THE BIG FOUR

Content Tools

Crane, Montana

I had been sawing lumber in the mid-twenties with an old 1916 Emmerson Brantingham for power. I had gotten it for five dollars. Some one had been moving it across country and had stopped and gotten drunk, so it had frozen and busted. I had patched it up.

My uncle thought I needed a bigger tractor. So in 1930 he bid on a Big 4 at an auction sale, because the auctioneer was bragging it up. It was really in wonderful shape, according to him. My uncle got it for $55.00 and found the price included a grain separator and a big plow.

The next day I went down to look over my new possession. I worked all day on it by myself. I wrapped the rotten radiator hose and disturbed the mice.

Two days later I was able to get a neighbor to go with me and we planned to bring it right home. We went in his truck with two barrels of water, a half a barrel of gas and all kinds of tools. After working all day, we finally got the Big 4 started. The grain separator was hooked on just behind the tractor, and the plow behind that. We decided to leave them that way, so off we started. The plow had sat there so long that a twelve foot cottonwood had grown up through it. When we started up we watched the plow climb the tree and tip it, and peel the bark from it. We turned in that crowded yard and were headed toward a shed barn. We disengaged the clutch and the Big 4 wouldn't stop rolling. It was going straight toward the shed! I didn't want to kill the motor after cranking on it all day, but I had to in order to save the shed. We drained the water out and quit for the night.

That night I drove over to see my uncle. I asked, 'What about that clutch?'

'That's the way it works,' he told me. You had to slow up the motor and it would disengage the clutch at about 200 R. P. M. s.

The next day we started out again with our truck loaded with water, gas and tools. In order to get out of that crowded place, we knew we should ask permission to cross this guy's yard, so we walked up to the house first.

We knocked at the door and waited. The lady of the house opened the door. I don't know who she was expecting, because she was dressed only in a bath towel. She was a big lady, but the towel was small. She did not retreat, but asked us what we wanted. My friend and I just gasped. Then he started saying, 'Good morning, Good morning' over and over in a loud voice. We finally managed to ask to cross the yard, and backed off the porch. We hurried toward the Big 4, still shocked, when a shot rang out. This was followed by a long string of cuss-words. We thought someone was shooting at us. On a nearby ditch bank stood a man looking down at his gun. He wasn't paying any attention to us. We went over to him and it was the husband of the lady in the towel. He was still holding his gunstock in his hands, but about eighteen inches of the barrel was dangling. The barrel had evidently been plugged and when he shot at a pheasant, not us, the barrel had exploded.

We all three went to work on the Big 4. We got it started, out of the yard and up the road.

'Here, you take the wheel,' I said. 'I have to have a Bull-Durham cigarette after all that excitement'. Boy! it was good to be out of that place and rolling along the road home.

Soon we came to a railroad crossing. We happened to look back and here was a prairie fire covering about ten acres. The Big 4 had evidently blown out a mouse nest and some sparks.

It took us about two hours, with the help of nearby neighbors, to put out the fire. It must have been about three o'clock when we started out again. We were getting better on the cranking. After looking both ways, we started the Big 4 across the railroad tracks. The train was past due, but not in sight. Nothing could happen, now. We got the front wheels across the rails, but when the hind wheels hit the rail, a lug on one wheel slipped on the rail and bounced. The jolt to the Big 4 jarred the old single speed transmission out of gear. There we sat. We had to shut the motor off to get the transmission engaged again. We began cranking fast and hoped the train would be late today. Maybe, the engineer would stop up the creek and pick agates, he sometimes did. But, all was well, we got it started and off the track.

We did pretty well the rest of the day. We went through narrow bridges and across the track again, without any mishaps. We had made three miles. It had gotten dark, so we left it on a hill and went home to do the chores.

Next morning, we filled the water barrels and set out again. We cranked up and went two miles then ran out of gas. We had to go clear home for gas. When we got back to the Big 4, it looked like the County Fair. A crowd had collected around there. It was the neighbors, and the teacher had dismissed school so the children could see it.

We got the gas poured in, but no one could help crank. All went well for the next three miles as it had began to drizzle. No need to watch for fire when it was raining.

Now, we had gotten within forty rods of homestead, and were talking how we would get the Big 4 into the shop and really overhaul it, when the worst happened.

We heard a heavy thump, and I craned my neck to see what was going on. I watched pieces of the crankcase fall to the ground. Then, a connecting rod fell, followed by a piston. The Big 4 rolled downgrade to a stop.

We just gave up then and there. We sat down and rolled a Bull-Durham cigarette. By this time, the Bull-Durham sack was pretty greasy. There was nothing more we could do. We sure never got to saw lumber with the Big 4.