Friday, 18 October 2019 19:35

COLUMN: My own little red tractor

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COLUMN: My own little red tractor J.A. Bolton

In the early 1900s, farm tractors started appearing on larger farms. They were pretty pricey so most small farmers just stuck with their horses and mules. Later in the early ‘40s, competition among larger tractor companies allowed small farmers to be able to afford a tractor for their farms. This was great timing because a lot of farm laborers were off fighting in the war.


International Harvester, being one of the larger tractor companies, came out with a brand of lettered tractors that would become some of the best-selling tractors in the world. One of the first small lettered tractors was called a Farmall A. This was a small off-set type cultivating tractor that worked fine but had no hydraulic lifts. Why, you had to manually lift your implements with a hand lever. This became a little labor intensive while still operating the tractor.

 In 1947, International came out with a similar tractor they called the Super A. They were made up until 1954. Having more horsepower and twin hydraulic lifts, this tractor became an instant success with small farmers. The new tractor sold for about $1,000 to$1,200 and could be purchased with several different types of implements.

When World War ll was over, some veterans returned to the farm but most went in other directions to earn a living. The ones who did return to the farm had a little cash and they started buying tractors.  Farm laborers were still hard to come by and the tractor came in mighty handy.

By the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, sales of the little Super A went sky high. By purchasing different implements, you could break your land, disc it, plant and cultivate your crops with ease. Least ways it was better than following the south end of a northbound mule all day. Other things the tractor was used for was cutting hay, pulling tobacco sleds and, with a belt-driven pulley, you could even run a wood saw. The little tractor was a dream come true to work your gardens.

With a set of headlights and a rear work light on the tractor, a farmer could easily work after dark. This came in handy if you had a daytime public job and were running a part-time farm after work.

Many a farm kid learned how to drive while operating a tractor. Some as young as 5 might be put up on the tractor seat and told to steer straight ahead. Why, some couldn’t even reach the clutch but with a little effort they soon learned. 

The little off-set tractor was great for cultivating because you could better see what you were plowing and not cover it. Even the height of the tractor was perfect to keep from knocking over your crops.

There were a few safety drawbacks on an off-set tractor and that was they would turn over easier (most of the weight being on one side). Farmers have been killed or badly injured because the tractor rolled over on them. A good safety rule was to always keep the heavier side of the tractor uphill.

The Super A had lots of grease fittings but no dipstick. You checked your engine oil by turning two small cockpit wingnuts to see if any oil ran out.

In the late ‘40s and ‘50s, lots of small farmers raised tobacco. Most had allotments from five to 10 acres or less. Most farmers also grew several acres of corn and produce. The days of mules and horses to work your farm were playing out. But where before the family’s farm livelihood once depended on animals, it now depended on their tractors instead.

Several years ago, I was raising several acres of garden produce so I decided to purchase a third- or fourth-hand 1949 Super A. The tractor had been purchased new by a farm family around Ellerbe, but as tobacco had played out, the tractor had been sold several times. I was fortunate in that the man I bought the tractor from had done some repairs and updates to it. He even painted it and added new decals. The tractor ran good and came with a set of cultivators and even had a new three-point hitch on the back.

When I got the tractor home, I decided that I needed a step on it to help me get up into the seat better. Yessiree, my legs are as long as they’ve always been but I can’t pick them up as high.

That fall came and I decided to get my little red tractor ready to put in the Ellerbe Farmers Day Parade. Well, I washed and waxed it and had it shining like a new penny. I even bought a brand new shiny muffler that stood above the hood and really made the tractor look sharp.

The day before the parade, I borrowed my neighbor’s trailer to carry my tractor to the parade. I pulled the tractor out from under the shelter and loaded it on the trailer. Well, it sort of looked like rain so I thought I’d best pull the loaded trailer back under the shelter to keep my shiny tractor from getting wet. 

You ever done something without thinking? 

Well, I didn’t realize until it was too late that the height of the tractor, by putting it on the trailer, had changed. You guessed it. As soon as I pulled the trailer under the shelter I heard a scraping noise. I quickly stopped but not before I had raked my new muffler all the way over on the hood of the tractor. Folks, I want you to know I was sick to my stomach over what I had so foolishly just done.

Well, with the help of my neighbor and a blow torch we did our best to straighten out the muffler. The next day I was in the Farmers Day Parade and I sat proudly on the seat of my own little red tractor.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies.