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Friday, 02 October 2015 12:08

Lykeminded by Jim Lyke: Return of the farm boys

Written by  By Jim Lyke, community columnist

The memories came flooding back as my brother and I examined the 65-year-old Allis-Chalmers WD farm tractor on display at the Rock River Thresheree.

It had been a long time since I had seen one of those, but everything was just as I remembered from the pair of WDs we used on our farm. The choke and the starter underneath the steering column. The hand crank on the front. The toolbox attached to the inside of the left fender, which served as a perfect seat for a young passenger.

One thing not present that I vividly recalled was the smell of my dad’s tractor. The steering wheel contained an aroma that is difficult to describe, almost like a combination of burnt rubber and oil. And suddenly, that odor from 35 years ago was fresh in my mind.

People are surprised when they find out that my childhood was spent on a dairy farm. My life since high school certainly doesn’t reflect that background. Advertising sales, writing and community theater are a far cry from driving manure spreaders and carrying milk pails. Neckties rarely were worn with green seed corn caps.

It was a life that I have come to appreciate far more now than when it was my daily reality. As the baby of the family, my siblings were all a decade or so older and were out of the house when I was still young. In effect, I was an only child, and a pretty spoiled and bratty one at that.

When my siblings went to school, our neighborhood was still dominated by family farms. By my childhood, things were starting to change. Subdivisions were creeping in, and my closest school friends were not the offspring of farmers. Their lives were different. They took summer vacations and their hardest chores seemed to be picking up their room or drying the dishes. Meanwhile, farm kids were expected to help in the barn and in the fields. Rather than truly understanding the sacrifices my parents made to keep a roof over our head, resentment crept in. I am not proud of my behavior or attitude in those days; it’s a regret that haunts me.

So my trip to the thresheree was more than just a day spent for entertainment. It was a day to reconnect both with my farming past and with my older brother, with whom my 10-year gap seems not nearly as long as it used to.

Naturally, the tractors that caught our attention first were the ones similar to those we grew up with: the Allis-Chalmers, the IH 560, the old Farmall. My brother pointed out a John Deere model B my uncle once owned, a two-cylinder nicknamed the "Johnny Popper" because of its distinctive sound.

We marveled at older, early 20th century models that were astonishingly large, resembling steam railroad locomotives more than farm machinery.

Always present in our minds with these beasts, old or new, is the danger factor. We both knew about that all too well. While working in the hay fields with my father one day, he barely escaped serious injury -- or possibly death -- when his pants leg got caught in the power takeoff shaft between the tractor and the baler. The machinery ripped off his pants, leaving him straddling the shaft in his underwear, boots, and unbelievably, the belt around his waist. Bolting from the hay wagon to the tractor to kill the ignition was the fastest dash in the history of my life.

That was just one chain in the acres of information my brother and I shared that day. He inquired about my memories and offered his. We compared notes and told stories the other hadn’t heard before. It was almost like we grew up on the farm in different eras, like a TV show that changes characters over time. He was Trapper John, I was B.J. Hunnicutt.

Sitting and watching a parade of antique tractors go by, a Simon and Garfunkel lyric came to mind.

"Old friends/sat on their park bench like bookends ..."

Jim Lyke is a writer who lives in Milton. His column appears monthly.

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