by Pettus Read
As night-time falls in rural communities across the state at this time of the year, the droning sound of tractors running can be heard. Due to a wet early-to-mid spring, farmers are now taking advantage of rain-free days to plant this year's crops. Days on the farm during planting time can run long and it is nothing unusual for farm tractors to be working hard all night long in Tennessee fields.
Almost ninety percent of the acreage for many crops is in the ground and some fields are even showing the emergence of corn, cotton and beans breaking open the planted soil. Hay fields are getting their first cutting and it looks like this year's crop is in pretty good condition.
The other night, I too, was in the field. Not planting or cutting hay, but merely catching up on some bush-hogging that needed to be done. Working in the office during the day only allows me the late afternoons, evenings and weekends to get my farm work completed. Not claiming to be a real farmer, I am one of those who finds it hard to not enjoy getting on a tractor every now and then. I guess I would be classified as one of those you can't take the country-out-of-the-boy types.
There is something to be said about working in a field at night. Unless you have done it, what I am about to say may not mean as much to you as someone who has looked to the edge of his tractor lights into the darkness from a tractor seat during an evening work period.
The coolness of the evening, the flickers of lightning bugs, the mixed smell of honeysuckle and diesel, along with an occasional buzz of a mosquito are all part of the experience of nighttime farming. That is, of course, if you are on a tractor without a cab. I'm still using my daddy's old Massey Ferguson and have not progressed to a cab tractor with air and a radio. And, the way it looks on my farm, those days of progression are a long way away.
However, there is something to be said about Daddy's old tractor. You see, this was his first and only brand new tractor purchased back in the 1980s. He passed away in 2001 and getting to use his most prized possession makes the evening even more special. He loved working on that tractor and when I use it, it seems to bring him back to me for a while.
The tools he used to repair and hook up the equipment are still in the tool box on the fender just as he left them. There is even a half used pouch of "Red Man" still in the box and there it will remain. I make sure to follow his rules of always checking the oil before use, grease all fittings and joints, and to keep it in the shed when not in use.
The first time I ever worked on a tractor at night was under his guidance. I rode on the fender many nights in our Middle Tennessee fields with him at the wheel. He taught me how to drive using the lights as my guide and to keep a watch for the unknown in the darkness ahead.
There is still something magic about the area not reached by the lights of your tractor. All farmers know their fields and could almost work them without lights on a moon lit night, but yet, that area where the lights don't reach seems to have a different feel and look at night than on a sunny day. Again, you would have to be there to really understand.
Daddy's old tractor has done quite a bit of nighttime farming. The lights are now bent and loose from use, but they still make a guide for his son to cover the ground. I must think his son now feels many of the things he must have felt on those evenings he spent in the fields. Feelings of desire to finish the task before the rains blow in, good feelings of providing for his family, feelings of completion, and a feeling of closeness to nature and our Creator.
Yep, Daddy's old tractor and I do enjoy working together - especially on some nights. Maybe someday I'll leave something in the tool box on the fender for the next driver to reminisce about. However, it won't be "Red Man." I'm not half the man my daddy was.