Learning to Drive a Tractor
Dear readers, please indulge me as I pass along a story my brother Jim had written years ago. Jim, 18 months younger than I am, passed away this week at the age of 82. Although he grew up on the Pick Ranch near Saratoga, he left the Upper North Platte River Valley at the age 20 and only returned to visit. Yet, he never forgot his roots and often wrote about them, especially on Facebook.
In his memory, I’m passing along this story written by Jim Perue, hang on.
Here I was. Just turned 13. It was 1950 and a warm late July day. We had just finished baling some hay on Jack Creek and dad had some other baling scheduled up the road about seven miles, right up near the Continental Divide, and the roads there are rather steep in places.
Now, I was getting the hang of driving pickup trucks, tractors and such. So, when we went to move to the new location, I just jumped up on that tractor pulling the baling machine like I did the driving regular like. Dad didn’t say anything, so Fergie and Uncle Elmer and Uncle Buttons, they didn’t want to set on that bouncy tractor anyway, didn’t say anything either.
At the time, we had this Allis Chalmers tractor pulling the John Deere baler and combined they were quite heavy. The tractor had six forward gears, and the road going to the ranch where we were baling was on a grade up most of the way.
But, about a mile before the ranch it got fairly level with a slight downhill grade. That’s when I got the tractor in sixth gear and the throttle wide open. I was in heaven, flying along at about 16 or 17 miles per hour. The tractor was roaring and throwing rocks, and the baler was right behind me, jumping over the ruts and rocks on that dirt road. I was doing some serious driving, for sure.
Then I got to where I could see down the road to the ranch where we were going. The drop on the road to the ranch house and barn and hay fields was down a very steep hill about a half mile long.
I was fairly new to driving but knew you got your truck/tractor into a low gear to help brake on steep hills. So, I thought, that’s what I’ll do, and by this time I’m going down the hill at a very good pace so I got the tractor out of gear to put it into a lower gear.
Now that old tractor didn’t have synchronized or any fancy type gears, so all it did when I tried to put it in a lower gear was make a grinding noise. By this time I was going at a good rate of speed down the hill. I was of course standing on the brakes and they were smoking, you could see the smoke and smell them.
Luckily, nothing was parked in the road below and the gate to the bridge over the creek was open. It was a fairly straight shot to the hay field. I managed to stop at the right place to start baling.
I jumped off the tractor and swung the baler from the moving to the baling position and even had that Wisconsin engine started by the time the rest of them got there. Dad came up with the sled we piled bales on and hooked it up. He climbed on the tractor and we started baling.
Fergie and I were bucking the bales as usual. The brakes on the tractor were still smoking, and you could smell bad burning smells for a couple days. Dad never said anything for several months, but then he added a new Jim learning to drive downhill story to the family get together tales.
Dad, Fergie and Uncle Elmer drove home in one pickup and Uncle Buttons and I in the other. He, as was our habit then, had me drive so he could roll those Bull Durham cigarettes and smoke them. He never mentioned the incident until I brought it up and told him I was quite frightened going down the hill. He just told me if I learned anything about hill driving it was OK, but just remember and don’t repeat it.
I can feel it now that a lot of you old timers are remembering the experience of a similar wild ride years ago.
CAPTION: Bob Perue baling hay out of the windrow near Saratoga, in the 1950s. Photo by Dick Perue. Historical Reproductions by Perue