Clutch or No?

John Deere M

“So this is the break and that’s the clutch or no?”

That’s when my dad’s eyes got big, Mike shook his head and they backed up the instructions. The last time I drove a tractor was the fall of 2006 after my grandpa passed away. (rough guess) Grandpa had quite the collection of tractors and to keep them all in working order the family would gather at the farm, everyone hopped on a tractor and drove for a while. A tractor parade of sorts around the farm yard and fields. So it’s been a long time.

“This is your throttle. Clutch. Shift here. Right break. Left Break. Okay?”


“Keep that front tire as close to the edge as you can. Drop the plow to here. When it starts to spin on the hill lift it about this much… You can use first gear for everything; shouldn’t need the break.”

I was plowing my first field. My wheat field. I have always loved to see freshly worked ground and this time it was me turning the sod over in neat (slightly crooked) rows revealing the glorious black soil underneath. Unlike the garden plot where my head was spinning with possibilities of vegetable and flower varieties that I could plant and where each would go, this field was for wheat and I needed to pay attention. Most everything I do is coupled with daydreams of future planning’s, this time not so much. I was plowing my wheat field. White knuckles on a thin old wheel, racing snails. Dad said it’s easiest to just keep one hand on the knob that controls the plow because I would be raising and lowering with the hills and field ends. That talent came about halfway through, until then I was concentrating on driving in a relatively straight line, keep all four tires on the ground, one on the edge of the furrow.

Once I got the hang of things (I think) I started to notice more of my surroundings and that my jaw was starting to hurt. I guess I furrow my brow and clench my teeth when I’m really concentrating on my work, even with my best effort I can’t seem to stop. That aside, the evening was perfect and relaxing even if my face would convince otherwise. I’d ran out the door of the house leaving my mom with two screaming kids and one sleeping in the swing telling her I’d bring my phone in case she decided she’d had enough. (I’d forgot it in the car though. Sorry mom!) I’d almost forgotten the chaos that I’d left just an hour before. There were a few deer in the neighboring field watching through a clearing in brush at the top of the hill and a couple flocks of low flying Canadian Geese over head.

I was doing pretty well enjoying watching the gopher mounds turn over on one pass and seeing their tunnels opened up in the next. The west-ish(?) end of the field is near a pretty good size, treed hill that stands above the slough/creek and lake. It’s far enough away from the edge that any sensible farmer wouldn’t give it a second thought, I on the other hand, was quite certain that if I didn’t get that plow out of the ground and those wheels headed a different direction in time I was going to see just how deep the water could be. Totally legitimate going a walking speed in first gear. I was almost past that portion of the field when it happened.

Lift the plow. Turn to the left. Turn to the left. Turn to the left! Why am I not going left?! Break! Break! Clutch! And stopped. Now to find neutral.

John Deere M

I’m stuck. It’s not the first time. Just reverse. Please not fourth. Please not fourth. Reverse! and forward and reverse and raise and lower the plow lever.

WTF! (Well that’s fantastic!)

By this time dad was on his way over.

“Lift the plow.”

“I did.”

About that time Mike and Mark (the neighbor) were there too.

“Why don’t you lift the plow and back up?”

“She did.”

“I did.”

“Huh. Well what happened?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to find a tree while you guys look it over.”

The plow didn’t lift. It was pushing me in a much wider turn than I was hoping and dangerously close to the edge of the ravine. (Not really that close but it felt like it.)  When I got back they had the plow unhooked and the tractor back on stable ground. I thought for sure I broke something. The plow wasn’t lifting as it should but after inspection a pin was turned or something. Either way I didn’t break it. They hooked the plow back up and got ‘er squared away again for me and off I went.

“When you get to the end of the row why don’t you shift into third to go back. You can practice shifting and it won’t take you so long to get back.” Dad was watching almost the whole time I plowed. He had a little smile as I passed. He was either proud or praying that I wouldn’t break the tractor… both maybe.

The sun was close to setting, there would be just enough daylight to make the drive home when I finished my last pass and got the tractor parked. Mike and dad were talking and I stood there for a minute admiring my crooked rows. I could see the golden grain topped straw that will be waving over the hill next fall. What a beautiful sight!


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