It looked beautiful with its new coat of red paint. There wasn’t a dent in sight. A smile came across my face as I heard the engine purring. It looked showroom new, and for me, there was a story behind it all.
The tractor, which I lovingly call “Old Red,” was mine for a while. Originally, it was my dad’s tractor; he gave it to me in spring 2009.
A few years back, my dad knew his time on this earth was winding down. Every time my wife, Debbie, and I made a trip to my home state of Oklahoma, Dad would give me things, old things. He gave me old handsaws from his vast collection or other antiques with family ties. He gave me the complete set of reins with the collars that his father used on a team of horses, building roads in Oklahoma during the WPA days. He kept them hanging in the barn on the family farm. His younger brother had passed them on to my dad in the late 1990s.
Dad wanted me to have the tractor with its offset seat and steering wheel. I always had a hard time getting on Old Red. Anytime I drove it, I had to step up from the back and straddle the seat to sit down.
Old Red wasn’t a family heirloom; it was just a small farm tractor that my dad bought in the early 1980s from a neighbor. It was predecessor to the Farmall 140 and replaced the Farmall 100. Farmall built 9,709 of the tractors in Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky, from 1956-58.
It had a 1-point hitch and came with several implements, including a 1-row planter with a planter plate for cucumbers and melons, a 1-bottom plow, a 5-foot tandem disc and a carry-all platform. The carry-all could be used to carry bags of seed, animal feed or bales of hay.
When it’s time to mow …
A few years later, my mom bought an aftermarket brush hog for the tractor. My dad used Old Red mostly to mow the pasture around their home. He kept the implements in the barn and out by the garden. He never used them.
One hot Oklahoma summer day, I believe in 2006, my dad was mowing the pasture. It was too hot to be outside, let alone mowing. But for my dad, when it was time to mow, it was time to mow!
He had just finished mowing the front pasture and was on Old Red headed to the half-barn were he stored the tractor. As he made his way up the drive, he apparently passed out from the heat. The tractor was still rolling and he was in the seat, slumped over.
A friend of the family had stopped to visit with Dad and saw what happened. He started hollering just before Dad ran into the back of my mom’s Mercury van. It was just enough to jolt my dad back to his senses. The crash put a small dent in the van bumper and pushed in the tractor grille.
Dad could have been killed, but I believe the hand of God was on him that day and kept that from happening. It must have been all those years of praying at night. When I was a kid, I used to lay in my bed at the other end of the hallway in my Tulsa boyhood home and listened as Dad prayed for his family. It’s something that I will never forget or take for granted.
Making a hard decision
Dad never drove the tractor again. It sat in the barn until my brother-in-law and his good friend made the trek to Oklahoma in April 2009 and hauled the tractor to its new home in Iowa. They got it running and drove it on the trailer, even using it to load all the implements.
The tractor sat in my driveway for several years. I had dreams of fixing it up, but not the resources or knowledge, so I decided to sell it. I wavered on selling it for a while, but finally realized that Old Red needed a new home.
In January 2013, I sold Old Red to a tractor collector and restorer in a nearby town. I knew the gentleman, who went by “Junior,” and had spoken to him the previous summer about purchasing the tractor. At the time, he was looking for a Farmall 140 and opted not to buy Old Red.
A second wind for Old Red
Several months later, I ran into Junior at the annual Montezuma Lions Toy Show and mentioned to him that I still had the tractor and that it was for sale. He stopped at my house two days later and we made a deal. A couple of weeks later, Junior, his son and a friend loaded Old Red on a trailer bound for its new home. I watched as it rolled south. It was hard to let it go, but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. I knew my dad would be okay with that.
Junior took the tractor home, tore it apart, rebuilt the engine, knocked out all the dents (including the one that Dad put in it the day he ran into Mom’s van) and added a fresh coat of red paint.
In May of that year, Junior stopped at my house and showed me photos of the newly restored tractor. I couldn’t believe the work he had done on it in just over three months. He must have worked night and day.
Seeing Old Red in the parade for the first time brought my dad to mind. It made me proud to see that tractor all painted and rolling again. I knew Dad was smiling from heaven.
Maybe someday, I’ll have a chance to own Old Red again. Time will tell. FC
Freelance writer J.O. Parker has extensive experience as a community newspaper editor and photographer. He enjoys telling people’s stories through photographs and words, attending steam engine shows and antique collecting with his wife, Debbie. Email him at goodthingsJO@zumatel.net.
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