Not too many years ago after my renter, Gene Stuckle, was born, he became interested in just about everything that was mechanical. Later, Gene transformed his ability to turning deteriorated old cars into antiques - but that’s another story.
When this “on-the-go” feller plunged into farming on his own, he turned into a hopeless antique tractor restorer. He actually hunts for these discarded power plants with his binoculars, either at ground level or looking down when he is up in one of his planes. Anything resembling a rusty old iron horse is checked out for graveyard release. Gene, now, has many a deceased old tractor restored to life by adding transplants from hopeless basket cases.
Seeing Stuckle’s collections reminds me why I decided to tractor-farm after arriving back from California in the fall of 1927. Full of dreams of farming with horses fascinated me. The thought of commanding lots of horses, western style, made me tingle. Buying a cowboy hat and sticking it on my head got me into a lot of trouble. Veteran farmers thought I knew everything about horses. Putting a fresh pair of leather gloves half way in my hip-pocket didn’t help matters either.
Anxious to get some plowing done that fall without investing in a string of nags ’til spring, I asked my cousin if I could use a gathering of his horses so a three-bottom plow could be pulled. Was told to take the saddle horse and round up a group of work horses that were out in the pasture.
Like most riding horses, this one had three shifts of speed. First, was a horse walk too slow to scare any of the work horses back to the barn. Second, was a jolting trot. It kept my cowboy hat on OK, but it didn’t do my seat any good. Since a gallop was too scary for me, I just tied the thing up to a fence post and shooed the horses back to the yard.
I tried to help cousin Quentin get all those nags dressed up in their working outfits. There were odd names for different things that went over their bodies, so they could deliver their horse-power. Some were understandable, like belly-bands, as all horses had bellies. The tail piece naturally was for the tail, collars for neck, etc. Quentin did show me how to tie or hook up the whole 11 horses to the three-bottom plow, which didn’t come with a seat, only a plank to stand on which was wedged between the plow-beams. Quentin pointed and told me the names of every male and female horse as he handed me the lines. Even a written instruction sheet wouldn’t have been of any help. Everything seemed so strange.
Before I was able to stand correctly, Quentin yelled “get-up!” Those words started the whole tribe moving, and the plow began to plow. Luckily those horses of all ages knew what they were doing. They did start turning on corners a little too soon. It was impossible to figure out how to tell the herd to go just a little bit farther, without throwing all of them into a state of confusion.
The next day, the plow struck a rock, causing me to end up in the furrow. Luckily, the horses worked like a snowmobile and stopped when the driver gets tossed off. Later that afternoon, the plow really did a good job of bucking me off, landing me on my head and shoulder. That did it! My mind got made up to trade that twisted brimmed cowboy hat in for a beret and to work on my dad to hock the farm for some money that would buy a tractor.
Before spring work started, a 15-30 International wheel tractor, the biggest one the company made at that time, was standing on a flat-car in Davenport, waiting to be unloaded. Driving it out to the farm was a thrill. Going past Paul Jahn’s farm gave me a feeling of security, as he had already started farming with a Twin City tractor. From then on west, I was invading horse country and I tractor-farmed happily ever after.
Gene Stuckle's Caterpillar Featured on Magazine Cover