Smoke belched from the idling car parked in front of the gasoline and diesel tanks, which caused a fireman’s run from the barn.
My brothers were already there — belly laughing while smoke rose from the car as if it were an-out-of-control barbecue grill. The car, an early 1950s make they had purchased for $25 a couple years before, was hitting and missing on all its cylinders.
It struggled mightily to breathe for good reason. They had filled its tank with diesel fuel to see how the engine would handle it while ridding themselves of a used-up car they had tired of driving.
We had only recently acquired a diesel-powered tractor and barrel, which was painted bright red in contrast to the ancient gasoline barrel. My brother feared and therefore warned me about absent-mindedly putting gasoline in the diesel tractor. The consequences of doing so would result in near mortal punishment.
I suffered nightmares about it for a couple of days. I awoke each time just after the diesel engine had been ruined and my brothers were about to get revenge.
Padlocks had been put on both tanks after a spate of real and rumored fuel thefts in the area. The amount of fuel stolen increased with each retelling along with stories of people who suffered ruined engines because they had digested sugar.
No one I knew had ever suffered from the crime and I never co-mingled diesel with gasoline. It was one of the few things that I did not inflict upon a tractor. I earned a well-deserved reputation as a machine wrecker because of a proven track record.
It started with the Oliver 880, which was a wonderful and docile tractor in ordinary times but became a weapon of mass destruction when I was at the wheel. A mundane day of cultivating ended suddenly when the Oliver’s front end dropped out. The two huge U-bolts that held the front end in place sheared and the front dug into the ground.
My brothers were convinced that I had been asleep at the wheel, given that who had ever before heard of a front end doing that while the tractor meandered slowly down rows of corn.
Then along came the John Deere B — a tractor that seemed cursed even before the first time I sat on it. With a nephew in tow, we used it to pull the Wisconsin engine powered baler and wagon on the steep hills of an alfalfa field ringed with brush and trees.
The tractor had two bad things going for it — the “B” was started with a flywheel and had a nasty habit of popping out of gear at the worst possible times. We had nearly climbed the hill with a half-load of bales when it happened again.
My nephew, who was driving at time, panicked as the unit careened downhill at breakneck speed. Bales flew off the wagon like dropped bombs before the tractor, baler and wagon stopped in the brush and trees.
Inspection revealed a slightly bent baler chute, a shaken-up driver, and a growing conviction that it was a bad idea for me to come in close contact with any machine.
Because of that I was not allowed to touch the 190XT. My brothers purchased it new and had been rewarded with an airplane flight to Allis-Chalmers headquarters in West Allis, Wis. It was a thing of beauty dressed in bright orange.
The purchase came with a free pen, which my brothers gave to me for high school use along with a decree that under no circumstance was I to sit in the well-cushioned tractor seat. The 190XT did not stay new for all that long.
When its useful life came to an end and Allis-Chalmers ended its business existence, my farming brother became a John Deere devotee.
I have never been allowed to drive one of his Deeres, either.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.