The old man’s machine | My Tractor Forum

it was a cool morning. Sunny, still enough to contemplate getting a sweater just in case. Just swinging by the mother-inlaw, because it is mother’s day. As we set out to do errands the old man’s machine was the furthest thing in my mind, I had my own car -recently repaired- to revel in. As the hours passed and we hit the back roads, it was, as one can say, a typical spring morning. A nice day after all the coldness of winter something a middle-aged man tolerates less and less.

When we pulled in to her place I knew there was trouble, the grass was eight inches long. Of all the thing the old man of hers did wrong, the grass was not it. He has passed away two years ago, and still the grass is in better shape than mine. I cut it, fertilize when I remember to, and hack away at the increasing dandelions, of which his lawn still barely has any, It was that nice, that after two summers of cutting only it is still green. It was his pride and joy. And he took greater care of it that lawn than some other things.

His machine was a Kubota single cylinder mower bought new in about 98, when my son was born, It is not a huge lawn, under a quarter acre, it was all he needed. After he retired he mowed that lawn and religiously took care of the grass for another ten years. The deck eventually rusted out beyond repair. For the cost of a new mower from a big box store he bought a new deck from the Kubota dealer, a move nobody understood… maybe even gaffed at. Why spend the money on the old tractor? get a new one.

As I stared at the grass I knew I was not going to get out of cutting it. My better half looked at me. I knew the look. Chores be coming. Yes, I can cut the lawn why she visits.

The old machine sat in the shed with the bad roof, unused, for two and a half years. the right front tire was flat. It reeked of mice, and the shed smelled of the rabbits that dug a hole below it and took up residence. The shingles needed to be done ages ago, but it was just a shed. And the poor tractor sat there, collecting dust. I tried the key, knew the battery would be dead. It was, I barely heard a click form the solenoid, surprised that it even had that much left after all this time. Nothing around to charge the battery, and no tools, the old man gave it away three years ago as if sensing it was his last summer.

I drove my car up the front lawn and to the back shed, wrangled up some booster cables from another shed, and attached it. While waiting for the battery to take a bit of charge, I looked over the machine. I never saw him use it. It had a wooden block on the hydrostatic pedal forward part. Looked odd, he was 6’3, he didn’t need it. The chute was rigged to stay up, and the hole was covered with a piece of green tin. Why that, I wondered. After a few minutes I hopped on and turned the key, and the little starter motor tried to bring the old machine alive. A few seconds of cranking, playing with choke and throttle, and resuming. Nothing. Mice in the carb? Saw that before, so I checked, but no. There was almost a full tank, that wasn’t it. Lost prime? probably. We cranked again, this time for the long haul, with choke going on and coming off. Fifteen seconds later the lumbering machine coughed, then fired up. Victory was short lived, the engine knocked. I shut it off. Oil at minimum. Should be enough, but topped it up. Started again, sounded much better. My better half looked at me, her face and eyes a whirlwind of emotions. she said the old man would have been proud of his machine starting and running after all these years.

I drove the tractor to the house, used a compressor to air up the tire, then mowed the lawn. Then the neighbor’s lawn. For a twenty odd year machine with unknown hours it sure ran nice, it stopped firm and took off nice. When needed, the machine crawled along at a slow pace. As I drove back and forth cutting grass I felt one with the machine. I could feel why the old man loved it. I loved it. I wanted it.

As the meters passed I understood why he bought a new deck, it is the same reason I put money and parts into my old car; it treats me well, I return the favor. In this throw-away society this machine is made the old way, it was made better. Like cars, the older ones are easier to keep running. Then as I was finishing up a terrible mechanical clang! I stopped and backed up, a bracket had fallen off from somewhere. A guard around a belt perhaps. Couldn’t see it’s place. As the old machine sat there, idling, I could hear bearings whining, something in the transmission growled that didn’t do that when I started. Maybe the old machine was like an old horse, it was missing its old rider. I was not him, maybe it didn’t want to work any more. It is a strange feeling if anyone has ever seen a person give up on life, when the lights go out of the eyes and the person no longer wants to live, it felt like kind of like that. As I backed the tractor back into the shed I wondered what its future will be, it is saveable, but does it want to be saved? 30 years of working on machines and cars has taught me that when the spirit leaves there is no point, when a man, animal or machine give up it is the end. It can be forced along, but it will be endless repairs until the spirit is replaced. A game one’s wallet won’t win. There are cars that run great regardless of maintenance, there are cars that are a pain even though they get the best fuel and best oil. Animals and humans too, some of the best people come from the worst places, and some of the worst people come from the best places. Some want to work, some don’t. I’ve seen cars start with dead batteries that had no right to start, but they did. I drove a car two hours with the alternator and battery dead, so dead that when I touched the brake pedal the fuel pump cut out and the engine sputtered, yet that old car brought me home. It was like a friend, till its spirit left.

Before closing the shed door I took a last look at the machine. It barely fits through the door, that’s why the chute was rigged up, and the plate to cover the hole. And the pedals, it was much more comfortable to drive like that. That’s why the old man changed it a bit.

That’s all it takes to understand something like buying a deck for an old mower– experience, understanding. It is why my 10 year old dog is getting chemo therapy when others wouldn’t spend the money on an old dog. Because of friendship, in a world where friends and relatives are discarded, never to be spoken over a difference of opinion.

The machine will likely end up in my garage. I will give it a new life doing what it does best… keep the grass looking great.

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