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  • Margaret Toner-Gaston

My Little Tractor and the Big Horse that Could

Have I ever told you the story of my little tractor? That's it, in the picture. Little lawn tractors may not be as useful on a farm as a standard sized tractor, but they can be darned useful. They are good as mowers, of course, but if you take the mower deck off, you have yourself a little 4 wheeler. Woo hoo!

This Poulin tractor came with the farm. The previous family had owned it for several years and felt they would not need it, so they sold it to us. It's actually a pretty beefy little number, with a good wide mower deck and a powerful motor. With it I have mowed pastures that have become infested with willow saplings. I have obviously mowed the lawn, and I have used it to carry things that had to be moved from the pastures in to the barn or the shop. And that's where this story begins............

One sunny afternoon about three years ago, I hitched up my Father-in-law's little white trailer to the back of the Poulin and set out to collect electric fence conductors and wire. The deer kept tearing it down so it wasn't doing much good anyway. I worked my way around the perimeter of the front field, collecting posts as I went.

One of the primary features of our farm are the drainage ditches that direct rainwater from the woodland and other areas to the lake. It's a water management system that works quite well and the lake is now a MNR protected habitat for the Blandings Turtle, as well as ducks, herons, and other wildlife. So for the developers who keep putting notes in my mailbox, don't get so excited, you couldn't develop it anyway.

On the afternoon in question, there had been rain in the last few days, and although there was no water in the ditch between the front and back fields, it was pretty muddy. Going from the front towards the back, I really had to work to get the tractor and the heavy trailer across the muddy divide. To whit, I spun the wheels more than I ever would in a car, and splattered mud all over me, the tractor and the trailer. Big globs of mud. On my face. In my hair. My clothing. My arms. When I turned to look at my father-in-law's trailer, the white trailer, it was also covered in big gobs of mud. Uh oh. Going to have to clean that.

Well no one ever said ranching was glamourous. So having got the whole rig out of the the mud and the ditch, I toodled (my mother's word, good isn't it?) off to pick up the rest of the metal stakes in the back field. It didn't take more than a half an hour. And then once again I was faced with the tractor eating monster ditch.

Perching the tractor at the top edge of the ditch, I sat and looked at the mud for a few minutes. I didn't want to get stuck again. So like the Grinch, I thought, and thought. Then I got off the tractor and collected a rather small pile of sticks, about an inch around. I laid them at the bottom of the ditch, lengthwise, to make a sort of paving of sticks. Yeah, a corduroy road, very common in rural Canada at the turn of the twentieth century, so people could get their horses......and wagons.......through a muddy area. They used them on World War I, too, along the Ypres Salient, where they mud was a living monster that would swallow men and horses whole.

In any case, I was confident I had solved the problem. Until I got to the bottom of the ditch.

Now it wasn't just mud flying, it was sticks. They ended up everywhere. Inside the fence line. Outside the fence line. Hanging from the clothesline. Sticking upright in the turf.

At this point I was hopelessly stuck, as the load on the trailer had increase somewhat since the first pass, and the mud had simply become so churned up and the treads of the tires so full of guck, I was never going to get out of there easily.

I became the Grinch again, puzzling until my puzzler was sore. Because you see, I would never live it down, ever, if I didn't get that tractor out of there, and the trailer behind it.

I happened to raise my head at exactly the right moment.

Duke was eating in the paddock, minding his own business. He is in essence a really big living tractor. He could get me out of this mess. And I knew he wouldn't mind.

So I got Duke and harnessed him up, and brought him out to the ditch. It was his turn to puzzle as I had never asked him to do anything like this before. But he is so loyal to me that he stood quietly while I chained his traces to the bumper of the tractor.

Now might be a good time to mention that every lawn tractor has a little release in an unobtrusive place. Its function is to disconnect the transmission when you need to roll a tractor without it being running. This is important.

I touched Duke's halter and said quietly "walk". I don't think he walked more than five strides and both the tractor and the trailer were out of the ditch. I disconnected the traces, thanked him with a kiss, and started walking him back to the barn, congratulating myself for my cleverness (pride goeth......)

We only got a few steps before Duke stopped and looked back at the tractor. He stood there a minute, as if to say "That's it?" And then together we walked back to the barn.

After attending to a treat for Duke and putting his harness away, I went back out to retrieve my tractor. I was in a jubilant mood, as you can imagine.

I hopped onto the seat, started the tractor, drove it down to the gate, closed the gate, and drove it into the barn. Not one problem. I even got all the mud off both vehicles.

Three or four days later we had to move the tractor out of the barn to put a round bale in. It started like a dream. But when I put it in gear, nothing happened. Nothing. Wheels didn't move. Brett's indignant demand "Well did you pull the transmission release????" Uh oh.

We tried several times in the last three years to at lease assess the damage. But neither one of us is a mechanic, especially of lawn tractors. And if I was afraid of not living it down before, you have NO IDEA how hard I have had to work to live this down. Whether you think I deserved it or not you can all just discuss amongst yourselves.

So a couple of months ago, we engaged the services of one Peter Pavlovic of Almonte. Peter took his time, assessed the situation, and then ordered a used transmission. And yesterday, he brought my little tractor home. I spent an hour reacquainting myself with it, moving the transmission lever, raising and lowering the blade. Driving around the front yard while Brett yelled "Don't mow anything! Don't mow anything!"

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