It was a sound I heard when I was young but rarely hear today.
Listening to the old two-cylinder tractors at the N.M. Ag Expo this week it was easy to remember the sight of an old farmer on a Poppin’ Johnny tractor, plowing two to four rows and remembering the smell of fresh turned dirt.
That loping putt-putt sound the old John Deere tractors made was distinctive, nothing else sounds like it. Today we hear it and we think the poor old tractor is on its last leg but it can run like that all day and most of them did.
A lot of the guys who paraded the old antique tractors at the Expo either owned them or one like it when they were all about getting work done on the farm. If they didn’t own one themselves their dad did. They grew up on those tractors, running them hard in between cow milkings and sometimes longer.
It took a long time to get over an 80 acre place with one of those tractors and they did it in the hot sun, dirt and cold. In contrast to those tractors of yesteryear were the new monster four-wheel-drive behemoths with climate-controlled cabs, GPS farming devices and satellite radio parked along the parade route.
During one of the tractor parades at the fairgrounds I heard the tractors coming and sat down at a picnic table just to take it all in. I saw one lady with a camera scurrying into position for a shot. The contrast between the big new tractors and the old ones wasn’t lost on her. She wanted a shot of her family member parading the old tractor with the guy in the background.
My dad had one of those Poppin’ Johnnies when I was growing up. I think it was a Model A. It had the tricycle front wheels and when he started it, Dad grabbed the flywheel on the side of the tractor and spun it. We had newer tractors but this one was attached to the cotton stripper while I was growing up. Later it was hooked up to power an irrigation pump and then helped to provide power to a rock crusher before it was sold in the 1980s.
I didn’t drive a tractor much because we moved off the farm before I was very old. I certainly never had to do a day’s work aboard one. But I’ve known lots of people, including Dad and Granddad, who did.
If you know what to look for you can still spot the guys that made their living on an open tractor seat today. Look for a sweat-stained seed cap shading a deeply lined and sun-weathered face, a pair of cracked and swollen hands with permanently skinned knuckles, he might be wearing overalls or just a Western shirt and jeans along with Wellington style boots.
He’ll be the guy leaning on one of those old green machines who has all day to talk about the weather and tractors.