Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Age with grace
Antique tractors are quite popular and they appear often in calenders, magazines and on television shows. Occasionally rusty tractors can be seen mounted on a pole or standing proudly on a monument. Other old tractors mark each side of a gate or become other forms of yard art. More than a few oldtimers are still sitting along a field where they had their last breakdown.
My interest in antique tractors came naturally as I grew older because our ranch equipment aged right along with me. I didn’t seek out old tractors to collect, I just eventually realized that what we owned was getting out of date. In 1953, when wool prices were high, my father bought a brand new Caterpillar D4 dozer. I remember as a child sounding out the Caterpilar name written in black letters on the engine hood. The dozer was always referred to as a Cat. I begged my father to let me ride along on the seat next to him. When I got a little older I was given the job of pulling the pins and changing the direction of the angle dozer. Whenever my dad stopped and motioned I would run over and change the blade setting and dash back out of the way.
We used the Cat to build reservoirs, blade off sagebrush for fences, pull posts and to plow snow. It is a complicated thing to start having a gasoline starting engine which starts the diesel engine. One has to correctly perform about about ten steps to start the engine. The complexity of starting the tractor was offset by the Cat’s ability to wait patiently with very little maintenance until it was needed. Like an old friend you can impose on it anytime to help you.
I got our Cat out the other day and felt old to realize I have been operating it for over forty years. It had not been run for two years and it started right up. As the dozer is slow I planned a little loop around the ranch with things to fix along the way. I repaired a washed out road crossing at one draw then fixed a spillway on a reservoir. As I clanked along to the next project I thought that I must look like a living history demonstration driving a sixty one year old tractor. The tractor, having no shame, responded just as it always had to my every tug. The challenge I suppose is to age as gracefully as our tools.