Herald-Journal Herald and Journal, March 9, 1998

I'm a tractor-driving mama


I came to the farming business by accident. I didn't know I had married a dairy farmer. I thought I married a handsome man in a uniform.

What I didn't realize was that under the uniform was a man yearning to wear overalls and a flannel shirt. Tom told me he hated milking cows. He never wanted to milk cows again.

His hitch with the Army ended about a year after we got married. We moved from Bloomington to our farm in Independence. At first, we rented out half the land to the farmer next door. Tom worked four 10-hour days each week at an aluminum extrusion factory. He had to do his farming in the evening and on his three-day weekends.

After nine years of working for someone else, dairy farming looked pretty good to him. I was still surprised when Tom announced that he wanted to build a new barn and go into dairy farming full time.

I had no idea that I would become a dairy farmer, too. And what a lot I had to learn.

One of the hardest lessons, for both Tom and I, was driving the tractor. Tom comes from the "get on and drive" school of tractor driving.

"You can drive a car, can't you? Then you can drive a tractor," he said.

He forgot to explain little details, though, like shifting into high and low range. I would think I was doing just fine, but somehow the gear I chose was always too slow or too fast. If he wanted me to hurry up and drive to the next field, I usually ended up creeping along in first or second gear. If I was supposed to be driving slowly, I usually chose a gear that gave me whiplash when I let out the clutch.

I firmly believe that a marriage that can survive a husband teaching his wife to drive a tractor can survive anything. Of course, he did lose his temper a few times. I never really understood the meaning of the expression, "hopping mad" until my husband taught me how to bale hay.

For some reason I had a hard time getting the baler to pick up all the hay. When I tried to correct my mistake, I would swing the tractor and baler too far the other way, missing even more hay.

One of my most memorable hay baling disasters came the day the baler decided to self-destruct ­ with just a little help from me. I was baling along as usual, periodically turning back to see what the baler was doing and how much hay I had left laying in the field.

This time as I turned around I stopped and stared in amazement. As the plunger came around on the baler, something gave way and a shield flew through the air. I just sat there and watched, hypnotized by the flying parts and grinding noises coming from the baler.

Slowly, I became aware that my husband was yelling something over the din of the tractor and the disintegrating baler. I struggled to read his lips. He repeated the same phrase over and over, but I just wasn't getting it.

Suddenly I understood what it was that I was supposed to be doing. "Shut off the baler!" "Shut off the baler!"

After that experience I drove around telling myself, "If something breaks, slow down the tractor, shut off the baler. Slow down the tractor, shut off the baler."

A much more effective chant probably would have been, "Shut off the baler, get off the tractor! Shut off the baler, get off the tractor!"

I don't do as much baling as I used to, now that I also have a job off the farm. I do remember one very important lesson.

Never start out baling downhill in seventh gear and pop the clutch with your husband standing on the back end of the hay wagon temporarily.

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