Boys who grew up in the South love tractors about as much as they cherish pickup trucks, their first 22 rifle or 410 shotgun, and their favorite fishing poles. They start off with red, cast iron toy tractors some kind uncle gives them for Christmas. I must admit, I don’t own a tractor at the moment, but I wish I did. I do own a chain saw which gives me some sense of power, but it is not like having your very own tractor.
In the late 60s, when land prices were reasonable, I acquired a twenty acre farmette on the Dixie Ranch Road just out of the quaint town of Lacombe, Louisiana. The rest of the world had progressed into the Twentieth Century, but Lacombe preferred to stay somewhere in the early Nineteenth Century.
Occasionally, a local fellow by the name of Abe helped me with chores around the place. With a cafe au lait complexion, kinky red hair and hazel eyes, Abe was a dependable worker who knew about the needs of animals, how to drill water wells, and how to mend broken fences.
Abe’s expertise in repairing fences came in handy after my neighbor’s Brahma bull wandered off the free range surrounding my twenty acres of lush, green rye grass and marched himself through my barbed wire fence. On this occasion, I had hired Abe to assist me in stringing a thin electric wire hooked to a transformer around the premises that would shock the offending bull should he attempt to enter the property again. Several events led me to resort to this drastic measure.
Before I arrived at the electric fence solution and armed with the courage of a few too many beers at Henry Keller’s Conoco filling station and bar room, I told Terrance Green, a tough fellow who worked on the oil rigs it the Gulf of Mexico, and the owner of the big black animal, “If your bull comes on my property again an tears up my fence, I am going to have to shoot him.” He didn’t take kindly to this threat and told he told me what he would have to do if I shot his bull. After a couple days of sober reflection, I went to Henry Keller’s and apologized to Terrance and informed him of my plan to install an electric fence instead of shooting his bull.
Just as Abe and I were completing the hookup of the electric fence, the obsidian colored bull arrived, seeking entry into the field of inviting rye grass. “Hurry up Abe, connect it to the transformer. Here he comes,” I shouted to Abe.
The mean animal approached the fence cautiously. It seemed like he could sense something amiss, but he had to get to that delicious rye grass. He stuck his nose into the fence but missed the electric wire. He proceeded forward and his right leg touched the wire carrying high voltage, low amperage alternating current. The big critter went wild. With all four legs he jumped straight into the air and twirled like a graceful ballerina.
Down he came straight into four strands of barb wire. The electric wire did not break and continued to shock the senseless animal. He jumped, bucked and twisted, landing back first on the barbed wire and the offending electric wire then twirling in the air like an acrobat in a circus.
Abe and I shouted with glee as we watched the spectacle of the dancing bull. When the enormous animal finally freed himself and ran back to the security of his free range, Abe and I surveyed the damage he had done. His antics had mangled the fence and he had stomped a mud hole in the ground, but nothing we could not repair in about an hour. I never saw that bull again.
Abe was not with me when my little Ford 8N tractor reared up like Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger and damn near throwed me into the ground breaking disk I was towing. The small Ford–the first and only real tractor I have owned–had a grey body and fenders. Its forty-five horse powered engine and wheels were painted bright red. Its fanny shaped metal seat sat on a piece of spring steel that bounced you like a mechanical horse on a merry-go-round as the tractor traversed rough ground. The slick seat offered no sides or back to prevent your from slipping off. I bought the dear machine from another attorney, Clarence McManus. Clarence and his father, a good old boy from Picayune Mississippi, realized a little extra cash from a used farm equipment business they ran out of their farm. I also acquired the ground breaking disk from my friends.
One Saturday, after a rough week of prosecuting “Bad Guys,” I decided to prepare the fields of my farmette for planting some yet undecided crop. All alone in the country, I consumed a few beers then hopped on the Ford with the disk attached. The job went well until I attempted to drag the disk through a small bog. The disk grabbed a buried stump and immediately stopping all forward motion. But tractors are geared to keep going. The big wheels spun in the wet soil and the front of the tractor reached for the sky. My feet came off the clutch and brake, so I held onto the steering wheel literally for dear life lest I fall back into the sharp, heavy blades of the disk I was dragging behind me. The beer I held between my thighs spilled all over my jeans. After a few terrifying moments that seemed like hours, I freed my right hand enough to slam the throttle shut, and with the help of some providence I don’t understand survived disaster.
Abe did assist me in vaccinating one of two little mean Welch ponies my father-in-law gave me. Frankie and Johnny, two of the most onry critters that ever drew breath, were lousy for riding but they did eat a lot. Their little short legs made riding them more like sitting on a jackhammer operating at full blast, but the kids loved them. In order to avoid expensive vet bills, I employed Abe to help me administer the shots they required.
We got a halter on Frankie and hemmed her up in the fifty by eighty foot vegetable garden area. When Abe attempted to administer the shot, I Frankie bolted and jumped into the fence constructed with hog wire on the bottom and barb wire on the top. After we untangled Frankie from the fence she had torn up, we tried again. Abe instructed me, “Twist her ear then bite the tip of her ear hard.”
“Sure”, I thought, “this is the country fellow having some fun with the city slicker.” I had no desire to put that horse’s ear in my mouth.
But Abe became impatient and commanded again. “Do as I say, damn it. Twist that ear and bite down on it hard until I tell you to let go.”
“What the hell,” I thought. “I don’t think Abe is kidding. If biting this horse’s ear will get the job done I will do it.”
So I twisted Frankie’s ear as hard as I could and bit the tip of the hairy ear with all my might. Sure enough, Frankie stood as still as a stone statue while Abe popped her in her behind with the big needle.
But Abe was not around to help extricate me when I lassoed myself to a John Deere tractor I’d borrowed from a friend. As I now look at my left calf, I still see the mark the half-inch nylon rope made when it dug into my leg.
It was late afternoon on a cool Saturday in early spring. My neighbor Harry, who lived just down Dixie Ranch Road, lent me his John Deere Tractor in hopes that I would buy it. After having lunch and a few beers at Henry Keller’s, I decided to harrow down the big chunks of sod which disking had created. My plan entailed tying a half-inch nylon rope to each end of an old bedsprings and towing it behind the tractor.
The bucket seat on Harry’s John Deere provided much more comfort and security than my old Ford. The seat had strong, deep vertical support for my back as well as both hips. I would later find that this comfort and support would cause me serious problems.
I cracked a cold Falstaff beer, hopped into the snug seat of the John Deere and stuck the beer between my legs. The first couple of passes down the twenty-acre field went well. I did notice a length of old steel cable on the ground in the south part of the field, but was careful to avoid it.
On about my tenth trip up and down the field, I made a sharp turn to the left. All of a sudden I felt something loop around my left leg and tighten up, binding me securely in the John Deere’s seat. The Falstaff fell to the ground. I immediately shut the engine off, assuming I had run over the the old steel cable I had seen and it had somehow tied me to the tractor. On closer examination, I discovered that the half-inch nylon rope I towed the bedsprings with had bound me in the John Deere seat. It was stretched so tightly it felt like steel cable. I could neither move my left leg nor reach the clutch. I now realized the left tire of the tractor had grabbed the rope when I turned sharply and flung it over my left leg. The rope was still wrapped around the tractor wheel and my left leg was becoming numb.
Although operating the clutch was now impossible, if I could loosen the rope I would slip the tractor in reverse and nudge the tractor backward with just the starter motor. Luckily, I was able to get the tractor in reverse, but when I engaged the starter motor the rope tightened up. The rope was wrapped around the wheel that acted like a windlass to tighten the rope with any motion. The pain became severe and I feared I would pass out and die on the John Deere before anyone found me.
I remembered that, just like all boys growing up in the South, I had my pocket knife with me. The bad news was that it was in the left pocket of my thick Levy’s, where the rope cut off access to my knife. I could not pull any slack in the rope and could not tear through the work-tough blue jeans. As I had done many times in the past, I started making deals with God. “God, If you you help me out of this, I will stop drinking.” At least for a while I mentally reserved.
As dusk approaches in the country, the world becomes quiet and still. Birds and other animals prepare for night. I could hear children playing at my neighbor’s about half a mile down Dixie Ranch Road. I called out over and over, hoping they could hear me. In the still of early evening sound travels well and I got lucky.
In about fifteen minutes, two boys about seven and nine years old came running across my field. “What is wrong mister”? the older boy asked.
I explained my predicament as simply an quickly as I could. The boys gazed up at me in wonder then the younger boy announced, “I’ll go run for help.”
“No” I implored, “I can get free if you guys can just help me get my pocket knife out of my jeans.”
The two boys scrambled up on the John Deere and tugged on the rope crushing my left leg. I felt like I might pass out any minute now. The boys strained with all their might and I was able to slip the pocket knife past the rope. It dropped on the ground, but the older boy quickly retrieved it and handed it to me. I opened the knife and sawed through the taught rope. It popped loose like an overstretched rubber band.
I thanked the boys and offered to give them money. Having been taught to never accept money from strangers, they refused my offer. I drove the tractor back to my pickup and hobbled over to the old Chevy. I treated my wound as best I could with bandages from the first aid kit in the truck then found my way back home.
It took some explaining to my wife and the doctor who eventually treated me as to exactly how I had inflicted this nasty wound upon myself. I never did tell them that Mr. Falstaff had been with me on this disastrous adventure.
My escape from this potential disaster proves to me again the old adage, “ God takes care of fools, babies and drunks”.
I still want another tractor, but since I put a cork in the bottle over thirty-seven years ago, I won’t be driving it under the influence.