I grew up on a family farm in southwest Minnesota near Storden, and our most used and practical tractor was a 1959 John Deere 530. It has about 30 plus horsepower and this is right on the edge for enough baling horsepower, but we would occasionally use it to make some extra money baling roadditch hay all over our local area. This can be hairy work, and we had the narrow tricycle-type front end with two wheels close together, so running that type of tractor down a sloped ditch can be an exercise in foolish tragedy if one is not extremely careful. My wizened and oldest Uncle E had many years of experience however and he would normally be our driver for this dicey work. He made almost all his living corn shelling, trapping and hunting, and doing part-time work for other farmers and my Dad.
The reason I remember this tractor so well has to do with his use of the clutch. The 530 has a hand clutch so at times if the hay is too thick or you need to let the baler catch up you need to disengage the clutch, then you can proceed when the slug has gone through the baler. Anybody who has baled hay knows this drill. Because the baler needed all the RPMs and power available, if you just threw the clutch forward you would give quite a jolt to the kid on the bale rack (me). I remember many times thinking my Uncle E was purposely trying to break my neck with that clutch, and he also pushed the angle of slope to the very limits sometimes. I was about 12 or 13, and a new bale boy for him, and it’s like he was testing me, especially when I was four or five bales high trying to center a row. I did a lot of muttering in trying to keep up, but I also worked hard for him despite the grumbling and adventures, as I was keen to impress him and measure up.
I remember while working one hot August day, while we were changing out twine Uncle E offered me my first attempt at black Copenhagen snoose. Being a young pup of course I took the challenge, as he always had a chaw in and this seemed like normal adult working behavior. I’d been working about 15 minutes with that snoose in my mouth with the 530 making its distinctive pop as it ran its cycle in the background and I stacked the hay. The first thing I noticed changing was my hearing. Suddenly, the sounds of the baler and tractor seemed very heightened. I was a pure rookie of course and just didn’t know it yet, but my gills began to slowly turn green as I stacked the hay on the rack. By mistake– and because I took way too much snoose out of the tin– I started to swallow a little bit of what I couldn’t keep spitting out in a stream to the ditch grass. I remember the sound and tone of that tractor changing and it was as if the sound of that JD 530 and the baler were all the world was made of. It’s like when you go to the ocean for the first time and hold your head far under water and listen. A new world somehow. That cranked out 530 and the machinations of the plunging baler just reverberated in my ears and seemed to be getting louder and louder as I unsteadily and more unsteadily walked the tilting boards of our teetering, ditch-traveling hayrack. I don’t remember passing out and falling off, but I surely did. I do remember my Uncle E standing over me as if he was Zeus, white-bearded and sun weathered and stout. Now the sound of the 530 was down to an idle, popping above me as I sprawled in the bottom of the ditch. Uncle E was calm and as I came to my senses somewhat he asked me if I had been swearing at him on the bale rack for popping the clutch sometimes. Just lying there, I admitted that I thought I had cursed him a few times. He nodded his head and thought a little as I worked to spit out what snoose hadn’t run down my neck or that I hadn’t already swallowed. I didn’t know it then, but this was a weak, queasy feeling I had that was something comparable to a hangover after a three-day bender. “Watch what comes into your mouth,” Uncle E said. He helped me stand up and steadied me. He looked me eyeball-to-eyeball and said, “Watch what comes out of it too.” He got back on the 530, plunged the clutch forward and off we went. I don’t know how I survived the rest of the day, but I guess we can say the young are resilient.
We are restoring that tractor slowly now, 38 years later. Uncle E has been gone for many years, but I still think about the way he gave me a lesson with that clutch and way too much snoose for any young man to handle. P.S. A good verse in the Bible to memorize is James 3: 8-10 and all the lessons my parents and uncles and aunts came from life and scripture. “But no man can tame the tongue, for it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless God our father and with it we curse our brothers and sisters who are made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, this should not be so.” This verse helped me hold my tongue many times.