Once upon a time (last Saturday, to be specific) after the latest, great, howling blizzard had dumped a foot of fresh snow on my half-mile driveway and the afternoon temperature was a balmy six degrees Fahrenheit, I managed to work up enough motivation to clad myself in my vintage “Blizzard-Pruf(r)” snowmobile suit, a suitable ear-flap hat, ice fishing mittens, and a pair of Sorels whose original retail cost was probably very close to what many of us paid for our first car. (I bought them at the thrift store.)
Suitably equipped and insulated, I ventured out to the shed and fired up my old tractor –which is even more vintage (older and cooler) than the snowmobile suit. She’s a 1964 Allis Chalmers D19 and, back in her day, at 66.5 drawbar horsepower linked to a two-speed hand clutch, she was the top of the Allis Chalmers line. When I speak of this machine, the model designation –D19– is in bold, caps, italics, underline. My voice drops two octaves when I say, “The D19.”
As I tooled down the driveway in third-gear high range with all 262 cubic inches of pre-pollution control cast-iron horsepower happily humming away and snow flinging off the rear blade effortlessly, it was as if (to borrow a phrase from John Steinbeck) the world was indeed running in greased grooves.
As I came to the end of the driveway where it joins the state highway, I could see the snowplow had gone by and left a sizable ridge of hard-pack snow right at the very end of the driveway–just as it always does. I reached down for the lever near my left hip to raise the blade, but I misjudged my speed and the timing. The blade hit that hard snow just as I had started to turn right, and it started to drag the back end of the tractor into the ditch. I stomped the foot clutch, but I was too late.
So, there I sat, on the crest of the ditch with the inside wheels in about two feet of snow and all of the wheels on snow-covered ditch grass. I tried backing out, but the rear wheels just spun.
Now, on a tractor with a hydraulically- operated bucket (loader), one can tilt the bucket straight down, lower the loader far enough to take some weight off the front wheels, then tilt the bucket up to push the tractor back. I was familiar with this tactic, but as I tried it, the rear wheels spun again, causing the rear of the tractor to sink even deeper into the ditch.
I then tried moving forward, which resulted in the rear of the tractor once again sliding sideways toward the bottom of the ditch.
I could move back and forth about six feet, but each time I did, I only made the situation worse.
There was another option, and that was to attempt to turn straight toward the bottom of the ditch and drive right through that deep, hard snow. That had “bad idea” written all over it, as there was a tree and a culvert in that general direction. It also probably wouldn’t work.
I was also very much aware that I was sitting on top of a very, very heavy machine (6,650 lbs plus approximately 2,000 lbs. of fluid in the rear tires) whose sideways angle of inclination increased exponentially every time it slid sideways.
I was aware of numerous times people were killed by tractors rolling over on them.
I have never, ever seen a newspaper headline that read, “Farmer Escapes Tractor Roll-Over Without Injury.”
Now there was a time in my life where I would have fought the D19 and that snowy ditch a lot longer than I did last Saturday, but despite all the parts of me that are wearing out, one part that seems to work a little better with age is the part that is willing to admit when it’s time to walk away and call for help.
Yes, that means I got a nice, half-mile walk back up the driveway to get my cell phone and call my neighbor, who graciously showed up in five minutes with a one-ton truck and a tow strap.
(You will notice that I did not use the word “wisdom” in this account. “Wisdom” would have put the cell phone in my pocket before I got on the tractor.)
I told him I was embarrassed and stupid for getting myself in this situation, but he just shrugged me off with a, “Stuff happens.”
He had me and that tractor out in less than five minutes. No muss, no fuss, no bother.
As he pulled away, we fist-bumped and he smiled and said, “You quit exactly when you should have quit.”
Which is exactly what a guy filled with grace and mercy says to take 8700 pounds of cast iron embarrassment and guilt off the back of another guy.
I took him fresh, homemade cinnamon rolls Sunday morning.
Was there a song or a teaching or something you’ve heard on Kinship Radio that’s pulled you out of a ditch when you were spinning your wheels and sinking deeper? Let us know!
1 Peter 4:10
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (NKJV)
(Photo courtesy of author, on the D19 in warmer, happier times.)