Skip to comments.Everything I need to know, I learned driving a tractor
Posted on 07/05/2003 7:08:43 AM PDT by SJackson
Remember the book that came out a few years ago, "All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten?" It argued that the basics you learn in kindergarten lead you through life.
I've often thought that book must have been written by someone who grew up in town, particularly illustrated by the line that says: "Take a nap every afternoon."
As a former student, I agree that kindergarten is important. But I would like to argue -- as a former farm kid -- that all I really needed to know, I learned driving a tractor.
1. Follow your nose. This was my all-time favorite direction given to me from my father, stated matter-of-factly whenever he set me up on a tractor to "teach" me a new task, whether it was raking hay for the first time, driving baler my first day or discing ahead of the corn planter on a windy spring morning.
After giving me the obligatory two-minute overview of the levers I needed to use and the general direction I should be headed, he would follow with, "Follow your nose, kid." That was it. No other words of wisdom, no useful bits of advice about how to disc end rows correctly, no direction as to how to rake the hayfield corners perfectly.
As a kid, I really hated that expression, especially when halfway through the task, Dad would jump off his tractor, come racing across the field, frantically waving his hands back and forth, stop me, and chew me out because I had done it wrong.
But looking back, I understand that he was giving me room to figure it out myself, giving me confidence and trust, letting me hone the ability to think on my feet. Those aren't life lessons I learned in kindergarten -- I learned them on a tractor.
2. Plan ahead. After I mastered the "following my nose" technique, I got this sage advice from Dad: "Look far enough ahead so that by the time you get to that corner or to the end of the field, you know exactly what you're going to do before you get there."
I learned the hard way that there's nothing worse -- especially when the clouds are rolling in, the sprinkles are starting and your father is giving you the sign to throw the throttle up a notch -- that there really is no bigger tractor-driving sin than to stop mid-field and contemplate, "How exactly do I bale the corner without wiping out the fence?"
Anticipation is probably the most useful skill every farm kid learns to master. By always looking ahead to the next corner, the next task, or the next challenge, time can be saved and mistakes avoided.
Life lesson number two: learn to look ahead and anticipate what's coming -- whether it's an obstacle or an opportunity -- so by the time you get there, you've thought out your options and end up making the right choice.
3. Don't look back too often. One of my rookie mistakes when driving tractor was to constantly look behind me, making sure the baler was taking all the hay, or the disc was on its mark.
Not only did my neck start to hurt, but I would also start to veer off course. Worse yet, I violated rule No. 2: I was so busy worrying about what I was doing at that very minute, that I hadn't anticipated how to handle the next tricky spot.
One thing you learn quickly when driving a tractor is that there's a fine line between looking back often enough to make sure you're doing a good job, and looking back so much that you lose track of where you're going.
Life lesson number three: look to the future more than the past, but look back often enough that you don't repeat your mistakes. Not only will you be more successful in life, your neck won't hurt as much.
Growing up, I often thought the kids who grew up in town were the lucky ones -- they could go swimming on the days I was helping my family bring in the hay crop, or they could go shopping when I was racing to beat the clouds that would end corn-planting too early that day.
Today I realize how lucky I was to be a farm kid, because now I'm looking for ways to teach those same tractor-driving life lessons to my daughter, who lives in town and spends her free time riding her scooter around our block or going swimming with her friends.
I guess I'll have to find new ways to teach her the lessons I learned while I was driving a tractor.
On second thought, maybe I can talk her grandpa into teaching one more generation to "follow her nose." Let's head to the farm.
Jeanne Carpenter covers news for The Country Today in southern Wisconsin. She may be reached at email@example.com.
"Look near before you look far."
Anticipation is probably the most useful skill every farm kid learns to master.
I agree. However, since fewer and fewer kids get to learn on the farm, I would add that playing baseball (or softball) also teaches anticipation. Baseball, unlike basketball and even football which rely more on reflex and instinct, is a series of "set pieces". Players have time to review before each new play where they are and what their options are for the next play. There are choices to be made, but they are finite in number and anticipation will give you a "first step" advantage. "You can't teach speed", but you can teach anticipation.
But did you have sprinkler irrigation stand pipes hidden in the crop just waiting to be "harvested". Of course we marked the valves with stakes before harvest, but ya just hate to waste anything. Ya gotta come as close as possible to the stakes and not waste ANYTHING. . . . OOPS!
Get a Ford 9N. . . . going . . . and going . . . and going . . .
Also applies to snake country and mine fields.
After 140 acres @ 5-6 feet per round ya come out really wise. I did. I went to the store, saw a whole 2 acres of shelves with food just fallin' to the floor. Now I do all my huntin' fishin' and farmin' at Albertson's. Works out really good.
It's going to be really hard to see the tractor go that all the kids: nieces and nephews, cousins, grandkids and great-grandkids have ridden on in the last 50 years or so. I'm thinkin' bout talkin my husband into buying it for old times sake--I'm sure that it would fit in with our big machinery of today. I want my grandkids and great-grandkids to have a chance to have the same ride that we all did those many years ago.
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