A sleepless reverie out among the tractors

March 11 was a welcome break from the cold we had been experiencing. This little respite encouraged me to head to the private 1950s farm museum near Middleburg, Va., and get things rolling there (and resume my regular visits that had taken a two-month hiatus.) This first involved a stop at Browning Equipment in Purcellville to pick up supplies charged to the farm’s account.

Passing the muddy pastures and leafless trees of Clarke County, I began to wonder if this trip was a mistake. I’m already very tired. The recent passing of a dear friend as well as that of a few other people on the periphery of my life whom I nonetheless liked and respected caused considerable sleeplessness. Add to this the natural tendency for a mechanic to waken in the night and build a John Deere B, 2 Model Ts and a revolving carbine puts one in real danger of a condition not unlike insomnia.

Faith in the resurrection really hits the spot at times like these. As for the other affliction, I’ve gotten used to it and try to direct my thoughts toward real mechanical problem-solving and thus wind up doing the job twice; once in the middle of the night and again during the workday.

All of this is enhanced by occasional attacks of “artistic Alzheimer’s.” This is a condition where the victim suffers the inability to go on with one’s life without committing one’s current inspiration to his or her personal art medium. This is my other sleep-depriving affliction, the one that causes the light to burn in my riverside studio at 3 a.m. I might as well open a nightclub and get some dairy cows. The Old Hippie doesn’t snore and for that I’m eternally grateful.

All three of these conditions were in play that day. It didn’t make things any better when Browning Equipment parts man Kevin Sours told me that I looked tired. In related conversation, senior parts managers Roger Lowery and Wayne Fricke helped me to remember that I have been doing this for 25 years. I thanked them for helping me to realize the full effect.

I took the back roads out to the farm. Here is found a community where comfortably retired government employees sell each other produce and livestock at designer prices in order to claim enough farm income to keep their land in agricultural tax status. Though the day is warm, the sun never quite made an appearance. I fought desperately for motivation but had to settle for instinctive movement and momentum as I worked to assemble my old mowing crew; circa 1943 Farmall B (a bare bones “war tractor”), 1949 Farmall C (the Cadillac of the crew with its quiet muffler and coil-sprung seat) and the 1954 Farmall 100 (basically an A) that causes me to envy the guy in the old 1960s Hertz rent-a-car ads whenever I try to climb on. At least gravity helps me to climb off.

The surroundings are quiet — almost too quiet. I can hear the moisture percolating down into the muddy fields around the soybean stubble. I find myself talking to the machines as though they are old friends — which I suppose they are. Of course, all the tractors’ batteries were low. Does anyone else hand crank three tractors in the same day anymore? The C kicked the crank back, which doesn’t really equate to the infamous broken-arm kickback legend. At 300-plus pounds, I tend to lean in and hang on, not allowing the crank to achieve any velocity. This is similar in principle to how a farrier works close to a hoof that threatens to kick.

“You can’t really mean that,” I heard myself whisper to the old Farmall. Good grief.

The raucous crows of last year are nowhere to be seen or heard and, for now, buzzards rule the sky and treetops. (I can’t be moving that slow.) Really, though, they feed on the constant supply of roadkill produced by the returning commuters who are still in Beltway battle mode.

Next, I turn my attention to extricating the B from the basement of the old barn. It’s way at the back of this dark cavern. Being smaller, it can clear the rafters overhead, which the two larger tractors that are blocking it in can’t. Hence the B’s placement for the winter storage period.

One of the tractors blocking the B in is a rough 1951 Farmall H. This H is said to be among the rare specimens with an extra-high road gear. It seems that back in the day when International Harvester supplied everything for the farm including cream separators and refrigerators, they also offered the farmer the option to use his tractor as an automobile. Somehow, the owner of this collection was able to recognize this as one of the H’s that sported this option while he was driving at highway speed past Lovettsville.

The other tractor is a 1950 Farmall M that hails from some high Rocky Mountain plateau. Its huge engine is equipped with special high compression pistons to make the best of the thin atmosphere at those altitudes. The tractor is in excellent original condition.

Delicate footprints in the fine dust that is the barn floor show that the resident raccoons are out of hibernation. Pistol at the ready, I carefully enter the dark basement. Raccoons that are active in daylight are justifiably suspected of being rabid. There are no raccoons in sight. They are probably sleeping — they are nocturnal, after all. With the usual tinkering, the three tractors are removed from the barn. The upright mufflers have been removed to allow clearance under the rafters. I’ll bet the raccoons aren’t sleeping now.

With the three mowing tractors gathered near the farm house, oil changes and other routine maintenance ensue. Late in the afternoon, the skies come alive as formations of hundreds of Canada geese fly over. They are flying so low that I can hear the beating of their wings against the air. One wave of geese passes and fades into the distance, soon followed by another, then another until the sky overhead suggests an image of the skies over the Zuyder Zee in 1944.

These are Canada geese, not “Canadian.” If we were to delve into each bird’s personal nationality, we would find most to be Yankee born and bred with an occasional Cuban and perhaps a Jamaican or two.

I made an uncharacteristic no-nonsense beeline home, hoping to catch a short nap before supper. At home, the old Hippie had us set up at the picnic table in the backyard, facing the river. She had been grilling chicken on the grill.

As we ate, she showed me a map of the 10-acre wilderness plainly in view across the river. A road runs through it that is shown as “he old Croom Station Road.”

“Croom” may be derived from a mispronunciation of “Crum.” A son of a cartographer who worked in the early part of the last century told me that much of the information that finds its way into current maps was obtained from front-porch sessions with old timers. Mispronunciations or local accents are thus perpetuated in these maps.

We’re really curious about this old road and Crum or Croom Station. We would like to hear from anyone who may know some related history. One thing’s for certain, though; I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Yeah, right.


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