A hillbilly goes into a bar, see?

There’s a large roller mounted on the front bumper of my tractor repair service truck. I look forward to people asking me what the device is — I tell them it’s a Front Roll. If you’re familiar with the northern Shenandoah Valley, then you’ve probably already guessed where I’m headed with this. In the more bucolic corners of Warren County, Virginia, “Front Roll” (or Fernt Roll) is the traditional native pronunciation for their county seat, Front Royal.

This little city, nestled between the Shenandoah River and the Blue Ridge Mountains and the ultra scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, is well known as the “canoe capital” of Virginia. Front Royal has a wonderful selection of restaurants of various ethnicities, a wealth of Civil War history and even a smattering of high tech industry. The town is surrounded by prosperous river bottom farms as well as fox hunting and dressage venues. Its people are friendly and down to earth. So, it’s for reasons unclear to me that Front Royal is often the subject of hillbilly jokes when people from West Virginia happen to already be present.

So what does a front roll do? I thought you’d never ask; “You see, this hillbilly goes into a bar in Front Royal and…”

But seriously, this front mounted roller pushes tractors — not that hillbillies in Front Royal don’t — into areas more desirable for performing repairs. The phrase “wanna help me push this tractor into the barn?” seems to have the same effect as announcing the arrival of a tornado. It is possible, though, to move a fairly large tractor alone by shouldering a rear wheel but any small, immovable obstruction in the ground can stop you in your tracks.

The truck then has to take over. Without the front roll, the treads of the tractor’s tire cause the front bumper to climb the wheel jamming up the whole operation and likely causing damage as well. The front roll just turns along with the tire and though the device does climb the wheel slightly, it rolls back down. This makes for a bumpy ride but it works. Of course, any protruding draw bar or lift arms need to be temporarily removed.

When the metal hydraulic piping “frame” on Crystal Valley Ranch’s front end loader rusted through from years of exposure to manure, the remnant was brought to Solenburger’s Hardware in Winchester, Va. There, we laid the part out on the floor and Scott from the plumbing department and I built a duplicate using plumbing parts right off of the shelf.

The front roll was constructed in a similar manner. This project took us around the store with the 1-inch drill rod coming from hardware, the 2-inch diameter black iron pipe and end caps from plumbing and a stop at the industrial counter produced the bearings. The end caps took a side trip to nearby Miller Machine and Tool to be centered on a lathe and drilled. Most of us would likely ruin a half-bushel of these caps if we tried to center the holes by eye.

The bolts go through the 6 by 6-inch oak block (a scrap freebie from Shingleton’s sawmill in Augusta) through the bumper and attach to the truck’s frame. To further stabilize the unit, iron straps are also attached to the frame and lag bolted to the oak. The roller itself actually has 2 sets of bearings though only 1 set is necessary. The 2 flange bearings inside the pipe did such a good job of centering and supporting the shaft that I decided to use them instead of making solid bushings.

So much for all the technical stuff. The thing sees little use but when it is needed it can really save the day. Still, it doesn’t do a lot for the looks of the classic old truck. Due to these 2 factors, I briefly considered mounting the device on the rear bumper of the truck.

However, mounting it there would lessen the visibility while pushing a tractor and someone might mistake it for a step-up with disastrous results. More important, though, I wouldn’t be able to use it to inspire jokes about Front Royal. “Hey, did you hear the one about the traveling salesman who gets lost in the boonies and winds up in Front Royal…”

Really, though, like West Virginia, Front Royal is fast losing its undeserved reputation. Gentrification seems imminent and real estate prices are on the rise. The day of the Front Roll as joke material may be coming to a close as well — but it’s still just dandy for pushing tractors.


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