Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Those Magnificent Men....


"A non-mechanic friend has shared a story about repairing his old tractor. All went well: he got stuck things loose, loose things tight. But then things got so eerie I wonder if I shouldn’t send condolences to his widow without waiting for the obit. He finished the job…with no spare parts, no parts missing. That’s just not right. Not the way it goes. Something is horribly wrong. I presume the machine will explode first time he cranks it. Such a pity. He meant well. R.I.P. Bill".....Roger Welsch

Up, down, flying around, looping the loop and defying the ground.

They're all frightfully keen, those magnificent men in their flying machines.

From the 1965 movie

No one remembers how many harvests it has been in that fence row rusting picturesquely and providing a silent contrast to the rattling augers and whining bin fans. Most farms have an "Island of Misfit Toys", so to speak: machinery too worn or obsolete even to be traded. This old tractor was parked off to the side on a farm Blake's grandfather first rented back in the Depression years. One day, in passing, Blake told me the old Minneapolis was the first tractor he ever drove; the Hursts had an active stable of Minneapolis-Molines up til the 1980s.
The old tractor was history....and no more...until Ryan, with the blessing of the Hurst Brothers, drug it out of that fence row and into his garage as his very first tractor restoration project. I won't go into all the dead ends and u-turns and retrofitting and research and road trips this restoration entailed; anyone who has worked with machinery...old machinery....derelict old machinery...can fill in the blanks. But on Christmas Day, this piece of our family farm past, wearing a festive red bow, rattled to life and backed down off the flat bed under its own power. It was a pretty darn thrilling moment....
The local air aficionados, including my brother in law and Congressman, have a growing collection of old military planes down at our tiny airport, born of a love of history and flight. It isn't unusual for us to be "buzzed" by a WWII trainer while we are watering mum lines on a summer's day. A few years ago, I hitched a ride down to the Missouri State Fair with Brooks in one of these vintage craft, cruising below the clouds over the Missouri River bottoms and landing in Sedalia behind the massive decrepit Missouri Pacific repair shops. To infer I was anything more than a tourist on this trip would be operating under false pretenses, but it was impossible not to feel a little glamour, a hint of the romance of the past, had rubbed off on me during the flight.
This fascination with the machines of the past is more than just a private affair. Unlike art masterpieces of antiquity or one of a kind precious stones, the magnificent planes and hardworking farm equipment of our heritage are still machines that work. They fly in formation or mow hay, re-enact famous battles or carry their drivers along narrow blue highways changed primarily in the past century by pavement.

Thanks to folks with one foot in the past, crowds in the present can flock to the Greatest Little Airshow at the Gould Peterson Airport and get up close and personal with a Japanese Zero...but even more importantly, watch the graceful plane go through its paces and see what made it so feared, instead of hearing a lecture about a dull and dusty grounded fossil.

Coaxing a convoy of antique tractors to start up may not be as loud as the Tora! Tora! Tora! Exhibition at the WingNuts Flying Circus, but the grumbling, rumbling and popping of all those engines brings a smile to onlooker's faces that needs no words. The machines in a tractor cruise aren't just eye candy; they are road worthy and ready to go 40 miles under their own power, sit a bit, and do it over again. The tool boxes bolted to the frames are not for show and the grease and oil are proof that these tractors may be antique, but they are far from toys. A parade of old tractors rumbling around a county square with the Red, White, and Blue billowing behind them is a vignette Norman Rockwell might have conceived, but the tractors aren't cunning reproductions; they are vital and alive, not just for show.

Come out to the country some summer weekend! Find a thresher's reunion, a steam engine show, or a tractor cruise! Come to a place where history is alive with gears and wheels and smoke and fumes, where you can ride your past right into the present....



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