Thursday, November 2, 2017

Farewell, Old Friend

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
This past weekend we said farewell to a dear old friend who has been a part of the farm since before I was born.  The 1941 Farmall M  was purchased by my Grandfather prior to Pearl Harbor.  When he suffered a stroke a few years later,  my father came back to the farm and purchased the tractor from his dad.   He farmed with it until his death in 1976, after which my mother sold it at the farm sale.  For  13 years the Old Red tractor saw hard use and neglect, until a cousin spotted it on a sale lot and called my husband to tell him it was for sale.

Old Red 13 years after being sold

We were "City-Folks" at that time, living in Atlanta, Georgia, but my husband bought it for me, sight unseen.  His step-father enjoyed restoring old machinery--with a preference for John Deere tractors.  Just this once he took on the task of restoring something RED!  It was a challenge, but when we came home for Christmas one year he surprised us with the completed job.  Larry's mother had acquired a Santa suit and enlisted me to create a face for Santa, and the old Farmall M with Santa at the wheel decorated their yard for the holidays.
My husband sees what he bought!

Because we continued to live in distant cities for several years, the Farmall M made its home with its restorer, and later, in the repair shop of my husband's brother--a rather awkward insertion of red, since his brother managed a John Deere dealership!  Eventually we returned to the farm and built a barn, and the Farmall M was finally home again.  The Old Red Tractor celebrated its first Halloween back home with Jack Pumpkinhead (a character from Baum's Wizard of Oz series) sitting in the driver's seat to welcome guests to our Harvest Moon Barn Dance.

Old Red and Santa
Although the crop land the Farmall M had once farmed with my father, my brother, my husband, and an assortment of male cousins occupying the driver's seat, our land was now leased and farmed by much larger tractors.  However, the Farmall M resumed its responsibilities by dragging a mower  around our farmstead.  Old Red was back at work!

Farmall M with Jack Pumpkinhead
Eventually green equipment began to invade the farm, and Old Red began spending more time alone in the barn, out of the weather.  If tractors have feelings--and it seems as if the Farmall M would have after being a part of this family for so many years--it must have been sad for Old Red.  At the family reunion held at the farm in 2004 soon after its return, the red tractor was the star of the show.  The nephews, now with gray in their hair but who had come to the farm to help their Uncle Ralph during summers when they were teenagers, just had to take the Farmall M for a spin, and it occupied the center of the family group portrait.  Now it sat unused and alone.

I once thought about using the Farmall M as the central character of a children's book, and I had written an outline and imagined the illustrations I would draw of the old tractor.  However, one of my favorite children's book illustrators, Loren Long, beat me to it!  His brave red tractor named Otis is the central character in a series of children's books, but Otis looks a lot like our old Farmall M!
Loren Long's Otis
Our old Farmall M

I didn't realize how much the tractor I rode with my father when I was just a little girl resembled Otis until I got out my most recently purchased Loren Long Otis book.  I have a variety of Loren Long's books in my collection, in addition to the Otis series, and I have given his books to children, which they love.

I had just come into the house after saying good-bye to our old tractor when I decided to tell the story of Old Red on my blog instead of in a children's book.  After all, Otis seemed to be a great stand-in hero for our Farmall M. I took one of Loren Long's books, Otis and the Kittens, off the bookshelf, and I couldn't believe how many of the photographs I had taken of our old tractor were similar to Loren Long's portraits of Otis.  I believe they must be close relatives!

Loren Long's Otis
My father's view
Feeling quite sentimental about saying good- bye to our old tractor, I had sat in the seat to photograph the view through the steering wheel that my father must have seen for uncountable hours.  I could hardly believe it when I found a similar illustration drawn by Loren Long!

I was not one of those farmer's daughters who learned to drive a tractor and helped out in the field.  My contributions were more traditional, cooking meals for hungry harvest hands.  However, I often took cookies and a cold drink to the field and rode a few rounds with my father or my older brother, and after I was married and my husband occasionally helped at the farm, I sometimes rode with him.

My last photo on the Farmall M
I had been surprised and a little confused when my husband bought our old tractor.  Yet, I confess, I loved seeing it back on the old home place when we returned to the farm.  Even after we stopped using it and the effort of getting it out of the barn to sit by the gate on special occasions were reduced to a rarity, it was hard to think about ever allowing the tractor to leave the farm.

Yet, finally, that decision was reached.  I thought I was being very reasonable about it, but when the time came I shed a few tears, although I am very happy to see it go to a special cousin--one of those who drove it when he was a young man.  We are confident that his affection for the old Farmall M is nearly as great as ours.

Our last farewell at the farm
I have tears in my eyes as I type this--silly to some of you I am sure, but not to everyone.  Even in this time when farmers trade tractors frequently, you can still hear a touch of nostalgia when they speak of the first tractor they drove or the tractor with which they began farming.  It is not unusual for retired farmers to begin restoring old models, just as my husband's step-father did.  

I know I will miss the old Farmall M, but I am confident we did the right thing.  My cousin just sent me a text with a picture of the old tractor, delivered safe and sound.  It looks right at home!

Cropped images from Loren Long's Otis and the Kittens are copyrighted and must not be forwarded or printed.  They were inserted in this blog solely for educational, non-commercial purposes and to personally promote my recommendation of Loren Long's books for children.

Remember, my photographs were shown in a small size to allow more images to be included, and you can enlarge them by clicking on the image.


Betha Edwards Regan said...

Lyn, I really enjoyed your Farmall M blog. I googled to confirm that it was indeed manufactured by International Harvester. However, I was quite sure it was, the red being my first clue. I'm sure you don't remember that when we parted way upon graduating from FHSU that I had a job with IH waiting for my in Mission, KS. Thirty-six years later, the company where I worked for twenty years moved to Mission, just 3 blocks from my IH office. When I retired seven years later, I realized I had come full circle, thus my Alpha and Omega.

Jack Bender said...

Nice story reminds me of my old to me Nissan truck which went from me to a grandson to his mother, to his half sister to a stranger. Didn't cry but there was some nostalgia when I saw the place it had been parked empty last week.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I have received several e-mail comments about the blog that I'll share: CL: "That is a great story. My husband has started picking up old farm tools and equipment and restoring them. He hasn't restored any tractors yet." (CL, I noticed especially the work "yet!") CM from TX wrote: "I just read your blog with...a little sadness at the thought of you and Larry giving up the Farmall tractor. It even holds fond memories for us..." SG from MO wrote: " amaze me with your writing. Not silly to me. I totally understand the affection. No matter what, you can't take our farm youth out of us." GS wrote: "I just read your blog again for the second time today. You did a beautiful job putting it into words." BK wrote: Tank you for sharing this family story. Beautiful." LK from MO wrote: "I have read that you only name something that is special to you. My husband and his brother purchased a C-Allis-Chalmers tractor like their dad's first tractor. He calls it their Play Toy. My dad had to farm with horses [but] he sold those horses as soon as his dad died." TH from TX wrote: Neat old friend story. Glad you said 'your husband' on the picture, as he looks exactly like his Uncle Phillip sitting there atop the tractor."

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I hope you are enjoying the comments from followers that I am passing along. DB explained: "I have a 1956 Ford pickup whose story would be much the same and whose fate has not been established."

CW from Idaho wrote: "Loved this story. My Dad used to sell International Harvester Tractors...brought back memories of all the red tractors sitting on his lot. There are certain things in our lives that just looking at them brings back very fond memories."

AM shared: "It [the blog] was very special to me because my Dad bought his first farm tractor just like that and probably about the same year!! Unfortunately, that tractor got away from my family!! For my grandson's 4th birthday jus last month I bought him the Otis book about the tractor. A precious book. I am hooked on them."

Betha Edwards Regan said...

Lyn, the first comment posted on November 2, 2017 was by me. My job with IH was even in the Farm Equipment division. So my accounting work was generated by many farmers buying a new IH tractor, as your grandfather did many years before my time.

Betha Edwards Regan