Letter From Minnesota:
‘Tractor-Pulling Contests & Farmer-Secrecy’
by Bodwyn Wook
THERE Is humiliation in having an american mother to be sure, in sharing nationality with such insubstantial & irreal figures of a lost & damned generation as Mrs Bill Clinton, G W Bush and all of that lot. No doubt about it…but, also, there are some unexpected consolations:
LAST Night, me & She Who Must Be Obeyed hied ourselves to the Faribault County Fair, in Blue Earth, Minnesota. There — whilst SWMBO sorted out the handicrafts & arts exhibitions — your Minnesota correspondent sat in bleachers with a largely-silent & utterly-intent throng of other enthusiasts, and together we watched and cheered (from time-to time)…the tractor-pulling contests!
THIS Stuff is just delightful.
IT Is indeed “the real stuff,” as the Americans say, and there are all classes involved in it now, including the preposterous land-roving agricultural battlecruisers & behemoths of to-day. These last are science-fictional in loom and mass and aspect, and correspondingly — not least in terms of the mis-led generation that lease them — they are just sheerly unbelievable. Their part only comes later in the muggy night, in the escalating collison of power….
BUT, Really, best of all to behold — and, covet! — are the machines of forty-five and fifty and seventy-two years ago, the now-little & even silly-looking tractors, with legendary names:
FARMALL, Massey-Harris, David Brown, Minneapolis-Moline, Fordson, International, Cockshutt, Oliver, McCormick, Anglo-Semite, John Deere, Case and Allis-Chalmers tractors.
(These last at home, to be sure — we was pretty much irremediably a ‘John Deere’ & ‘Fordson’ family and went to the swedish Grace Lutheran Church, in Old Mankato — we called dismissively, in the true scornful-of-the-neighbours american farmer-fashion: “Asshole Charmers!” The neighbours, a load of Allis-owners for a fact [and non-lutheran catholic Bohunks!], were viewed by us, in our smug green & yellow and grey & red, protestant, fetor of an easily-assumed superiority, alas, as little better than so many…cases.)
IF you would wish, I expect that you could dredge up pictures for yourself, ‘on-line’ as they say, of all of these, including I have no doubt, no doubt, some of the hypothetical A-S models noted above…
NEEDLESS To say, in the rolling clouds of black (!) diesel-smoke under North-facing roofed-over bleachers, and squinting against the setting Sun, Grandpa was busily scribbling mental notes to himself. And, you may well be right to suppose that the old gentleman indeed perceives that this sort of doings is right up his street! At least this is his private thought, the gentle reverie in commemoration, one has no doubt, of a beloved american mother and the old maternal farming-life:
CHRIST All mighty! I believe I could DO this, by God…! AND kick some ASS, too — and TAKE names! Wow! Listen to that old Oliver 880…pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pock! ‘Sir, this tractor is going to throw both stabilization stramuses — we CAN’T go on!’ ‘Mr Just…God DAMN the stabilization stramuses, tell them God-damn little grandkids to throw MORE kerosene corncobs into the firebox or there WON’T be any Teletubbies on Tee Vee fer THEM in the morning, by GOD — I’m slamming the sonofabitch down now!’ Pocketa-pock…BAM! ‘Grampa’s gonna WIN, hooray!’ Pocketa-bam-pocketa-bam-bam-bam…bamBamBAM! Geez, the very next lottery I get….
MY Observations last night lead me to the conclusion, for now, that the venerable and small-to-day ‘John Deere’ 80 diesel tractor, with wide front wheels; or else, the ‘Minneapolis-Moline’ G VI propane-fired (!) tractor; either one, or both, of these ones is the best of antique beasts to own — and with whom to compete in these festivities.
MOST Of the farmer-competitors of to-day is the crapulous old men of my sort widely to be found in these parts, and it is indeed a sport for, well, fatties among the american agricultural & bucolic orders! This south-central Minnesota [and Greater Iowa, looming and leering just to southward under great bruised clouds of pesticide all climbing up the wall of the thundery horizon, grey-pink in the evening light. — ERS] is the american Summer heartland of county-fair on -fair & the week-end upon week-end of little-town sweetcorn-celebrations & hog-roasts & “LOTSA Beer!”polka-fests….
SO There they set & bob on high in great wadded and dire, pre-diabetic, mounds, on springy little old-fashioned metal fanny-seats, all pierced with ventilation sweat-holes. And there in the catbird-seat, these impossible-at-home roaring old men with their dirty cropped hair sopping in visored and greasy ‘gimme-caps’, and their three-days’ growth of whiskers firing glinting coppery sparks in the setting sunlight, there enthroned and the prostatick king-operators of all they survey:
THEY Throw out! the clutch and ram! the throttle home with art & sagacity, and with just the cunning slightest tickling of the engines’ speed, there they roar & blare, howling in lowest gear of all and slow, slow down the clayey muddy course — all to drag home slow (and, as far possible!), slow the slowly sliding weights on skids….
THIRTY-Five hundredweight was being drawn when I set down first, and when I finally could bear no more of all this tension, they were all just up to hauling along on sledges about five tons!
REMARKABLY, Some of the dinkiest, small and oldest, tractors returned again and again, weight-class for -class. Eligibilty is up to the sheer brass & confidence, and effrontery, of the Minnesota (and North Ioway!) operator-competitor — and, he qualifies, as you might have guessed, by piling on more (and, more!) traction-weights. These are appalling chunks of unwieldy cast-iron, and the art is one of leverage:
WHERE? They be hung whether fore or aft, and sticking how far out? from gravity’s centre, plus “just how God-damn LITTLE air can we get by with?” in the tyres in aid of traction…these are The Question.
IT Is a desperately secretive sort of calculus & scientire, a veiled and applied alchemy that belies the folklore you may have seen in your Tee Vees there in England about A Little House in the Prairie, of an american & neighbourly, shared, working together in adversity “…down on the farm.”
THIS Is a load of rubbish!
THE Farmer-contestants one-and-all are, I give you my word, as delicately shy as any mahometan ladies in their burqat and as fussily are so on this particular point of competitive-secrecy, as so many old methodist dorcases about receipts for — rhubarb-pie! And, this is so at one-and-the-same time as these swag-bellied old men allow their daughters & grand-daughters here on the Minnesota southernmost county-tier and in that brief period of of prettiness between nine or eleven years, and first pregnancy, to parade the fairgrounds in conditions of virtual nudity before the cawing & hooting young bravos from the next town & county:
I Dared to it myself and made application to an off-duty moonlighting county-deputy, to see if possibly anything more and actually to step up & look (closely!), at one or two of the tractors. It was as SWMBO & me left the fairgrounds late last night — and it was to be, alas, “no go!” There in the middle distance & a sore temptation under floodlights, inside the chainlink-fenced Sacred Tractor Precincts, I seen two of the ‘Minneapolis’ tractors I’d especially admired before. As well, the operator-competitor pranced with spanner & grease-gun….
OPPORTUNITY Plainly beckoned in its whoreish fashion, and I thought to ease my doubtless-filthy & shameless-like curiousity on a vital point or two, of technique. So I stepped toward the open tempting gate…as the white-headed looming old cop-in-mufti ranged to cut me off.
‘OH, That’s quite alright, Sir,’ I said (as a rule an english voice compels friendly if quizzical attention in these parts; and, acquiescence most importantly) ‘I’d just be wanting to ask the fella there, just briefly don’t you know, oh, a question or so, er, about his weight-arrangements….’
“NAH, None of THAT now, Bud! You need to be WRIST-banded to get in THERE! It’s on account of the IN-surance…”
‘AND The sabotage, I daresay…?’
“BY God, you got THAT right! Some of these sonsobitches’ll PULL stuff if you turn your back even A MINUTE!”
SIR, I could cover this flycop with the Webley whilst you go interview the Moline-guys…?
MR Just, you will put away that God-damn hogleg now — always know which fights to pick, Young Sir, and you’ll do just fine…!
‘”THE Hell you tell me!”‘ I says aloud in commiserating homely tones, adroitly sliding from my unsteady posh plateau & adding as I turned away in the humid regretful Night:
‘I Am sorry to hear it….’
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 28 July 2007]