The Joy of Tractors

I like mowing. My parents built and ran a campground in the Redwoods when I was a kid, and mowing was my favorite chore. These days I mostly mow my pastures using a real tractor. You have to keep the grass short for the free-range chickens.

My tractor is a 1957 Ford 640. I’ve had it for over ten years, but it wasn’t until last year that I was really getting my money’s worth out of it. It was very hard to start. Changing it over from 6V to 12V and adding electronic ignition helped, but what really made the difference was having the tractor repair guy take it away and fix every single thing that was wrong with it. (John’s Mobile Tractor Repair of Lebanon, Oregon — highly recommended.)

As it turned out, the main culprit all these years was the non-working fuel shut-off valve, which resulted in water and varnish, sludge and rust in the carburetor. By shutting off the fuel line after use, I suddenly had a tractor that started instantly whenever I wanted it to, and my productivity went way up.

I think a lot of things are like that. You let little problems pile up without fixing them, and after a while the machinery doesn’t work right and you start yearning for a fancy new machine you can’t afford. Far better to fix what ails your existing stuff.

(See my other tractor pages.)

I live in a part of the country where grass growth is slow except April through June, where it’s insanely fast. There’s no way to put it all to use except by making hay with it, which I don’t do (haymaking machinery scares me; too many people get injured by it). So I mow.

Back in the early days of poultry science, free-range was still practiced, and at least one Experiment Station did experiments to see how high the grass should be for best results. The answer was “two inches.” Tall grass prevents the chickens from traveling freely, and short grass didn’t provide enough supplemental nutrition. (Sorry, this is from memory. I don’t have a reference.) I see the bad effects of tall grass now, which is why I’m trying to spend an hour a day mowing. It takes me about four hours to mow my chicken pasture the first time. This involves some time spend gathering up the equipment that got scattered during the non-mowing season (October-March) and at least one stop to repair a broken water hose. If I cut up only one hose with the mower, that’s victory.

A mistake newbies sometimes make is to buy a fake tractors. Lawn tractors and garden tractors are just riding mowers — they aren’t tractors. Real tractors are water-cooled and weigh more than a ton. If you want to do anything on ground that isn’t a lawn, get a real tractor.

I mow with a bush hog — a rotary mower. This is a very rugged implement that can deal with brush, briars, and saplings as well as grass. It’s essential. The other implement I find essential is a rear scraper blade. A front blade would be even better.

If I were to do it over again, I might have spent the extra money for a tractor with four-wheel drive, power steering, and a bucket on the front. Those three features are something of a package deal, I’m told — you want the power steering and 4WD so you can handle heavy loads in the bucket.People who have such tractors use the buckets for everything, including carrying injured sheep or driving steel fenceposts.

But now I hear the pasture calling. Time to mow! …

I Publish Books! Norton Creek Press

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this issue. Most of my posts are based on input from people like you, so leave a comment below!
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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

Author: Robert Plamondon

Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. His publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of the best poultry books of the last 100 years.

7 thoughts on “The Joy of Tractors”

  1. I like the bit about fixing what you have. I try to do that with some success – I am reviving an old chicken tractor this year. Sometimes I dont do so well at it… my broke down chainsaw will go to the heap, soon. Parts for it will cost as much as a new one.
    BUT its a point well taken, Bob.

  2. Point well made, too, about the usefulness of a real tractor. My Kubota starts every time, and expands the work I can do safely and efficiently, and the amazing array of attachments and implements is mind-boggling. I cringed at the initial cost, but then remembered the hassles, downtime, and cost of repairing machines that were cheaper initially but cost more in the long run. Now I only buy commercial or industrial grade equipment and machines, but I only buy them once. They will still be in service long after Im gone. Millions of other farmers can’t be wrong ….

  3. I too have been through a few lawn mowers. Five years ago broke down and bought a 25hp 1974 yanmar diesel. I would recommend a diesel, less maintenance and I run my used veg oil through it to boot. I have a front end loader and it was worth the extra $350.00. Only repairs in 5 years was replacing the water pump. If you can’t guess I love my tractor. I live in central Florida and mow almost year round.

  4. I too have been through a few lawn mowers. Five years ago broke down and bought a 25hp 1974 yanmar diesel. I would recommend a diesel, less maintenance and I run my used veg oil through it to boot. I have a front end loader and it was worth the extra $350.00. Only repairs in 5 years was replacing the water pump. If you can’t guess I love my tractor. I live in central Florida and mow almost year round.

  5. I learned a long time ago that when you let the first thing slide and don’t repair it, it is the beginning of the end. Soon there will be so many things wrong that it is not worth repairing.

  6. What a power snob you must be .I have three tractors, a Case 4230 85 Hp 6 years old, an old Fordson Dexta circa 1963 and the pride of the fleet that weighs considerably less than a ton, namely a Kubota 18 HP with a front end loader,a rotary hoe and a slasher. The Kubota is the most useful tool I have when it come to growing vegetables, moving sand and gravel for driveways etc.Think little, think less than a ton (or Tonne if you reside in a civilised country)

  7. By all means, pick the weight cutoff of your choice. My garden tractor has no traction because it’s too light. It’s wheels are also too small. This means it gets stuck easily and can’t do manly things like spreading gravel. It has a 16 HP engine but can’t bring its power to bear on the problem at hand. A “real tractor” with 16 HP can run rings around it for every task but mowing.

    Robert

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