The old leather boots
 Reflections on an October Saturday afternoon

I spent several hours trimming trees and cleaning out gutters today, the kind of chore for which I dig out my old leather boots.  Over the course of many trips back and forth across the yard, dragging tree branches to a big pile that will supply indoor kindling and outdoor bonfires over the next few months, I noticed that much of the yard is pretty rough looking.  Bare spots, dips from where I'd burned out some stumps but never really filled it back in right, weedy places.  "Maybe I could buy something small like a Super C, and find a rear-mounted tiller for it," I thought to myself.

The northwest corner of the yard is where the barn would go, the one where I'd keep the Super M (and I guess the Super C, too, as long as I'm daydreaming).  Probably keep the bikes and lawnmower and extension ladder and such in there also, I suppose, but mostly it'd be a barn.  I'd have to build it myself to keep the cost down and because I'd need it to be an honest barn rather than one of those pretend things I see out in front of the Home Depot.  Have to have a pretty high door to clear the muffler on the Super M, and of course some good workspace, so it'd end up being pretty big.  I'd have to add some barn details, maybe a haymow door up high.  I'd wear my old leather boots while I built it.

Right now the woodpile is on that spot.  Not this summer but each of the two before, we had a crew thin out the trees in the back yard and cut down some dead ones from the front, maybe 20 total, decent-sized, 6" to 12" in diameter I guess.  The crew ground the tops into mulch and cut the wood into fireplace length for us, and by now I've got all but a little bit of it split.  That's a job for the leather boots, and while I split I remember splitting with my dad and loading wood into the old two-wheel wagon, hooked to Dad's '48 Case.  We just had the one wagon, so it hauled everything.  Kids, manure, firewood, fertilizer, seed, hoes and rakes.  Pumpkins and corn and tomatoes.

Somewhere in those years as a teenager my feet found a comfortable size and settled down in it, and I didn't outgrow the BiltRite Huron crepe soled leather workboots that I'd gotten somewhere along the way.  They were with me when we baled hay with the Rosenbergers down the road, and when I painted the Ross's barns, and when we fixed the fenceline.  They were cold and wet and later stiff on days when I should have chosen the rubber knee-highs instead, but they were warm and clean and felt good on evenings when we looked back on an empty hayfield and a full sweet-smelling barn.

Most of the years since then, 27 or 28 I guess, haven't seen me often in the field.  Now and then the boots still come out, soles too smooth but okay for what little I ask of them.  The tops seem unchanged, soft and light brown up high by the little brass ears that I wrap the last few turns of the laces around, but down low the bits of roofing tar, flecks of paint, anonymous scuffs and nicks blend into the deep gray-brown of history.  Such a plain thing, these boots, but they remember, and they wait with me.  They keep faith while my work years are filled with desks and talking and thinking and writing, while too many bills leave too little left, while toy tractors on my desk and tractor shows in the summer, and dreamed-of backyard barns unbuilt, fill in for the life of my past and future.

Copyright 2004 by Dean Vinson
One of Dad's reflections

Farmall M

 Got the M out yesterday
 April 7, 2008

Sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s over the weekend pulled me outside, and after doing some yard work I decided to straighten up the garage a little bit.  The side where I park my car had a crusty white layer of salt, left over from winter slush that the car had tracked in, and there was the usual mix of leaves, dirt, and semi-randomly-distributed oil-stained newspapers on the other side of the garage, where the M Farmall lives.  Time to pull things out and sweep.

The muffler won't clear the garage door, so I start the old girl up bare, as it were, which always gets the attention of the kids across the street. Then I put the muffler on once it's outside, to keep in good graces with the neighbors, and since I think the tractor looks better with something other than the stub of the exhaust manifold sticking up.  But those first deep rumbles as it fires up are sure a lot of fun.  And bless her heart, fire up she does after however many weeks or months of sitting there.

I needed to fiddle with the brake adjustment a little bit to get both sides to catch at about the same time.  Last year I'd taken both brakes off to replace the oil seals and clean the bands, and for some time after that the bands would stick if I let the tractor sit for a while.  So I'd taken them off again a month or two ago and put them back on, to make sure I had them on and adjusted correctly, but I hadn't gotten the left-right balance just right.  So a few turns of the brake adjustment springs yesterday, and I'm back in business.  I tested it by letting the tractor roll down the sloping driveway and then braking sharply with both brakes locked together, and watching for it to pull to one side or the other.

My neighbor down the street was washing off his four-wheel ATVs after a trip out with his kids, so I drove the M down to compare notes about off-road vehicles.  Between his kids and the neighbor boys there's a gang of six-year-olds down there and they're pretty well stocked with modern toys, but they got a big kick out an old red tractor with wheels taller than them.

After that it was too nice to go back home just yet and I figured the battery could use some charging and the engine deserved to get up to operating temperature, so I toured the neighborhood in road gear for a while.  The engine sounded great, people were waving and smiling, and the tractor smelled like hot metal and oil and history.  Wish I had some plowing to do.

At the end of the day, with the garage cleaned up and the tractor back inside, I rested my hand for a moment on top of the front corner of the hood, where it curves down into the grille.  There's a nice residual warmth there, right above the radiator, for a good long time after shutting down, and checking in with that warmth is somehow almost like hugging your kids or petting your old dog--it's just a damn fine place to be.

Copyright 2008 by Dean Vinson


Farmall M

 Adventures on the farm, sort of
 April 10, 2014

I'm preparing to move my 1953 Super M from its and my suburban home to our long-awaited little old farm in the country, and the onset of warm weather makes me think I'll simply drive it the 35 miles rather than arrange to have it hauled.   This evening's chore was to take it down to the corner gas station and fill the tank, and then change the oil once back home, and 70+ degree temperatures and warm evening sunlight made it seem like a simple task.

First discovery was that my battery was dead, again, somewhat to my surprise since I had removed it from the tractor and fully charged it not that long ago.  Okay, it was probably six months ago, but in my mind it was very recent.   So I threw the charger back on it for a while and attended to some household chores, but as sunset approached I thought I'd best get on my way so I took the charger off, flipped the seat base back down over the battery and bolted it tight, and cranked the engine over.  Fired right up like the fine old girl she is, and I chugged my way down to the station.

Chugged being the right word, too, since last year's remnant of gasoline was looking rather orange in the sediment bowl and seemed to cause the engine to be undecided about what RPM it ought to be running at, or possibly whether it ought to be running at all.   I later noticed that my factory-sealed little bottle of Sta-Bil is still sitting right there near the battery charger where I set it not that long ago, intending to put it in the gas tank before winter.  Okay, it was six months ago, but in my mind it was very recent.  

$63.00 worth of fresh gasoline later, I climbed back up, listened to that familiar rhythm of clank-rattle-rattle-squeak-click-scratch (clutch in, make sure gear shift's in neutral, little tug on throttle, pull out ignition switch, pull back starter rod).   As always, that part sounded great.    But the following "click-click-silence" wasn't so endearing a tune.   #@*&! that battery.

Now, I refer to this place as the "corner gas station," since it is in fact a gas station and on a corner, and I like it because one of the roads that forms the corner is a quiet neighborhood street that links up to some other quiet neighborhood streets, one of which eventually links up with my driveway.  Trouble is, the other road on the corner is a six-lane divided artery two-tenths of a mile from the interstate off-ramp and one-tenth in the other direction from a traffic light at the entrance to the mall, and it turns out I wasn't the only one who'd thought to stop at the gas station this evening.   I was the only one with an old farm tractor, to be sure, but the fact that it was dead silent and blocking one of the service aisles at the station detracted somewhat from whatever cachet I imagined I'd had up to that point.

So I left it in neutral, climbed back off, and proceeded to roll it out of the way.   For a 6000-pound machine, it rolls pretty easily on nice smooth level asphalt, which would have come in right handy if the gas station parking lot had had very much of that.  As it was, I was working up a sweat leaning into one of the rear wheels and inching my way along over potholes and patches, when a young man pulled up in the next aisle and came over to ask if I needed jumper cables.    I thanked him and said yes, that would be terrific, since my alternate plan was to inch my way the remaining two hundred yards or so to where I hoped the neighborhood road sloped down steeply enough and for far enough that I could roll-start the tractor.   So he hopped back in his SUV, pulled around and parked nose-to-nose with the tractor, and got out with his jumper cables.   Then after I showed him that the battery was actually under the operator's seat at the back of the tractor, he patiently drove back around to the back.

By then I'd climbed up to open the toolbox to get the big crescent wrench to loosen the battery-cover bolts, only to be greeted by its distinct absence along with a crystal-clear mental image of it sitting on the bench in my garage where I'd set it about 12 minutes earlier after tightening hell out of those bolts.   Evan (as the young man was named, I later learned), turned out to be more patient and helpful than I could have hoped for and offered to drive me home to get the wrench.   So we made a quick round trip, opened up the battery box, and hooked up the cables.   I realized I'd have to break my rule about never starting the tractor unless I'm in the seat with the clutch in, since the seat was flipped back over and sitting on the jumper-cabled-battery didn't seem too appealing an alternative.  So after making sure it was in neutral with the brakes set I settled for the squeak-click-scratch of throttle/ignition/starter rod, and the Super M fired right up like the fine old girl she is.

Evan said his goodbyes as I said my latest round of thank-yous, and then I bolted the seat base/battery cover back down, carefully put the wrench in the tool box, hopped up on the seat, switched the lights onto Low, released the brakes, and hummed off into the darkness.   Hummed being the right word, too, since that new yellow gasoline flushed the sediment bowl and flowed on down to the carburetor and made it nice and easy for the engine to know right what RPM it ought to be running at.  

Copyright 2014 by Dean Vinson

Dean Vinson's Farm Life Page
Family Farm Tractors Shows Books
History Sounds Trains Air Force Cool Stuff
Thanks for visiting!  E-mail me at if you have any comments.  I'm always glad to talk tractors and such. --Dean Vinson

Copyright notice:  Unless noted otherwise, I wrote all the text and took all the photos.  Feel free to make any personal use of them, but do not make any commercial or public use of them without my specific okay.