The fenders on Dad’s 3020 Utility have concave tops, perfect seats for riding. When I saw another 3020 Utility up close recently (they’re rare), I realized that the fenders are supposed to be flat. I don’t know if all the riding that my brother and I did on that tractor dished the fender tops, but I spent hours of my childhood there.
Going with Dad was a treat –riding on a tractor in the field or riding with him in the truck doing errands. I watched, tried to absorb, and yearned to be old enough to do real work someday. Those “grown-up” moments came incrementally: raking hay at age eight, shuttling wagons by nine, actually running the baler by ten. Despite occasional adult responsibilities on a tractor, I was still a grade-schooler. When I rode with Dad and we ran into neighbors or stopped by the dealership for parts, someone would usually and ask me, “Are you helpin’ Dad today?” in that mildly patronizing tone. Heart-attack serious in my John Deere cap snapped down to the last hole, I answered with an annoyed, “Yeah.”
By age fourteen, I was old enough to work full time in the summer, and work ruled the day. Truck trips with Dad were to the field to get me “lined out” on a piece of machinery before he drove away to work elsewhere. Hay baling—stacking wire-tied, 80-lb squares at blitzkrieg pace on a rack wagons pulled behind the baler—remained our family’s team sport. Dad was in his 50’s but could still crush men half his age on the rack wagon. As we grew strong enough, my brother and I became his primary rack riders (we sometimes fought over who got to stack —driving the tractor was less-esteemed than an earned place on the rack). A good rack team makes sure the paid-by-the-hour barn crew never waits for a loaded wagon. At sixteen, I finally developed the finesse and endurance to ride the rack with dad all day—a record-breaking, twenty-load day (avg 80lbs/bale x avg 90 bales/load x 20 loads = 72 TONS of hay. 36 tons stacked by each rider). I felt like I’d crossed the first threshold into manhood.
After graduating college and becoming a Marine officer, I only came home only once or twice a year. I’d ride along with Dad in the truck to catch up and see what had changed, no longer constrained by the puritan guilt that both of us should be working –coming to the farm was my vacation. I still jumped in when there was work to do. I noticed that whether fixing tile or fixing fence, we didn’t talk much about the work because we didn’t have to; he trained me, but we also approach things similarly. Something else had changed as well. We worked side by side as men. Though ever the student, I’d reached the point where I occasionally had something to teach him.
Looking back, most of the time I spent with Dad while growing up came through work. He taught me not just how to drive a tractor but how to finesse a machine, to improvise on the fly, to think about efficiency, and to consider the long-term impacts of what we do—qualities that served me well from farm field to battlefield and back.
Almost ten years ago, I was home for fall harvest, the first time since college. When the combine broke down, I went to the dealership with Dad for parts. A woman, whom I didn’t know, looked at dad and asked, “Jack, is that your younger son?” She leveled her palm to the height of her desk, “Why, I haven’t seen him since he was this high.”
She looked at me, “Are ya helping dad today?” in a tone that gave me flashbacks to age seven.
Did she really just say that, I thought. I’d recently finished my second tour in Iraq, capping off a ten-year career as a Marine infantry officer. I’d just spent the last three days running and wrenching machines from early morning until ten at night. Across two and a half decades, the same seriousness and pride welled up.
I smiled. “Yeah, I am.”
Happy Father’s Day
Former Marine Infantry Officer. Iraq Vet. Interested in Regenerative Agriculture at any scale.
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