa.  It was easy enough for a ten-year-old to handle that I graduated to using an actual John Deere tractor to use a hay rake on a clover-hay field to feed his Brown Swiss cattle, milk cows who were very dark brown and Uncle Alvin claimed gave chocolate milk.  Uncle Alvin was never serious about anything, and when I was ten and pretty stupid in the ways of the world, I thought he was a real hoot.


The John Deere we called a “Johnny Popper” because of the noise it made whenever it was chugging along through the fields.  It was a sturdy dang-old tractor and survived my many gear-shifting mistakes.  Uncle Alvin said as long as I never found the self-destruct setting, the tractor would be all right.


Uncle Larry always preferred a Farmall tractor.  I liked them too, even though they were much harder to drive.  I liked them because they were red.  St. Louis Cardinals’ fan, don’t ya know.  My favorite color is red.

Never did I ever drive an Allis-Chalmers tractor.


I did, however, play with a toy one that looked just like this one when I had to stay at Jenny Retleff’s farm place.  Mom was a nurse and dad was an accountant, and sometimes after school neither of them was available to look after us, so we got dropped off at Jenny’s place a number of times.  That wonderful old farm widow who looked after us was the mother of one of my Mom’s best friends in high school.  Jenny is now gone.  So is the farm place.  Corn and soybeans grow where once the house and barn stood.  Much of the way of life we used to know that was so interspersed with tractors of various sorts is now gone, a victim of modern ways.


Now we look at tractors more as museum pieces and touchstones that help us remember a world that no longer exists.  Oh, there are still tractors out there in the fields of Iowa… but not family farm tractors.  Not member of the family tractors.  Not the simple Farmalls and Johnny Poppers we used to know so well.  Thinking about tractors has made me feel a bit better. (Even though it hasn’t made my purple paisley prose more readable.)

Did you notice?  I wrote about 400 words more than I had intended to.


Filed under autobiography, humor, tractors

Butterflies and Blossoms

A Red Admiral butterfly...

A Red Admiral butterfly…

I am temporarily at home in Iowa, visiting the farm where my grandparents and great grandparents have owned the land and raised crops for over 100 years.  My parents live there now in retirement, and while somebody else tends the corn and rents the land, they maintain the yard and grow flowers.  Retirement is hip deep everywhere around the place.  My old retired self and my wife and my kids are all descended upon them just like the butterfly who came to sample the purple flowers on the porch trellis.  Little work gets done.  My wife and eldest son have jobs and contribute to society still, but we retired folks putter and stutter and watch the butterflies flutter.  We watch the kids and the flowers grow.

The Family Farm House

The Family Farm House

Watching stuff grow has always pretty much been what farming-family Iowegians do.  Corn and soybeans, watermelon, pumpkins. cucumbers, string beans, sweet corn, pop corn, strawberries, potatoes… at one point or another I have helped to plant, tend, harvest, and eat all of those things… well, not seed corn and field soybeans… you can’t directly eat those… but you know what I am talking about, making things grow to feed myself and my family.  There is satisfaction in working the land and making things grow… a fundamental feeling of achievement that helps us feel like we are not mere parasites, consuming and wasting and decimating… we build for the future rather than take maximum profit at the present moment.  Farmers are the good guys.


Only, not so much any more.   For our family farm, with three grandsons (of which I am one) available to do it, none of us have become farmers.  The next generation after us includes no farmers either.  So that fundamental feeling of achievement is basically a memory now.  Only a memory and nothing more.  Feeding the world has become somebody else’s problem now.  We are watching the flowers grow.



Is there value in old farmers watching the flowers grow?  Of course there is!  The land is still functioning farm land.  Iowa is still the breadbasket of America.  We still feed the world.  And we who own the land are at least providing the flowers and the nectar necessary to feed butterflies.  The beauty, as well as the meaning and the metaphor, is there for anyone who wants to see it.


Filed under autobiography, farming, humor, photo paffoonies