Packed with glossy photos of immaculately restored tractors and rustic originals, coffee table books dedicated to old iron offer immediate connection to this hobby. Less common is the book filled with fond, personal recollections on the same topic – but two new titles neatly fill the void. My First Tractor: Stories of Farmers and their First Love is a ribbon-wrapped valentine to every collector who gets a bit wistful when recalling that first turn behind the wheel, and Memory of Trees: A Daughter’s Story of a Family Farm opens a window to a way of life now largely lost.
In My First Tractor, editors Amy Glaser and Michael Dregni roamed far and wide to collect essays from a varied group of people who share a common affection for the farm tractor. Although the book’s subtitle refers to “stories of farmers and their first love,” many of the essays are penned by folks who grew up on the farm but built careers elsewhere. Time and distance, though, have only strengthened the ties that bind.
Among the essayists: humorist Roger Welsch, Baseball Hall of Fame honoree Bob Feller, writers Robert Pripps, Bill Vossler (whose articles appear monthly in Farm Collector) and Michael Perry, writer/photographers Ralph Sanders and Randy Leffingwell, cartoonist Bob Artley (another regular Farm Collector contributor) and historian Jerry Apps.
The tales told range from the perils of youthful inexperience to the awe inspired by dad’s first brand new tractor, from lessons learned to lifetimes spent with that one tractor. Universal themes weave through the stories: The pride in a restored family tractor, the cherished heritage, the remembered joys of farm life. There’s even a bit of star power, with a verified Elvis sighting and the inside scoop on country performer Michael Peterson’s first tractor.
Writing on the same topic but in uniquely personal tones, the individual voices in My First Tractor come together in a sweet chorus. Anyone who loves old tractors will enjoy this particular walk down memory lane.
My First Tractor: Stories of Farmers and Their First Love, foreword by Jerry Apps, 2010, hard cover, 256 pages, black-and-white photos, Voyageur Press, $17.99, available through Farm Collector Books.
A memoir of a family farm, Memory of Trees peels away the layers surrounding the loss of a Minnesota family’s farm. The decision to sell, the result of changing times and economies, is a foregone conclusion. Instead, author Gayla Marty looks back from that decision, capturing what it meant to be a farm family in the last half of the 20th century, and what it means to leave the land behind.
A keen observer of her world, Marty summons scenes from her youth and childhood as though they happened yesterday. The reader who comes from a rural background will find the author’s recollections astonishingly authentic and true. Because Marty is both captivated by the farm’s history and bound to it emotionally, the reader is richly rewarded with an unusually well-rounded description of time and place.
Memory of Trees goes well beyond hard decisions of the early 1990s. Marty weaves a rich tapestry of the seasonal rhythms of farm life, the history of ancestors who crossed the Atlantic to make a new life in America, family relationships, love for the environment before it was fashionable, abiding faith, relentless work and an ever changing world. This is familiar ground for farm folk, but only rarely is the tale told in such compelling, beautifully written words.
Memory of Trees: A Daughter’s Story of a Family Farm, by Gayla Marty, hard cover, 248 pages, University of Minnesota Press, $24.95, available through Farm Collector Books. FC