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Kountry Life Memories

Plowing, or How I Became a Fathead
As a kid, I always looked forward to Spring plowing. The smell of freshly turned earth, the warm breeze, the flocks of grackles hunting worms, the sounds and smells of a tractor earning it’s keep. For me, all these things mingled together and signified all that was good about farming and life.

In these days of minimum till and chemical weed control, plowing (I suspect) is becoming a lost art. When I was a kid, farmers put great store by their skill at plowing. Furrows were expected to be straight as an arrow. All the trash had to be completely covered, with no weeds or cornstalks sticking up out of the freshly turned earth.

In the flatlands of central Michigan, where I was raised, plowing was generally done in “lands” with back furrows and dead furrows. The way it worked was, the area to be plowed was divided into sections called lands. The size of a land was based partly on the size of the field and partly to make the trips around the ends of the lands (called headlands) efficient, so as not to waste time. Preparing to plow a field was called “striking out the lands”. This requires a bit of explanation. A “dead furrow” was a sort of ditch left when the dirt had been thrown away from both sides of a furrow. A “back furrow” was when two successive passes had been thrown towards each other, resulting in a sort of hill. The idea was to put this year’s back furrows where last year’s dead furrows were, so things stayed fairly level. It took a good eye to spot the little depressions where last year’s dead furrows were.

Our main plowing rig was a McCormick (Farmall) Super W6, and a 3 bottom John Deere plow with 16” bottoms. The “6” as we called it, had a pretty roomy platform, and very large fenders, so there was plenty of room for a boy to ride. Dad was always willing to skooch over a bit to make room for me to ride. I rode on the left fender so Dad could look over his right shoulder to watch the plow, and twiddle the hydraulic control that was mounted on the fender as necessary. (For those who are tractor nuts, our 6 had an after market crankshaft driven front mounted pump to give it live hydraulics, with a reservoir mounted to the left of the gas tank and a single valve mounted on the right fender) Once the lands were struck out and the plowing began in earnest, Dad would let me hold the wheel, and would even, sometimes, let me have the seat while he sat on the fender. At the time, I was some impressed with my skills! Of course, with a wide-front tractor, and both right wheels in the furrow, you’d have to work pretty hard to mess up, but that didn’t occur to me at the time!

One spring, Dad had struck out all the lands, and made a couple of rounds around each of them. I was standing at the near end of the field to bum a ride. When he got to the end of the land, he stopped. I figured he was just waiting for me to get on. As I started to walk over to the tractor, he climbed down, so I figured he was going to check something on the tractor or the plow. He walked up to me and just stopped. I knew something was up, because I could see the twinkle in his eye. You always knew when Dad was about to pull your leg, because he’d get this little “Mona Lisa” smile that you had to look close to see, and his eyes would actually twinkle. Finally, after looking at me for a minute, he said “Well, are you gonna get to plowing or are we gonna stand here and look at each other all day?” Still not quite sure what was up, I climbed on the tractor and turned around to see if he was driving or I was. He just stood there in the headland and said “She’s pulling pretty good in third today, go to it!” I swear, if I’d have been wearing a hat, I’da ruptured the hatband, my head swelled up so quick. I slipped her into third, eased out the clutch and gave her the gas, and off we went.

Dad found a shady spot, and stood there and watched me make a couple of rounds. After the second or third pass, he nodded his head, waved at me, and headed up to the house. I think I gained another couple of hat sizes right there. Two or three hours later, he had to come out with a flashlight and flag me down for supper. I’d have gladly plowed all night. I’ll never forget that day, and I hope, very soon, to be able to pass on a similar experience to my grandson. Or granddaughter, who knows?

Paul Fox, from ME, entered 2000-01-14

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