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Bringing "Sweatheart" Home
With harvest high in the air?
With the smell of sheaves and new mown hay
And horses that know, and care;
And heard the tractors clearing their throats
Eager at once to share?
“What ever for?” These words of encouragement from my wife in response to my latest burst of enthusiasm. “What on earth would you do with a tractor on our three acres — mostly alder and vine maple?” “Run it,” I said, incredulous at her failure to understand a thing so basic; birds fly and bugs crawl, but tractors run! A two word ad in the local paper had caught my eye:
The words fairly leapt from among the other meaningless jumble on the page. Into the indifferent phone I intoned, “How much? Does it run.? What’s your address? I’ll be over in the morning.”
In a field grown waist high with grasses and weeds she stood, quietly resting, perhaps contemplating a lifetime of meaningful labours, now sadly resigned to enforced idleness. Barely visible under multiple layers of rust-red paint was one delicious, meaningful word:
To one raised on the prairie, this word spoke volumes. International Harvester Company, whose prolific use of that particular paint, surely the result of a fantastic buy by an eager young purchasing agent, long since removed, was, and probably still is, a major supplier of farm tractors.
“You say it runs?” I pressed, striving to quiet a racing heart. “Yes indeed! The man I bought it from drove it here, and what’s more, it pulled that trailer, carrying that plough.”
An ancient two bottom plough showed only the ends of its rusted levers above the sea of surrounding grass; vying for recognition.
“You can have the plough if you take the tractor.”
I gave it barely a glance, remaining aloof, indifferent. My eyes darted from one feature to another. Radiator, holding water (or something), drawbar, complete with mangled clevis and threadless bolt, fan blades, all four, fan belt still in one piece. . .
Casually, I plucked the dipstick from its sheath and paused to contemplate the brownish black stain it left on my left palm. “There’s lots of oil in it,” he assured me, confirming that which I had just evaluated.
Spark plugs all there, distributor cap still in one piece, generator, complete with frayed belt, even a starter, all seemed well. “I’ll think on it,” I mused, “I’ll call you later if I think I can use it.”
Two days later, an adequate cooling-off period, I again turned my attention to the phone. “You say it ran up to your place, how long ago was that?”
“Two years, maybe three at the outside ? it was a Thursday as I recall . . .”
“OK, if you say that it runs, I’ll go as high as twelve, but that’s it.”
Armed with a meager selection of tools, I launched a first attack the following day at dawn. “The battery’s dead,” he informed me in a vintage British accent, from his vantage point, “good, but dead. We’ll have to get it bumped.”
This strange expression quite overwhelmed me.
A sheared off roll-pin in a stump of shaft was the only evidence of a crank, long lost, undoubtedly thrown away in anger after a backfire; to lie patiently waiting until mowing time, when it would mysteriously find its way into the sickle bar of the mower, to wreak its vengeance on mankind.
Hurried application of a small unsuitable pipe wrench, produced no result other than a bleeding knuckle. Not only did the engine not turn, the crank stub itself was immobile. ‘Call for the WD 40.’ Two days later, battery bursting with electronic vigor, a second attack was Launched at first light. The muted click of the starter solenoid left little doubt that a more thorough examination was in order. There wasn’t a vestige of movement, not of anything!
Black thoughts clouded my dream world. ‘How am I ever going to explain this one?’ Only an irrational determined buyer would have failed to notice the vertical stack, missing the required coffee can to exclude rain — oh well. Another trip home produced serious tools.
Off with the head! “WATER.” Off with the pan. “WATER!” and its inevitable companion, rust! A carefully placed hydraulic jack, under one of the ample cranks produced nothing more than a tickle of jack fluid onto the dry earth. Farmers used to argue endlessly about the effect of an irresistible force being applied to an immovable object, (perhaps still do); at last an opportunity to resolve this matter for all time.
The immovable object was a hands-down winner! “Off with the bearing caps! Now with this rod in place, pound upwards on the piston.” These words to myself as the sun warmed my back, “They can’t come out the bottom, so upwards they must go.” Fifteen minutes later, after much pounding, (with asides to whomsoever might be listening), a microscopic movement was at last detected. The piston being addressed was taking its sleeve up with it. Continued application of sledge hammer to hank of five-eighths rebar, again raised the old argument, this time the irresistible force prevailed.
“Its obvious, otherwise why would it be called that.”
The I H C agent in Chilliwack was reassuring. “Sure we can get parts, probably Edmonton.” Four new pistons and sleeves, piston rings, new bearing shells and a complete set of gaskets later, I was ready to restore health to that aging carcass.
Routine now, assemble, fasten, secure, all accompanied by suitable oaths. Proper torque, followed by insertion of cotter pins to maintain positional integrity, and now, finally, to the pudding . . .??
The starter — unwilling compliance, but movement just the same. Hopes rising, I checked for gas at the carb, a small tap to make sure the float valve was free, now a little choke . . . .?
At first, a faint puff of white smoke! then another! and a third; then, suddenly, with a great roar of resentment over her unjust imprisonment, she announced to the whole world that she was free, and back in the running! Without hesitating she belched forth months of pent-up energy together with generous servings of dirt and rust, accumulated during her long confinement. >From the badly rusted old exhaust stack as the governor fought to regain long forgotten control:
“Sweetheart” and I made the journey home together that same day. She, proudly demonstrating her fastest ploughing speed, and I experiencing well earned feelings of greatness. She now resides contentedly in her own dry place, sheltered from the elements that sought to render her forever immobile, and she runs with quiet dignity that belies her years whenever a serving of nostalgia seems a fitting antidote to today’s turmoil.
And sung to the song of the gears?
Marveled aloud at the shape of a cloud?
Acknowledged your innermost fears?
Or do things just happen; no knowing why
Like the quiet passing of years?”