A funny thing happened on the way back to the bush yesterday. Mr. Massey-Harris, the only submersible “22” model tractor still in good running order that I know of, suddenly stopped in his tracks and insisted he wasn’t going to go any further if I didn’t acknowledge that I was just about to become an elder and ceased being in negative denial about it.
Now, you may find it more than a little odd that I talk to my tractor. Some might say they’re not surprised; after all, that McNichol fella is a strange duck at the best of times.
I’ll admit it’s a tad peculiar to speak of a tractor, or any machine for that matter, talking to a man, but certainly not for a man to be talking to a machine.
I think it’s more than fair to say a man gets attached to his machines as time goes by. They get hard to let go of, hard to give up on. Fixing or repairing them on a regular basis becomes more than a matter of being too parsimonious to buy new. A bond forms. Like, for example, I’ve got a ’94 Dodge van with a couple of more or less pricey problems. It’s probably at the point where I should bite the bullet and take it to the scrap yard. But this particular “sport” model has served me well, been with me through some highs and lows, and I just can’t seem to bring myself to abandon it. It’s not like I haven’t done it before with other vehicles. But I feel like I’d be, well, leaving part of myself in the scrap heap. She’s old enough by built-in-obsolescence auto standards. But I can’t get over the feeling she’s got some good life left in her, even considering the escalating price of gas. So I think I’ll just wrap her up for a while in some safe place out of the damp, maybe for a year or so, maybe longer, and then make up my mind about what to do, or not.
I suppose there’s many an old tractor or car tucked away in a garage or barn somewhere because the owner felt the same way. Maybe it’s something people do when they reach a certain age. I think when Mr. Massey’s time comes, when he stops for the last time and won’t start up again no matter what, I’ll have him towed to a safe place, away from the rain and snow. Then maybe quite a few more years down the road, my grandson Daniel (who I’ve bequeathed Mr. Massey to) will open a door, look in through shafts of dusty sunlight and decide to bring him back to life.
We’ve had our moments, my old tractor and I, in the years I’ve owned him, moments when I thought he’d never go again. The day I sunk him in Lion’s Head harbour while trying to launch a boat certainly ranks right up there. With a crowd of about 200 people looking on, I was all set to dive in and hook on a tow-truck chain so he could hopefully be pulled out. But fortunately a wiser man volunteered to go home and get his scuba gear, and he did the deed. Mr. Massey rose from the depths, just a little the worse for the experience as it turned out. I let him dry out for a day or two, changed all the fluids and he started up like a charm, as usual. I joked about getting a new set of Massey-Harris “22” decals, and a special one in the same straw-yellow colours that said simply “submersible.” But I never did. The fresh coat of paint I gave Mr. Massey has faded. But he gets his oil changed on a regular basis, among other things, and he’s still going strong, so far.
Like I was saying. Mr. Massey stopped the other day to give me a piece of his mind. (And if anyone still has trouble accepting that, all I can say is I became an official “senior” yesterday, and after 65 years I think we’re all entitled to a coincidental declaration of eccentricity; or, to put it another way, to be classified in a good-natured sort of way as a “character,” as in, “he talks to his tractor, you know.)
“Look, Phil,” Mr. Massey said, “I know you’re in denial about this birthday, marking as it does your 65th year on the face of this beautiful planet; but it’s not the end of the world. Sure, a few parts are wearing out and sooner or later you’re going to have to come to some serious terms with them. But on the whole you’re in pretty good shape: you’ve got the blood pressure of a teenager, muscle tone that would put the jocks you knew in high school to shame, and best of all you’ve still got most of your marbles; don’t forget that.”
Buddy, our black dog with a lot of wolf in him, had stopped beside us on the trail beside the pines. He looked around sharply this way and that, his ears erect, trying to figure out where the strange voice he heard was coming from. Then he looked at Mr. Massey and tilted his head quizzically, the way dogs do sometimes. Then he lay down beside the trail like he was listening, or at least waiting. Aussie, the yellow Lab, sauntered up, seemed to wonder what was going on, looked at Buddy as if for an answer, then at me, then at Mr. Massey. “OK,” said Aussie, “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I’ll hang around for a while and see what happens.” He sat down.
“You take me,” Mr. Massey said, “you’re a lot better off than I am. I know my days are numbered. You and Dr. John rebuilt my engine a few years back, but I’ve never been fully restored and likely never will be. Not that I mind. Don’t get me wrong. I know you don’t have the time, or the patience, for that sort of thing. But I appreciate what you’ve done for me. I would have been sent to the scrap heap and melted down long ago, or rusted away forgotten in an overgrown pasture. So thanks. And I really mean that.
“But I’m at least 58 years old, which, for an unrestored machine, is like 100 in human years. So I daresay some cranky parts are going to break or wear right out any time now. I know that. You know that. Yet, here I am, pulling the cultivator, hauling trees out of the bush, and generally making myself useful. Thanks to you, all things considered, I’m thriving on being a ‘working tractor’ as you so often proudly tell people. As a result my life has been extended, and I look forward to tomorrow. Indeed, every day is something to celebrate.
“So give yourself a break, welcome and embrace your new elder status, say ‘thank you’ when the first old age security cheque comes in the mail, and tell yourself ‘the best is yet to come’ because it probably is, in ways you can hardly imagine.”
Mr. Massey fired up again. The rhythmic throb of his four-cylinder, flat-head, Continental engine was music to my ears as we drove down the hardwood trail. I knew somewhere in the forest the sound was heard by the curious, if wary, eyes of many living things. The woods were full of life.
So, yes, I thought, I’m officially a “senior citizen.” I’m 65. But after all, it’s just an arbitrary number. And there’s lots more living to do.
Originally published in The Sun Times in 2008.
“Mr. Massey” readers may be interested in Legacy Quarterly, a magazine devoted to “Preserving the Legacy of the Massey Harris Ferguson Line.”