From a first drive to a long walk home

Published 3:00 am Saturday, June 24, 2017

A red Farmall tractor was the first vehicle I ever “drove.”

I didn’t own it nor was I to be on it.

And, if my cousin Jimmy were telling this story, he would say it was my idea to climb on the Farmall and make it go. But, it’s my story and it was Jimmy who had the idea that we could drive the tractor down to the fishpond and back and no one would ever know.

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Our granddaddy Pop always left the key in the tractor for anybody who needed it.

We needed it.

The sun was hot, our feet were bare and there were stickers and briars along the way. Why, the fishpond was so far away that we couldn’t even see it from the top of the chicken house. We could drive the tractor to the pond, fish a while and get back before anybody missed us.

When I was growing up, we were on our own from the time we got up until dinnertime. As soon as dinner hit our stomachs, we had free rein until just before dark caught us.

So, after digging a can of worms, Jimmy and I climbed on the tractor ready to ride. But neither of us was tall enough to sit on the seat and reach the clutch like Pop did so that posed a problem. One of us would have to sit on the floorboard and mash in the clutch while the other sat on the seat and shifted the gears and steered.

We had watched Pop and our daddies enough to know how to do it. We would take turns clutching and driving. Pop taught us about “sharing” when he bought us a beautiful black horse “together.”

We had to share the horse, one riding at a time, Pop said. To us, sharing sounded like taking turns and we didn’t like to do that. But unless we took turns clutching and driving, we weren’t going to get to ride the tractor to the fishpond. We drew sticks to see who got to drive first. Jimmy got the longest stick even though I held the shortest one so it looked like the longest.

I got down on the floorboard and got ready to mash in the clutch. Jimmy turned the key and the tractor jump like a frog. I hit my mouth on the clutch and my lip started to bleed.

After some thinking, we decided the clutch had to be mashed in and the gear had to be standing straight up on the floorboard before the key was turned. That seemed like the way Pop did it.

We gave that a try and the tractor was running but we weren’t going anywhere. We went back thinking again.

I clutched and yelled, “shift” and Jimmy shifted but we didn’t move. We had forgotten about the gas. We started over. I clutched with one hand and mashed the gas with the other.  After several tries, jumped off and bumped along the pasture.

We didn’t try clutching or shifting anymore. I just gave the tractor the gas and Jimmy steered where we wanted to go. The tractor made strange noise, like something was hurting it, but we didn’t stop to see.

When we got close to the fishpond, he yelled “stop gassing.” The tractor stopped just before we went off in the pond. We got off and went fishing. When the sun told us it was about time to get on back home, we realized we were in deep trouble. We had stopped right at the edge of the pond.

We didn’t know how to back up and there was no way to get the tractor turned around. Jimmy said it was my might fault that we were going to get whippings and I said it was his. So, we tied up and fought.

It was a long walk back home. Even before we got there, we saw Pop standing right where his tractor ought to be.  What happened next was not a pleasant thing but we did like Pop taught us. We took turns. Jimmy got his whipping and I got mine and they were both real bad.