This tractor has way more experience than I do.

I never owned or even operated a tractor for any significant amount of time before I planted the olive orchard. I traced down old operator manuals and researched various blogs and forums. I learned enough to know that older Ford tractors are workhorses, nearly bullet-proof and relatively inexpensive! They were also produced in large numbers, therefore parts and repairs are easily done to this day.

The earliest models were revolutionary because of their reliability, flexibility and new technology. With 20+ horsepower gas engines, these tractors could outdo any draft horse. Push-button starters replaced the sometimes dangerous crank-starters. Modular axles and wheels allowed the ability to change tire placement and tread width to suit specific needs. The Ferguson 3-point hitch provided unprecedented control over implements used to turn the soil.

I perused the local agricultural magazines and Craigslist for possible tractors to purchase. By happenstance a Ford 8N was available just a couple of miles down the road. The 8N had the benefit of 4 speed transmission and hydraulic lever used to choose the response of the 3-point system to drag from the soil. It was also the most popular tractor model made.

tractorOver the years it had been painted multiple times and modified for its suited purpose. What was once originally a creamy white tractor with red accents was now a dull, pitted, somewhat-rusted, faded red with a green oil pan and rear axle. This particular one had a homemade steel bumper welded to the front, arched on top and painted silver. The tires were cracked with age and the tread nearly worn to the base. Its hydraulics worked but were weakened by a slow internal leak that allowed lifted implements to slowly sag back to the ground, like the feathers of a peacock ending its courtship display.

The owner gave me the key. I sat on the seat and stalled as long as I could while I tried to recall the steps for starting the tractor. Key turned to the right, clutch depressed, transmission in neutral, throttle slightly open, push and hold starter button…

With a mild clunk and a whine from the starter, the engine coughed and rumbled to life. I could hear the valves clicking away as the pistons slid up and down. “Seems to run smooth”,  I thought. I shifted to first and slowly released the clutch, not sure of the jolt I was about to receive. The old tractor acquiesced and the transmission began to gently propel the wheels forward. I began to make a wide loop.

Then the owner nonchalantly informs me that “the brakes don’t really work”. I hide my semi-panic and just as casually ask “should I just put in the clutch and let it coast?” (I clutched before I was half way through my question.) The calm old tractor smoothly decelerated to a stop from its 3 mile per hour sprint.

The old red 8N had seen use in the adjacent vineyard. It was used to pull an implement that creates two flat furrows, adjacent to the rows of grapes, for irrigation water to flow through. The owner had the tractor for many years, his father had bought it used. He was likely just one of a long line of owners. The bumper modification was present when he acquired it, as was the red paint. They had rebuilt part of the engine years ago. This particular tractor was likely manufactured in 1948 or 1949, if the serial numbers are correct.

I saw the flaws of this aged, gasoline powered beast-of-burden. I also saw that it had stood the test of time. It had plowed more soil, grown more crops than I probably will in my lifetime. The 8N would not be the fastest, safest or most efficient machine but it was forgiving. I knew if I learned to understand its nuances, abilities and limitations that it would somehow impart some of its knowledge unto me, the novice olive farmer.

I wrote the previous owner a check and my tractor came to Boparai Farms.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s