Growing Up With a McCormick-Deering 10-20

The author reflects on his farming boyhood and his first solo outing at age 12 plowing a field with a McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.

| December 2002

  • McCormick-Deering 10-20 - parked tractor
    The McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor Harry Macomber and his father used for plowing and other duties.
    Photo: Harry Macomber
  • McCormick-Deering 10-20 - Harry Macomber at age 12
    Harry Macomber at age 12.
    Harry Macomber

  • McCormick-Deering 10-20 - parked tractor
  • McCormick-Deering 10-20 - Harry Macomber at age 12

My foot struggled to push in the stiff clutch on the McCormick-Deering 10-20. I was trying to slip the clutch a little as the front wheel entered the furrow. Holding the metal steering wheel with both hands for leverage against the resistance of the clutch, I eased the big tractor forward until the ribbed rear tire entered the furrow, too. I let go of the clutch and quickly reached back with one hand to jerk the rope that tripped the two-bottom plow, sending it burrowing into the ground.

I pulled the throttle back to the notch Dad had pointed out and glanced back. He was standing, watching me. Quickly, I turned my attention back to the front tire riding the inside edge of the last furrow he had plowed; I dared not let that tractor tire veer right or left, and mar his straight line.

It was the fall of 1952. I was 12 years old and still well shy of a 100 pounds, soaking wet. I had driven the 10-20 alone before, pulling a four-section drag or a disc. Even earlier, I shared the seat with my older sister as we hauled hay, but it had taken both our right feet, hands braced on the steering wheel, to depress the clutch while Dad spread open another sling on the hay wagon.

Here I was at last, though, doing the most important fieldwork all by myself. I was plowing, on my own, all alone on the tractor. Turning the rich earth on our lower Michigan farm had been one of my favorite parts of farming, even before I took the wheel myself. I had ridden along occasionally, sitting on the big, wide fender as Dad expertly guided the tractor around and around the field — the band of rich, dark earth getting wider with each pass. My dad and grand-dad were perfectionists when it came to plowing; both men wanted the furrows straight and clean, even though the furrows soon would disappear under the rollers of the cultipacker or the teeth of the drag.

Dad was one of the few farmers in our area who used a combination of a rolling coulter and jointer. The thin, sharp coulter sliced a straight, clean line through the sod, cornstalks, or whatever was on the surface. The jointer, a miniature of the plow point, rode against the coulter and turned about 5 inches of the soil before the plow point and moldboard finished turning the earth into the furrow beside it.

The result was a sea of brown, clean furrows with not a weed or bit of stubble showing. Dad took great pains to adjust each part of the plow until it laid over these clean, even furrows; with great disdain, he would point out the fields of any neighbor whose plowing wasn't so precise. He also always set the plow depth to pull up just a little subsoil each time and work it into the rich topsoil; the object was to increase the good soil a little each year. He'd checked to be sure I was doing the same when I plowed, and then he'd disappear, leaving me on my own in a field a half mile from the house.


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