The presents that you give to yourself, for purely selfish reasons, are the ones that mean the most for the longest. Here’s a story about one of those that I hope will outlast me.
I like to tell a good story, and for the Christmas season that’s soon to be upon us I want to share one about a present I gave myself a couple of years ago…and like others who do the same, not without some guilt.
It starts this way. When my dad and I started the old U-Pick strawberry farm on McMaken road, in Covington, back in the early 80s, we needed a tractor…to plow, disc, cultivate, and run a bush hog.
There was an elderly neighbor who lived up the road who had such a tractor – a Ford – and for a couple of years we tried to buy it from him. He didn’t want to sell, telling us that when he was gone his kids would surely want to keep it in the family. Well, he did pass soon thereafter, and to my surprise the kids did not want to keep the tractor in the family. In fact, that tractor soon showed up on the lot at Eastside Service, in Covington – the Ford store – run by another neighbor, Roger Clark. Dad and I recognized it, asked Roger about it, and yes, it was for sale…for $3,000!
Between us we came up with $3,000, bought the tractor, and used it for many years until we finally quit growing strawberries in 2000. My dad was in no shape to do it by then, and the kids, Matt and Laynie, had other interests besides truck farming. Little by little, we sold all the strawberry equipment, but we kept the tractor…as a novelty, and something with which to keep the weeds and grass cut in the back fields. It sat, mostly, didn’t get used much, and like anything that’s neglected long enough, it began to show the effects of that neglect.
My dad passed away in 2011. Matt and Laynie were out of school and off to pursue their lives. And my wife Mindy and I were left at home with an empty house…and that Ford tractor, sitting in the barn.
I would look at it daily, but I never had the time to get on it and give it some exercise, and because of that the tractor was paying a price. It began to leak oil. The seals were shot And it became hard to start because the battery was dead. You have to use a tractor to charge the battery. It came to a point three years ago when I, like the original owner, was faced with what to do with it. Spend some money to fix it, or sell it.
Over the years parts had gotten broken – head lights, tail lights, fenders, the amp meter, things like that. And rust, the arch-enemy of anything metal, had gotten a head start. That beautiful Ford dove gray sheet metal badly needed a face lift. I decided to keep it, seeking someone expert in not only painting, but restoration and the replacement of parts. A friend in Vandalia suggested Lavy Enterprises, in New Carlisle. I called, they answered, and assured me that they could restore ‘Fordy Guy’ (what Matt called him as a child) to as close to showroom new as I was willing to pay. On Christmas week, 2020, they arrived to pick it up and take it to their shop. Estimated time of completion…about one year!
I never heard much from Ivan Lavy during that time, though I did stop once or twice when I was in the neighborhood, and curiously looked on at all the disassembled parts. Slow but sure, things had to be ordered, or found on the secondary market. Paint had to be matched to the original. Those leaking oil seals had to be fixed, which meant engine teardown. They would smile and tell me it was coming along fine.
In the meantime I would assure Mindy that this was a worthwhile investment, without actually telling her that restoration was about to be more than what we paid for the tractor, itself. It was, I told her, “A Christmas present to myself.”
Two years ago, on the week after Christmas, Lavys brought it home, exactly as I had requested – not showroom new, but almost. I still wanted it to look like a tractor that got used. Price tag: Nearly twice what I paid for the tractor!
That wasn’t all. It still had the original tires on it, 65 years old, and badly in need of replacement. Rear tires were another thousand.
It was hard to start so I changed it over from the original 6 volt electrical system to 12 volt, along with a different starter and a few other gadgets. And because there are no original Ford parts left for a tractor built in 1957, you have to resort to after-market parts…and they’ve proven unreliable. I swear that Apple Farm Service has spent more time with that tractor than I have since I got it back. But they do good work, and recently I had all the operating fluids flushed and replaced – gear oil, hydraulic fluid, and coolant system.
I use it to plow the garden in the spring, and cultivate sweet corn with the same Ford cultivator that Dad and I used in 1985. I haul firewood from the barn to the back porch in a sturdy utility box that my neighbor, Phil Layman, built last summer – more efficient than a wheelbarrow. Believe it or not, the hydraulics in that tractor as still as sound as the day it was built.
And, I take a lot of pictures of it. My cousin Ken, who lives in North Carolina, recently asked, “Do you ever do any work with that tractor, or do you just take pictures of it?”
Exactly! Ken is a funny dude. And if Dad were still with us, he’d ask the same question, only not in fun.
The picture above is the same one I posted on Facebook for the others to see, and got the usual questions. How much you got in that tractor…and is it for sale?
My answer: Too much…and not for any price. Just because!