Weekend essay: A tractor’s choice

Weekend essay: A tractor’s choice

Buying a tractor, it turns out, is a lot like rescuing a dog or a cat from an animal shelter. That is, you don’t choose it, it chooses you.

What was expected to be a several-months’-long search for that tractor, either used, refurbished or new, to work a West Virginia mountaintop lasted not even a single month. It found me on the lot of an Ohio equipment supply company.

There it sat on a Saturday morning hinting of spring– a brand-new red 24-horsepower tractor with a front loader, melting snow dripping off its shoulders, er, fenders.

While it’s classified as a “subcompact,” it looks nothing like the toys that too many other subcompact brands appeared to be. Though scaled down from standard farm tractor size, this is a working tractor in every regard.

And standing behind this four-wheel-drive workhorse, I could almost swear that, just as a real horse might, it turned its head, gave a knowing look and a friendly greeting nicker and, thus, granted me permission to saddle up.

Turning the key, its 3-cylinder, 4-cycle, liquid-cooled diesel engine easily came to life. The hydrostatic transmission was smooth and immediately responsive. The joystick that operated the hydraulic front loader was nimble and quick; the lever controlling the hydraulic 3-point rear hitch was the definition of precision. The hydraulic steering made the test drive through the parking lot a joy.

And the price? Far more economical than its competitors and with stunningly generous terms from a dealer just starting to sell this brand of tractor and hungry for some buzz in the community.

It might sound silly but, yes, this tractor had chosen me – in every way.

The tractor was delivered last weekend. Sitting atop the trailer, it almost looked too big. But it will be the perfect machine for the tasks ahead. In this case, too much tractor is better than too little.

The affable gent who brought it used the front loader to lift off a companion rear tiller from a flatbed, then helped me to attach it. Plenty of elbow grease was required, a window on the world of what’s to come.

The balance of the available weekend time was spent getting acquainted, thumbing through the owner’s manual and putting the tractor through its paces. So many levers. So many fail-safes. So many adjustable stabilizer arms, rods, pins, clips, dials and switches.

Weighing in at more than a ton, the fully outfitted tractor is an impressive machine that will demand respect as, after its break-in period, it begins to till, excavate, terrace and support the regeneration of a Jones Mountain woods.

As “the chosen one,” that respect certainly will be given. And for many years to come.

All that said, there remains an important task ahead – to decide if the tractor should be named or not. Equally silly? Perhaps. But given the personal relationship between a man and his tractor, it’s only fitting.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).