Remembering the tractors that farmed America

— John R. Williams

Roger Chapman restoring a large Farmall 560 is captured in this painting by John R. Williams.

— John R. Williams

Portrait of the artist on an Allis Chalmers. John R. Williams recalls, “We had a Farmall ‘H’ on the farm and a cub. Our next-door neighbor had Allis Chalmers. When I would go and help him, that is what we used...Another OMOTM, Carl Slater, had his Farmall wide-front M if front of his old barns and I did a painting of that one, too. Jim Gage’s on his M is another painting.”

On May 2,  the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie.

You can’t miss the Your Way Café. It is on the left-hand side of “Main Street” going into the village past the Old Stone Fort and Fox Creek end of the village, and it is painted bright yellow.

This is to answer all the questions the OFs get like, “Where did you guys have breakfast today?” when bumping into friends later on Tuesday or the next day. Almost all the inquirers then say, “Where is that?” and the OFs have to explain with the addition of, “You should try it; it is really good.”  The OFs don’t go to bad restaurants.

As one of the OFs was leaving the restaurant with a couple of other OFs, a patron going into the restaurant singled out an OF he knew but he did not know the other two OFs, and they didn’t know him. His greeting was “Hey, [name], when did they throw you out of jail? How the h---are ya?” The other OFs said they had to remember that one.

Most all the OFs wear jeans. One or two continue to wear the bib-type overall (this is not in the least unusual) because jeans are the pants of choice for both men and women these days. The OFs mentioned how, when they were young (and that was just a little time ago), a good pair of jeans cost five to nine bucks.

“Today,” one OF said, “they are selling artificially mud-colored jeans for $425.”

All the OFs said they have three or four pairs of clean dirty jeans anyone can have for $20. They are all broken in and won’t turn your legs blue the first time you wear them, and the zippers work.

“Holy cow,” one OF said, “I can buy a brand-new lawnmower for $425 and look how much work goes into making one of those.” How much effort does it take to sew in four pockets, six or eight belt loops, a zipper, and one button with a button hole?

Makes no sense to me; next thing you know they will be adding “real barn smell that will not wash out.”  Can you picture the ads for these?”

Tending lawns

The OFs mentioned how many times they have mowed their lawns so far. As of May 2, the tales were from two times to one OF who mentioned he has had to mow his lawn four times already.

Another OF listened as all the OFs were discussing the time spent on their lawns and he just kept turning his head to each OF as they spoke. Finally, this OF said he has mowed part of his lawn once and had to do that because some of the lawn had a few high spots in it. This OF said his lawn was 12-percent grass, 30-percent weeds, 18-percent rocks, 20-percent roots, and 20-percent moss and dirt. The OF said he mows about three acres of this concoction, and from a distance, “Hey, it looks pretty good.”

One OF said he wouldn’t mow his lawn at all. He is a closet naturalist and whatever grows, grows. However, the wife has other ideas, so he mows the lawn and keeps it looking good; he also has no plantings close to the house.

This OF said tall grass and shrubs are where the bugs hang out that get into your house. If you have cluster flies, mow your lawn and they will be gone, and ants and other bugs live on the shrubs and peonies and they get in the house by themselves or your cat and dog brings them in.

One OF said that he has a back room that is seldom used at his place and the occasional mouse has gotten in there so he keeps setting traps. At one time, there was a mouse in the trap and, when he removed the dead rodent from the trap, a deer tick ran out from under the mouse and down the trap. The OF said he had gloves on and was able to kill the tick, but the OF said that animals not only bring in routine pests but they can bring in some nasty ones also.

Tractor talk

The OFs somehow started talking about supply and demand. The OFs know of this little formula for living very well by many having been working for themselves — mostly as farmers.

The OFs think that a lot of what we purchase, especially if it is something everyone uses, or needs, industry builds in a planned obsolescence so whatever it is will break down or run out in a predetermined time frame. This means the dumb thing won’t work and the OF has to go get a new one, and that generates a perpetual demand. The OFs think the one exception to that rule happened by accident.

That is the Farmall tractor! Those things ran forever, and many that were made in the forties are still running and working today. That tractor was so simple and dependable the farmer could fix it with baling wire, friction tape, and a large pair of channel locks. (There was no duct tape then.)

When the 1940s began, International Harvester’s Farmall was the most popular tractor brand in the United States. But during the decade its market share was challenged.  Just before the war, IH had to respond to the introduction of the inexpensive Allis-Chalmers Model "B." IH had already been experimenting with small-tractor designs.

So, as the decade began, it quickly introduced the second generation of Farmalls — the famous “Letter Series” tractors. (Thanks Google). What happened is the Farmall (as it once was) is no longer made.

Those Old Men of the Mountain that made it to the Your Way Café, and, yes, they know the way; it is in Schoharie as they say, and not too hard to find, unless of course you are blind.  The color is yellow bright, so the OFs can find it at night, and the OFs that found it on Tuesday were: Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, Ray Frank, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Roger Chapman, George Washburn, Chuck Aelesio, John Rossmann, Miner Stevens, Dave Williams, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Sonny Mercer, Don Wood, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Ted Willsey, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Duncan Bellinger, Elwood Vanderbilt, Ray Kennedy, Harold Grippen, and me.