First Things

FC_V4_I8_Mar_2002_01-1.jpg

Nancy Smith

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A single-row, horse-drawn cultivator, more or less drenched in oil, sits in the machine shop of our big barn these winter days.

The cultivator's tongue is missing and one wheel is buckled, so that an ancient jack - a grandaddy-long-legs of a machine with a well-worn wooden knob on its crank - must prop it up. Chains, hung from a massive barn beam, soon will be affixed as well.

My husband, Richard, has started a new project; I expect I may get invited to 'help.'

This is a cultivator from his childhood. For decades, it sat in the fence row along the old lane back of the house.

His dad never talked about it, he says, and of course never used it, so it became a plaything to the little boy, alone, charged with entertaining himself within eyeshot of the kitchen window.

Naturally, he'd sit on it and pretend to cultivate. Climbing up the wheels to the seat, trying to make the rusted levers move, to figure out how it worked, he memorized every part.

When he got a little bigger, though, he abandoned it. Even robbed it of its seat. His dad had welded together a 'toy tractor' for him, and as Richard grew, he and his dad 'upgraded' this creation, replacing its first, smaller seat with the cultivator's, and adding a small motor to boot.

When he could putt-putt on the tractor around the yard, he lost interest in the stationary machine.

After we returned to the farm with our own small children, he laid hands on the cultivator again; it must have felt familiar. Next, he moved it  half buried in its old, would-be grave - as we were tidying up. Dragging it behind a tractor, he buckled that wheel in a flash, learning then and there that 'tidying up' can take as big a toll on vintage farm implements as a World War II scrap-iron drive.

The fact that the cultivator just 'wasn't in the way' saved it for all those decades; moving it because, finally, we'd decided it was in the way, threatened its continued existence in a flash. On first glance, it looks like a Deere -but don't they all? Richard says it isn't, but we can't find a name cast into it anywhere. He says he thinks he'll just straighten that wheel out as best he can and leave it. And we're on assignment this show season in more than one way: In addition to looking for magazine stories, we're looking for a cultivator seat. After he outgrew his little tractor, it was given to a neighbor boy. Richard can't remember which one, and truth to tell, it's been a few years.