[cleeng_content id="603927708" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]I always try to take notice of the more or less subtle feature of the landscape over which I travel. For years now, one of these features has been almost constant in one particular expanse of my tractor repair route. Back in the day, it was common for me to split medium-sized and larger tractors in half in the field — even in the snow — in order to access the clutch and other internals.
Sometime in the 1990s, a cold snap had brought a light snow to Deermont Chase in Clarke County — it also popped out the freeze plug behind the flywheel of an old International tractor there. In order to correct this problem, the two halves of the tractor needed to be separated for access to this area. A few pleasant days ensued, which afforded me the opportunity to perform the surgery in relative comfort, with the old manor house and former Civil War field hospital looming in the near distance across the corn stubble.
There’s a quiet time about the middle of some late winter days when the wind settles and the sparse traffic out on the highway is unhurried. A deep silence settles in over the mist from the melting snow. It was during one of these calm periods that I began to notice distant gunfire — lots of gunfire. Still a little unfamiliar with the area, I merely shrugged it off as a police training and practice range somewhere thereabouts. Civilians generally can’t afford to pile that much brass on the ground.
At Southern Cross Farm, just outside Boyce where I would service the resident 8N Ford amidst a field of Civil War tents, the gunfire was fainter. From the looks of this place, though, the re-enactors had probably returned many a volley.
Dunvegan Farm was a little further out of Boyce. There was a sizable John Deere there — perhaps a 4020 — I don’t recall. There was also a Massey Ferguson 245. The farm’s owner, the late Dr. James Troup was originally from Scotland and retained a most appealing brogue. I would employ any number of tricks to work his red tractor into the conversation just to hear him talk about (aboot) his Massey Fer-r-r-rguson.
At times that I would need to approach the house, Dr. Troup’s Rottweiler would bark menacingly toward me through the glass of the front door. I would then reach into my pocket and produce a dog biscuit (it’s often necessary to bribe security). Upon seeing this morsel, the dog would quickly turn and bark into the house, summoning the doctor to come open the door. Anyway, at Dunvegan, the gunfire again became louder, louder than at Deermont.
Moving south to Avonlea Farm at White Post, a somewhat ill-manufactured New Holland 4735, a stalwart and reliable two-cylinder air-cooled Belarus and a Case 430 diesel, an antique in great original condition, comprised the patient list. There were also several John Deere Gators there, small, low-slung material transport machines.
Owing to various emergency repairs, these machines had been cannibalized and cross-bred so many times that it was hard to determine which part originally came with which machine. It was even a little unclear just how many of these machines they had started out with. Anyway, the large number of horses at this breeding stable caused a constant subtle background noise. Still, I could hear the gunfire; though, it seemed more distant than at Deermont or Dunvegan.
I was getting a fix on the location of this mysterious firing range. I theorized that the range would be in the vicinity of the Frederick County dump, perhaps a little east of there and a tad north, right on the Clarke County line. I was about to have my crude triangulation verified as being surprisingly accurate.
I had been to Golightly Bottom Farm, along Opequon Creek in Frederick County, on occasion, to make minor repairs to the 1964 Ford 5000 Super Major there. Made in England, the tractor is a true farming machine in the British manner. The massive, heavy machine sports a belt pulley to turn whatever ancient flat belt implement that past generations may have left around the farm. The powerful 172-cubic inch diesel engine features an unusual and unlikely starting option should batteries again become scarce as they were during the war years and on African safari.
You cannot crank-start a diesel engine due to its high compression. The Major boasts a system whereby the compression is released and someone is to spin the hand crank like crazy. Once adequate momentum is achieved, the compression release is deactivated and the engine (if the stars are properly aligned) should start.
Some modern tractors employ a similar system used in conjunction with the starter. However, I’ve never heard of this crank-starting method actually being accomplished and have some difficulty imagining circumstances desperate enough to cause one to try. Though this starting method may be just another urban legend, the tractor is set up for a hand crank, so the legend persists. Perhaps it was found to be impossible to roll-start the tractor amidst the peat bogs of the Fenn Country.
I was called to do a larger repair so spent a considerable amount of time there. I began to notice that here, mere yards from the border with Clarke County, the gunfire was very close. The racket did, in fact, happen to be coming from a private range. The residents here, like those at the previously mentioned farms, seemed not to notice the shooting. To them, it must have seemed as natural as the call of cicadas or tree frogs.
Muzzle loading rifles, at times, appear to deliver a two-syllable report (ka-boom). Hearing such a report, I mentioned to my customer that one of the guns sounded like a muzzleloader. The rifle then fired off a fast semiautomatic riff. “Must be a fast reloader,” he suggested.
He explained that what I was actually hearing was the impact of a supersonic rifle bullet hitting the target followed by the sound of the rifle’s powder charge. Since the sound of the impact was reaching me before the sound of the gun, it stood to reason that these shooters were firing directly at me with some sort of backstop between us. My customer explained that because the entrance to the range was so distant, the shooters had the impression that they were in the middle of nowhere. Their backstop was really just behind his barn about 100 feet away and not all that far from a busy country road.
This gentleman, a former Marine who had done two tours of duty in Vietnam, didn’t seem uncomfortable with this arrangement. A young Winchester police officer, who rented an apartment in the large old farmhouse, didn’t seem to be noticeably critical of these circumstances either.
I took some comfort in learning that the bullet that had left a hole in the quarter-inch steel of the tractor’s heavy loader frame had come from an accidental firing of the customer’s deer rifle. During an especially quiet time, I inspected the barn wall that faced the range for evidence of leakage past the backstop. The barn wall was devoid of visible bullet holes, thus the arrangement must be safe. I’m back at Golightly Bottom again to repair the Major’s brakes. Still, I’m keeping this large mass of Limey iron between the range and me. I’m keeping my head down too.