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Why Tractors?

Recently, I have been thinking about why I, and many of us, restore tractors. I thought what better way to realize something than to write it down (for me, I am much better at expressing my thoughts on paper than by talking through them). Here is what I have come up with - and I apologize if this is a little long. Enjoy:

Throughout my life, I have been asked a question that to most would be a simple answer. It is only until just recently that I really began to think about it in greater depth. The question I am referring to, of course is, “Why old tractors?” For years, I have answered this with the simple explanation that I grew up around them. My grandfather had them to work his land and assist with his duties while he was retired. Recently, I realized tractors have a much deeper meaning. Over the years, tractors have taught me very important life lessons. >Tractors have taught me a historical story. They have challenged me to think about our history in this country. What must it have been like to sit atop one of these clanky, clamorous, self- oiling machines for 18 hours per day? Can you imagine plowing 500 acres at three miles per hour, two rows at a time, in the middle of summer wearing long sleeve button up shirts and overalls? Tractors help me link the story of America and it’s hard working blue-collar farmers. We keep saying that these days life is “tough”. Mentally, maybe – but overall – I think we have it pretty easy. That is not to saying that farming and many of our industrial jobs are not hard work and dangerous, but if you really think about it we have made an immense amount of progress. This progress would not have been possible without these old tractors, and the people who built and worked them.

This educational aspect of tractor restoration has also taught me to seek advice – and not just any advice. Seek quality advice. In order to do that, you have to go to the source. You have to spend hours and hours researching through tractor data books, owner’s manuals, repair manuals, etc. The most important source that must be consulted, though, is talking to those who have lived together with these tractors. I’m talking about the generations before us (when I say us, I mean those born in the 80’s and beyond). It is important that we learn from those who have “been there, done that”. This is how we can best acquire wisdom. Education can be self-taught, but wisdom only comes with experience. It is important that we learn about the experiences that our relatives and older friends have had. Not only is it a way to carry on a legacy, it is a way for us to help each other. Sometimes our knowledge is the best thing a person can give – and it is free. As the saying goes, some of the best things in life are free.

Third, tractors have taught me that if you are going to do something, do it right. For me, it’s not something I have in my garage as a shiny object to ‘brag’ about. I enjoy working diligently (for sometimes years) on a project that I know someone parked in a fencerow or tree line. In a sense, they were parked and left there to rot away, to be forgotten. Lately, these pieces of craftsmanship, these symbols of history, are being loaded up and driven to the dump for scrap iron – at an increasingly large rate. Not that there is anything wrong with that – it is important to recycle. I do think, however, that there is a strong need to preserve some of these pieces in order to preserve an important portion of our history. The hard work that goes into a tractor restoration is very similar to the work that goes into restoring a classic car – and this brings me to my next point.

Tractors have taught me patience. In order to restore a tractor (or old car), it takes an immense amount of patience. Sometimes you may have to soak a part for days, weeks, or months to get the large amount of rust to break free – and sometimes when it does break free, it is only with the tiniest bit of movement. Patience is key. Go too fast, and you risk breaking something, or missing something important that needed to be addressed. Slow and steady wins the race. Patience is a very important virtue that many of us seem to lack in our “order online, get it next day” world. Every aspect of our lives is entirely rushed, when each of us has so much to do in our daily lives, it is easy to become a little selfish. Tractor restoration helps to keep my patience “level”. (Although I must admit, sometimes I pay a little extra shipping to get that one part that I need).

The last thing that I want to address is, tractors have taught me to be passionate. Growing up in a suburb really made tractor restoration an obscure hobby, given my demographics. For years, I wouldn’t tell others around my age what my most passionate hobby was simply because I was embarrassed. As a kid, you just want to fit in with those around you. Sure, I had other hobbies like fishing and sports, but the one that has always hit home and rang true to me is tractors. As I got older, and I think this happened when I was in high school, I began to realize that my hobby will not be enjoyed by others nearly as much (or at all) if I keep it behind closed doors. To this day, I am still one of very few people that I know who enjoys this hobby – but I still turn these rusty bolts because it helps bring a sense of happiness to my life. I have learned to pass the torch, so to speak. I have introduced others to the hobby, and shown them things that they may have never thought twice about. Does that mean they have to share the same passion? Absolutely not – but at least I gave them a little slice of knowledge about a chapter in the history that we all share.

So now I challenge you to ask yourself about your hobbies. What makes them important to you? A question that I seem to have been asking myself lately is, would I still be into old tractors had my grandfather never had them? I cannot answer that entirely, but I would bet that I wouldn’t be. So who do I thank for this? I do think that I can thank my grandfather, and my parents, relatives, and friends for supporting me in my hobby. Realistically, the thanks that are needed are on a much larger scale. Were it not for the hard work of all of us, I wouldn’t be able to spend time in the garage with these rusted relics of yesteryear. Oh, and if you still are confused about why I have chose tractors, well. Grab a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt, and dive on in. You never know what you might learn. I’m always looking for good conversation and I have got plenty of wrenches. Until then, though, for me it’s off to the garage – I’ve got some learning to do.

Ken Christopherson, entered 2014-02-12
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