Oliver Super 88 Versus Not-So-Super Man
Restoring an Oliver Super 88 tractor brings back childhood memories for Ray Baltes.
Driving a tractor is a rite of passage for every farmboy and girl, and anyone who grew up on a farm has nostalgic stories about his or her first tractor. “My First Tractor” is a collection of 30 such stories from notable rural authors.
Photo courtesy Voyageur Press
My First Tractor (Voyageur Press, 2010) is a collection of 25 stories from notable rural authors relating fond — or not-so-fond — memories of their first tractors, including Michael Perry, Bob Artley, Roger Welsch, Bob Feller, Ben Logan, Gwen Petersen, Ralph W. Sanders, Robert N. Pripps and more. In this excerpt from the chapter “Super 88 Versus Not-So-Super Man,” Ray Baltes tells the hilarious story of how renovating a tractor changed his life.
Ray Baltes grew up on a farm near Hampton, Iowa, but left after high school to pursue a career in journalism. He served as photo editor for the Charles City (Iowa) Press, then as editor of his hometown newspaper, the Hampton Chronicle. Deciding it was time to slow down, he left the newspaper business to spend more time with his family, write books, and help out on his dad’s farm.
This essay is part of a book Baltes is at work on chronicling the legacy of his family’s Oliver Super 88 tractors.
Restoring an Oliver Super 88 Tractor
I grew up on a small farm in the northern part of Iowa in the 1960s and ’70s, so from an early age I was fascinated with tractors. We always had a tractor on the farm, of course, but visiting my grandpa’s farm was a special treat. My grandpa favored Oliver tractors, and at times had owned an Oliver 70, an 88 Row Crop, and a Super 88. I loved the soothing green color of these tractors, and the quiet purr of their motors.
Grandpa Baltes’s Oliver Super 88 tractor held a special place in my heart. He would hoist me up onto his lap, shift the mighty machine into gear, and take me for rides down the long, grassy lane running along the field just east of the farmyard. I reveled in the characteristic whine of the big Oliver’s gears as we bumped along. The smooth purr of the motor, along with the feeling of Grandpa’s arms wrapping around me to reach the steering wheel, gave me a sense of security and happiness that I would never forget. As I rode, I would watch the tread of the giant rear tires passing in front of the fender. I could look to my left and see the field of very tall cane that was grown as cattle feed at that time. To my right was a narrow pasture and a ridgeline covered with massive stones removed from the farmland and piled high above the creek below. If it was fall and the harvest was complete, I might get the extra special experience of riding all the way around the 320-acre farm. I always wished those rides would never end.
Years later, I would relive those glorious trips down the lane, but not before my patience, my strength, my sanity, my body, and my family had been severely tested.
As I reached my 40s, I began longing to return to the farm way of life. I began spending more time at my folks’ farm, helping out in any way I could. Chores that I once had despised, such as cleaning out the chicken house, mowing the yard, or discing the field, now became simple pleasures.
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