A while back, a friend told me one of his great stories from a lifetime of tractor experience. I’ll relate John’s story, along with one of my own, plus another I heard when I was a kid. I’ll bet a lot of readers will identify with these tales, and I look forward to hearing other hair-raising experiences of “kicking ‘er outta gear.”
My own experience is the tamest of the lot, although it was pretty exciting for me. Early one spring, when I was about 13, dad bought some ear corn from a neighbor and sent me to get it one cool Saturday morning. We had a large, two-wheeled flat trailer with removable side and end boards, which I hitched behind our Ford-Ferguson tractor. I set out, with the excitement of driving the four or five miles to the neighbor’s place (mostly on paved roads) offsetting the drudgery of shoveling a couple of tons of ear corn.
The trip over went without mishap, and I proceeded to shovel the corn onto the trailer. When I started for home, there was a lot of weight on the trailer, and a lot of that weight was on the tongue, but if I thought about it at all, it didn’t worry me.
About half-way home was a long, fairly straight down grade with a long, straight level stretch at the bottom, a perfect place to “kick ‘er outta gear” and let the thing run. Going flat out in third gear at the top of the grade, I put the transmission in neutral and prepared for a nice, fast, smooth ride down the blacktopped hill and a safe, gradual slowdown on the long flat straight-away.
Unfortunately, the blacktop wasn’t all that smooth, and the surface was rather wavy. This, along with the heavy tongue weight, started the rear of the tractor bouncing, and the faster the rig went, the more it bounced. The little Ford’s brakes weren’t much good, but I stood on them, held on and prayed. It seemed to me as though I was going at least 60 mph and would go out of control at any moment, but finally the rig reached the foot of the grade and slowed to normal speed. The only damage, other than to my nerves, was a noticeable upward bend of the trailer tongue where it was welded to the front crossmember. Dad wasn’t very happy about that, and spoke rather sternly to me about my carelessness.
The pride and joy of our thresherman in the 1940s was his Belle City separator and the Minneapolis-Moline G tractor that pulled it. He always drove this rig on the road between jobs. His stationary baler was a big John Deere that, at least for a couple of years, he ran with a styled John Deere A. The thresherman’s son, Paul, probably 17 or 18 at the time, was in charge of the baler, and Paul, like most teenage boys, enjoyed going fast.
Just north of the thresherman’s home was a tiny village lying at the bottom of a gorge along Little Beaver Creek. The concrete state highway descended a long, winding grade into the village from both north and south. The grade from the south is about one-half mile long, with a broad, sweeping right-hand curve at the top, followed by a straight, steeper stretch that ends in another sweeping curve to the left as the road enters the village and levels off.
Paul set out with the baling rig one day, and when he reached the top of this grade, he kicked the A out of gear and began a wild ride to the bottom. It started out pretty well, and Paul rounded the first curve OK, but the big John Deere baler, weighing more than the tractor, pushed the rig faster and faster along the straight-away. The left hand curve was fast approaching, the tractor brakes weren’t doing much to slow the terrifying speed, and Paul seriously considered jumping. I suspect his dread of facing his father with a wrecked tractor and baler outweighed his fear of what must have seemed an inevitable crash, and he stuck with it. In the end, he made it, a wiser young man (I think).
John’s father, Albert, bought a new Huber threshing machine in 1941 and did custom threshing, powering the outfit with an unstyled John Deere G. As the old G’s top speed was only about 6 mph, Albert would usually “kick ‘er outta gear” at the tops of the gentler down grades to go a little faster between sets.
One time he, with young John riding the drawbar as usual, set out to move from one threshing job to another. At the top of a downhill stretch, he pulled the G’s clutch back and the outfit began to pick up speed. Halfway down the grade, the separator and tractor reached exactly the same speed, allowing the drawbar pin to rattle loose in its hole. Just then, the tractor hit a bump, and the pin – a piece of three-quarter inch round stock with a right angle bend at the top – jumped right out and fell to the ground. John and his father watched helplessly while the big Huber machine ran off the road, into the ditch and turned over, skidding to a stop on its side in the field. The grain weigher was destroyed, and the cylinder shaft bent, along with a lot of sheet metal damage.
Albert loaded the thresher on his 1935 Ford flatbed truck and hauled it to Marion, Ohio, a 500-mile round trip. The separator was left at the Huber factory, where a new cylinder shaft and weigher were installed and other repairs were made. Another 500-mile round trip then had to be made to haul the repaired machine home. I wonder how many times Albert reflected on how much those few saved minutes cost him.
In my own case, and I’m sure Paul’s as well, our lust for speed caused us to take the chances we did. Albert, because the old tractors had such slow road gears, needed to save travel time. Fortunately, these three episodes of “kicking ‘er outta gear” resulted only in varying degrees of damage to the machines, and no one was injured or killed, but it’s scary to think of what might have happened. FC
Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.