Old Farm Vehicles: Wheels of the Past Reclaimed

Reconnecting through one's youth through the old farm vehicles used decades ago.

| December 2015

Ask a person who is involved with old tractors about his or her interest in a specific model, and the most common answer will be tied to the tractors used on the farm when he or she was a kid. Affection for a certain make is often the result of time spent on a tractor while growing up.

Owning a similar one later in life makes it possible, to a small degree, to regain one’s youth. We can all understand that. Only rarely does an individual gain ownership of the actual tractor he drove years later. Too many years have passed, and most old tractors don’t survive the rigors of hard use.

That scenario applies to other farm vehicles as well. Those that survive hard use often end up being passed on to a series of owners. For the many readers of Farm Collector who worked on America’s farms during their youth, but who found other work as adults, finding one of the original farm vehicles they used a half-century earlier is highly unlikely. That is especially true if their youthful labor was performed for hire, rather than on the family farm.

An education in old equipment

In our rural grain-growing area in the 1950s, young men (“kids” was the word used then) were expected to start working for farmers as soon as possible. You did it whether you wanted to or not. Sparse population meant a shortage of workers, because in those days, mechanized farm equipment still needed several humans to make it work.

I started working 11 hours a day (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with an hour for lunch), six days a week, at age 13 after a family friend almost begged my parents to send me out to help him. I was willing to give it a try. From then on, my life every summer consisted of farm work. The wage for my labor was $4 a day, plus room and board. (Adult employees got $8 a day, plus room and board, for the same work.)

About the only thing that was halfway interesting in those long hours of drudgery was the equipment I was assigned to use. Most of it was older, because making a living on a small farm at the time was just barely possible. Fortunately, the farmers I worked for maintained the machines well, so it was possible to gain respect (and even some affection) for the pieces I used.