Wanderings – The Tale of Frankentraktor

While born of modest beginnings in a factory owned by Henry Ford, I will now tell you the tale of a tractor which inflicted great fright among residents of an area west of Brockville.

Just around the time I began high school, my Dad bought a restored Ford 8N tractor. I think it was a 1950 model but don’t quote me on this. It was a simple, humble tractor painted grey and red. You’ve likely seen them around: they are popular with collectors. When it first arrived, I hated this tractor. Later I learned to loath it.

I could drive a lawn tractor and a four-wheeler without issue, but this Ford tractor I couldn’t figure out. It was a gear-grinding, often-stalling experience trying to drive this tractor. And it wouldn’t start in the winter.

Most families in our area had snow plow attachments on their truck or lawn tractor. Not us. Didn’t live on a farm but we had that antique tractor that wouldn’t start in the winter, with a giant homemade snowplowing blade attached. Frankentraktor was born!

The problem with starting was related to Frankentraktor being an obstinate [insert line of expletives here] beast. In fact the mechanic (my Dad) said the problem was because the tractor still had a six volt electrical system and a generator, rather than a 12 volt system with an alternator. That’s about as technical as I get when it comes to motorized machines except I preferred driving them. I hated driving Frankentraktor.

Starting Frankentraktor in winter was a two-person job. A chain had to be attached to the front of Frankentraktor, connecting it to the back of my dad’s truck. As I did not have my licence, I had the job of steering Frankentraktor with one foot on the clutch, perilously holding on for dear life as my Dad towed us back-and-forth up and down the road until the misbegotten relic started. It only took two kilometres for me to remember that my job was to take my foot off the clutch to try to get it to start.

I have vivid memories of Frankentraktor sliding side-to-side like a giant pendulum (with the giant blade counterweight on the rear end) as it was towed. Dad was yelling out of the window “POP THE CLUTCH! POP THE [creative farm language] CLUTCH NOW!”

After Frankentraktor finally started, I stalled it trying to put it in gear. Of course I did. I hated Frankentraktor, and I know Frankentraktor hated me too.

Throughout my high school years, several implements were manufactured by my dad to improve the usefulness of Frankentraktor around my parents five-acre property. No matter what those implements were, they meant more work for me.

There was the obligatory hydraulic wood splitter, which meant I had the fun of stacking wood improperly. A front-end loader bucket appeared on Frankentraktor: great for moving dirt for me to not finish spreading on the lawn. If there was a job to be done around the homestead, my dad made a tool for Frankentraktor, and I tried to find a way to avoid whatever manual labour would come from his creation. The reasons for loathing Frankentraktor multiplied.

I will add that my dad did Frankentraktor no favours. While the core of this beast maintained its Ford grey and red paint, paint doesn’t make machines run any better. He never repainted or touched-up Frankentraktor, or painted anything attached to it. The Beast was a kaleidoscope of rust, scrap parts, and flaking paint. Neighbours feared it.

One footnote to this story. About two winters after Frankentraktor’s appearance, Dad finally changed it to that 12 volt electrical thing-a-ma-which.

I have been told it starts better now. But I bet if I tried to start it today, I couldn’t. Frankentraktor has a long memory.

Originally published in the December 9, 2020 issue of The Leader.