Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Toms' Story

It was an unusually hot day in early June 1970, and I had begun my summer job which was mowing yards. It wasn't really that much of a job, because I only had about 3 yards to take care of, but it was enough to keep me out of trouble. I had a pretty good deal with my dad. He would supply the mower and oil for the engine. I would supply the sweat and gas to run the the machine, and I got to keep the money that I made as long as I kept our yard mowed also. One of the yards that I took care of was our next door neighbor Mrs.Kinzelt's place. Now Mrs.Kinzelt had a big yard, or at least it seemed that way to me, and she was very particular when it came to her grass. There had better not be a single blade of grass standing when you finished, or you didn't get paid. I hated it back then, but I have found that later in life it taught me a very good lesson and that was to be pretty thorough, and to pay attention to details.

Anyway, back to my story. One day while I was mowing her yard, and I was at the back side of the property when I saw a pickup pull up to the curb and stop. Now no kid ever likes to see an adult show up unannounced and without warning, so I began wondering who it was, and what  they could want. I immediately started going through my memory banks, what could I have done that would have gotten an adult out looking for me! Nothing came to my mind, since school was out I thought I had managed to stay out of trouble pretty well, at least to my way of thinking. As I pushed the mower ever closer to that pickup a face slowly began to come into view, and I recognized it was Tom McGee. My mind quickly shifted gears, had I done something mean to Tam or Troy. Once again I came back to the fact that school was out and I hadn't seen them since, and I sure didn't remember picking on them in school, at least recently.

I shut the mower off as I reached the curb where he was parked. A cold sweat came over me as I approached the pickup. Time to find out what I was in trouble for this time. I was put somewhat at ease as a big grin came over his face when I got to the pickup. Tom spoke first, and I will always remember what he said to me. "I've seen you mowing Mrs.Kinzelts' yard for a couple of years now, and you always have it looking nice." "Thank you" I replied thinking hot dog, he's gonna want me to mow his yard for him, but then I immediately thought there's no way, Tam or Troy can mow yards, and if they can't, well it's time they learned. "If you can do that good of a job on her lawn I was wondering if you would like to come and farm for me"?

He must have thought I was deaf or an idiot, my brain couldn't comprehend what I was hearing. I told Tom "I don't know how to drive a tractor." "I'll teach you" he said. "I don't have a way to get out to work and back" "I'll come and get you in the morning, and I'll bring you home every evening" he told me. "and I'll pay you $1.25 an hour." Well that one got my attention, $1.25 an hour for all summer, man I won't ever have to go back to school. I wondered if I would be the first 12 year old to just retire from life! "Yes sir" I told him "when do I start?" "I'll pick you up at sunrise in the morning" he told me.

Well sure enough the next morning as I was sitting on the front step waiting Tom pulled up, I got in and away I went on my new adventure. As we pulled up in the field I saw my new chariot, a John Deere model R that was pulling a 3 bottom sweep with chicken pickers. Yep, I had no idea what all that meant either, but that's what Tom told me it was and I had no reason not to believe him. However, it might as well have been the space shuttle. Up to that point in my life I had never driven anything except a bicycle, and most of y'all know how well that turned out! Now, you folks out there that know anything about tractors know that on a model R there are 2 motors. The first one is a small gasoline starting motor. You have to get this one running first, and then after it is going you pull 2 levers that engage the main diesel engine and get it to rolling over. Then you release one of the levers, which is the decompression lever and the main engine will fire up. I will never forget the feeling in my stomach when that bad boy fired up. Like I said the astronauts on the shuttle couldn't have been more excited than I was at that moment.

Tom showed me how to work the hand clutch, what gear to put it in to plow, where to set the throttle, and then off we went. He showed me how to measure the distance between where the front tire was and how far it needed to be so that the sweeps overlapped just enough to get every weed in the field. He showed me how to use the foot brake to make a turn, and how to leave the corners until you were finished and then you can plow them out. I will always remember the most important rule he told me was, that if you got sleepy, stop and take a quick nap, cause he would rather me take a quick nap than him having to come out there and fix fence after I ran through it because I was asleep. When we got back around to his pickup he told me "lesson over, I'll be back at quitten time and get you." I let him out and I was on my own.

I drove that tractor all that summer right up until time to go back to school, ( by the way, I wasn't able to retire either) and for the next 3 summers also. I am pretty sure that I probably tore things up as most kids will do, but in that entire time he never raised his voice to me for anything that I did or didn't do.  I have met, worked for, and worked with people from all over the world, and there are very very very few people that I admire and respect, but Tom was one of them, he never treated me as a kid, he always treated me as an adult. On August 21, 2014 Tom lost his battle with cancer, and although I had not seen him for many years I still remember, and employee many of the lessons he taught me those many summers ago. I guess this is my way of saying goodbye, I will miss you.