As part of the deal when buying our farm, we also bought the tractor, a two-point plow, a bush hog, a disk, and a cultivator. The tractor was a 1958 3-cylinder Dexta diesel, about 30 horsepower, made in England but not uncommon here.
Once I agreed to buy it, he insisted on giving me the full lethal history of that Dexta.
“Actually, it killed a little boy before Dorval died on it. It wasn’t Dorval’s fault. The boy just had a life of bad luck, and he was only six or seven years old, born crippled and had asthma. Then, when he was two or three, he got into some lye that was used in making soap and drank some. That didn’t do him any good.
“Dorval was hauling some hay and several kids were riding on the wagon. This little boy fell off and was crushed under the wheels. It set Dorval back some, and he would never let anybody ride on a wagon after that.
“Dorval’s wife, Maude, was the worst cook I’ve ever seen. We would do hay together and she would make hamburgers on Monday, plates and plates of them, more than we could ever eat. On Tuesday, she would re-heat them, and it went on through the week. We would eat less and less, but that meant there was more and more left over for the next day. By Friday, the hamburger was hard little gravelly bits that you could barely choke down. I used to dread that haying.
“Maude was a tough lady, though. When the fish was runnin’ in the river, she used to go and spear as many as she could, then carry them back to the farm. It was two miles from the river and pretty rough country, too, but she would come in after dark with a big pail of fish in each hand.
“Maude didn’t seem to like Dorval much, he was meek and mild and no trouble, but in the fifteen years I knew them, I never once heard her use his name. She always referred to him as ‘that man that’s living here now.’ She saved everything, and had hundreds of egg cartons, stacks of newspapers, and balls of string squirreled away in the summer kitchen, along with jars of preserves 25 years old.
“She was always afraid of going without, so she never threw anything away.
“She ran a tight ship, and that’s what killed her. She would never let Dorval smoke his pipe right in the house, he had to sit in that summer kitchen. One day, he left his pipe smoldering in there and I guess the papers caught fire, too. Maude went in, was overcome by smoke, and that was the end of her.
“I guess Dorval died of a heart attack. The propane delivery man found him sitting dead on that tractor, idling in the middle of the Cody Road. He was slumped over the steering wheel, his foot still on the clutch. The delivery man reached across him and turned off the key but, not knowing anything about diesel tractors, he never pulled the kill switch. So, every time he tried to pull Dorval off that tractor, his dead foot lifted up off the clutch and the tractor lurched forward. I guess they were there, lurching along, for a while until the tractor ran off the road and into a little hill and stalled. Then they pulled Dorval down.
“Dorval’s family had an auction after he died. There weren’t many bidders on the tractor because they left his gloves lying on the seat and most folks didn’t like the looks of that. I never knew if they did that on purpose or not. I figured I had worked with him a long time, and liked him, so I didn’t mind buying his gloves along with the tractor.”
I didn’t get any gloves from Jack with that tractor, but it still serves me well. My son, Conor, and I spent many weekends pulling rocks, then plowing, disking, and cultivating the fields. When he was ten, Conor really took to that machine. When I started it up, he’d come boiling out the door, jamming his arms in his jacket sleeves. He delighted in crawling underneath to hitch up the sway bar and was a great help in figuring out just how the implements attach and what they do.
Unfortunately, that wore off. As he got older (and more proficient), there were many more compelling interests for a teenaged boy than working a tractor.
Shortly after I bought it, I wanted to plow a spot for a lower garden, just across a muddy stream that carried the pond overflow down to the ditch along the road.
I figured a short-cut across the stream would save about a half-kilometre of travel up and around the fields. How deep could that little stream be, anyway?
Well, deep enough. I got about six inches across, and both back wheels sunk up to the axles. This was a dilemma, because the tractor is usually what I use to pull the truck out, not the other way around.
Well, we hitched up the truck anyway and it just sat there and spun its wheels. The instant we shut it off, a truck and trailer stopped on the road. Up the driveway walked an elderly man and I thought, “Why would someone have to come along just at this time to see me trying to correct a stupid mistake?” But it turned out quite differently.
He said, “I may be able to help,” and dragged out cables and hitches and pulleys from his truck.” This is what we use to drag trees out of the swamp.” We hitched one end of the cable to a pine tree, ran it through a pulley attached to the tractor, and fastened the other end to our truck. The pulley helped to double the pulling force, but still no luck.
So, we hitched his truck to ours, and I drove some two-by-six planks under the tractor wheels. Both trucks together pulled the tractor out. He would only accept our thanks, packed his gear and drove off. The right person at the right time.
Eventually one of my tractor tires had the tube sticking out the side a couple of inches. So, new tires. While I was at it, I replaced the brake shoes and bearings, seals, and races, but some of the new parts didn’t fit. So I had to measure and have the new parts machined to fit the tractor, then we had to cut the end of one axle off so the spider gear would let one wheel go forward while the other went backward (otherwise you can’t turn a corner). It took a month and I finally asked my neighbour Ray to put it all together for me one week when I was in Toronto.
It was a tough negotiation; I paid him a pig and 10 chickens for his labour.
In the hundreds of hours I’ve spent on that tractor, it’s almost tipped over once or twice, tried to kill me by climbing a walnut tree, been chewed on by the cattle when I left the barn unlocked, been driven through two fences by visitors who wanted to drive, been stuck a few more times in mud or snow, but it’s never complained.
And I can’t complain about that.