It took some convincing before we agreed that I was up to the job.
The neighbor’s Massey Harris tractor, which was about the same horsepower as our Allis Chalmers WC, smoked like a straw fire. Frank agreed to grind the valves, but it was up to me to lift the engine head among other things.
The Massey was easy to work on. Massey Harris started as a Canadian-based company before building a manufacturing plant in Chicago to sell Bull tractors in the United States. The tractor line failed miserably, but Massey Harris was otherwise successful. The firm offered the first self-propelled combine to farmers in 1938 and was among the first to make and sell four-wheel drive tractors.
I was not much interested in history while pulling the head off the tractor, which was parked beneath an elm in the front yard. Gaskets and other items were easy to get from the local Massey Harris dealer, and after much worry the tractor ran as good as new.
Do not be afraid to try something new, Frank said, as the neighbor paid the bill. His advice was good, but end results do not always turn out right. Such was the case when brother Leon brought over a beaten-up Ford four-door because, he said, I needed a car.
Leon had an unfailing habit of coming out far ahead in deal-making, but I needed a car to keep up with the others. Throughout high school, I made the 14-mile roundtrip to school and back on the bus. Mother and Dad said that driving a car when the bus was available was a waste of money and, besides, chores had to be done. It was deflating to be the only senior on the bus.
Leon offered to sell the Ford for $250, which was about the same amount I made fixing the Massey Harris. Because it was a family matter, Dad and Mom offered no advice.
My friends said the car was a hunk of junk and that it was worth $100 at best. We would road test the car on a four-hour trip to Duluth. The trip turned into a near-disaster when the car stalled in the midnight hour on the interstate in Minneapolis.
We set about repairing the engine in what surely would be a quick fix. Work dragged on for a month before the car was officially declared dead and bound for the pasture junk yard that held cars, a tractor-powered Case combine, a pickup or two, a corn binder, and assorted other treasures. At the last moment, Leon stepped in with a $50 offer, which was quickly accepted. Not long thereafter, the car was back on the road.
I felt cheated but none the wiser. Leon borrowed my Duroc boar and the Ford 8N to rake hay. The tail end of both was the last I saw of either one. There was no grudge holding because he was my brother. The lesson, Mother said, is you can trust some people and cannot trust others.
The memory of those times produces a smile. Leon died a few years ago, his ashes interred in Missouri and Minnesota. His son has followed in his footsteps to the extent his farmstead is cluttered with rusting tractors and machines that defy description.
After neighbors complained about the mess, government officials stepped in and ordered him to clean up the place or at minimum build a fence to keep the property out of sight.
Lyle ignored the demands and has added to the collection while refusing to sell anything. I suspect his Dad would be proud.
It took a long time to live down the Ford faux paus. The story still causes laughter when it is retold for the 100th time by people with elephant-like memories.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.