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What a Week!

This week our big red tractor (an International 574) broke an axle…..again.

This tractor was the first “big” equipment purchase for the farm. It took 2 years attending countless auctions (which are so much fun!) before we found Big Red which quickly became the most important piece of machinery on the farm, especially in winter.

The first time Big Red lost a tire I was at the wheel, during a snowstorm. I was moving hay bales at dusk, snow blowing in my face with a couple of inches covering the ground when I felt the tractor lean to the left. One look showed a tire almost completely on its side angled awkwardly inwards, I had hit a hole on the edge of the pasture (I knew it was there, but the snow had completely covered it).

Luckily, I had just put out hay, unluckily I was in the driver’s seat when the first big mechanical break occurred on our “new to us” 1976 tractor. I knew I was never going to hear the end of it from Scott.

It's not that I’m a terrible driver, I just have a bit of a lead foot and an impatience for drivers who read texts at traffic lights then take more than five Mississippi’s to move when the light turns. Carolyn (of MamaSprings Farm fame and my market bestie) thinks I’m a little scary and aggressive, she hates being in front of me one the way to market, it causes her stress. I think my responses are reasonable and rational.

Scott thinks I’m a menace to all on the road and that I inherited the Mario Andretti gene from my father (who routinely received speeding tickets on the way to visit us of 80MPH plus).

I think the fact that my only accident was when I was 17, I’ve never been in a road rage incident and my last speeding ticket was at least 10 years ago speaks much better to my driving skills. Humph!

I might push the wink-wink-nudge-nudge acceptable 5 miles over the limit but I’m a bit of a baby when it comes to the tractor. I just don’t feel comfortable driving it….it wasn’t made for someone with legs as short as mine. I have to stand up to reach the brake pedal and to see over the back. In short, I drive like a 90yr old man, slowly. I am not even the slightest bit embarrassed about it even when Garett and Scott roll their eyes every time I come inching down the drive.

Even with my uncharacteristic tractor caution, Scott was convinced I had caused the axle on our most useful piece of equipment to break due to negligence. I’m not sure what Scott thought I was doing on the tractor, in a snowstorm while putting out hay. The way he was going on you would’ve thought I was popping wheelies and screaming yeehaw with one gloved hand in the air rather than trying to keep from freezing.

A few days later Scott got our friend Ted (tractor and vehicle wizard) to take a look. Ted’s diagnosis was upbeat suggesting we go over to Bradsher Brothers to pick up another part so he could restore Big Red to her pre-storm glory (and usefulness). I was feeling pretty bad about breaking Scott’s….I mean the farm’s)….newest toy and volunteered to head over to Hurdle Mills to pick up the replacement part.

I’m not sure what I expected but it didn’t come close to the 50’s era parts shop I found after an hour of searching. It was truly a step back in time complete with an ancient Chevy, hood up with engine parts resting precariously on the surrounding edges. It must have been sitting in that same spot for 10 years based on the amount of dust covering ever surface (I image Garett’s hand me down Triumph will have a similar fate). I wonder why it was never fixed.

After walking around for a bit, loudly announcing myself (still not sure I was in the correct place) a diminutive elderly gentleman in a mechanic’s coverall startled me by stepping out from behind a shelf giving me a friendly smile (seriously, he had to be well into his 80’s approaching 90).

Mr. Bradsher took the broken axle arm, turned it over a few times, then, in a soft voice accented with what I have come to think of as “that country accent”, said,

“You know what? I think I might have what you need over there”. As he spoke, he nodded towards the closed large bay doors. I couldn’t see anything like the part I had brought anywhere near the doors.

Before I could ask, he picked up a huge wrench (which looked ginormous in his elderly hands), headed out the side door, across the street, disappearing into a field of tractors which lay beyond the bay doors. I watched as he disappeared behind the first row of abandoned machinery.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do, should I follow? Should I wait? Rather than stand there mouth open, I put the part I had brought with me back in the van and waited patiently for him to return. After almost half an hour, Mr Bradsher returned with a triumphant grin on his face and a duplicate of my broken part in his hand. He went back into the shop (deftly navigating the chevy) until he was in front of a counter on the far wall lined with 4 or 5 very thick (and I mean THICK), well-thumbed books. He flipped through the one closest to the end softly talking to himself, the thin pages making a pleasant rustling sound as they turned. After a good 5 minutes of searching, he apparently found what he was looking for and exclaimed “that’ll be $75” over his stooped shoulder.

Completely unfazed by my dazed expression Mr. Bradsher gently moved me to the adjacent room where a receipt was painstakingly written out in a spidery hand. “My daughter in law makes me do this” Mr. Bradsher said with more than a little pride. I didn’t even ask if I could pay by card.

After lots of thanks and words of gratitude (from me) I headed home feeling like I had just experienced something special, something that most people hadn’t seen in decades. I drove home with a sense of nostalgia for a time I would never experience and appreciation of being allowed a sneak peek into a bygone era.

The second time the axle broke Scott was driving. It was about 3 years later. I gave him a look, but he didn’t take the bait. I volunteered to go back to Bradsher Brothers to get the replacement part, I was curious to see if it was how I had romanticized it. I wasn’t disappointed, everything looked exactly the same (except for an additional inch or two of dust on the old Chevy).

This time after a precursory look at the broken part, Mr. Bradsher slowly pulled out a cell phone admitting he needed help to get the parts these days. We chatted about this and that for about a half hour waiting for the helper at the other end of the line to find my replacement axle. Once found, the same book turning, and page rustling commenced with another handwritten receipt being handed over. I left with that same feeling of experiencing something truly special.

The third time Scott broke it (he swore he had never blamed me for the first break and that this particular part had a tendency to break….no one’s fault, just a weak design). By this time Mr. Bradsher had passed away, most of the contents of that lovely shop had been auctioned off (it was a well-attended auction) but the shop was still open and being run by his son. This visit found me in a much more modern space, not 2022 modern but at least the 1990’s. No Chevy was to be found, but the bank of books still held their place of prominence on the far wall.

I felt a little cheated when a computer was consulted instead of those books and a distinct loss when I received a computer-generated receipt after paying by card. It was as if a piece of history had slipped away without anyone noticing, it seemed wrong somehow. I felt out of sorts the whole way home.

Yesterday makes the fourth time this particular part has broken. Scott finally admitted that moving hay bales around on the front is just too much for a tractor that was designed to carry weight on the back. My reply was to point out that he had a perfectly good rear hay spear on the rear lift and why didn’t he just use that. I was met with silence, apparently that kind of logic isn’t worth a response. It would take two trips that way.

This time the number for Bradsher Brothers was out of service but, luckily, we know a guy who knows the son of Mr Bradsher. He keeps the shop open during his off season by appointment only (he has an off farm job in the Summer). Scott will need to be the one to go this time, I want to remember the shop as it was 15 years ago, or should I say 70?

Oh, and Big Red is now known as Dad’s tractor, not sure when that happened but I’m pretty sure Scott prefers it that way😊


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