Sticking the Crawler Tractor
Teen agers are known for their moments of bad judgment. I was no exception. My story begins on a nice warm sunny spring day in the Southeast Idaho highlands. I was fifteen. During the spring melt in that part of the world snow has a tendency to linger on the east slopes longer than elsewhere. We had an east slope that lay on the west end of one of the fields on our dry farm. Water from the melting snow ran down off this slope to the field below and would disappear beneath the surface giving the illusion that the surface of the field was dry enough to work. This spot encompassed an area that amounted roughly to three, sometimes, five acres that would have to be left to a later date to be planted.
This particular morning, Dad sent me out to work that field (with strict warning to give that spot wide berth). When I reached the area in question, I stopped the tractor, climbed off and inspected the area on foot to determine if it was dry enough to venture out onto with the tractor and spring tooth harrows. I pretty much walked over the entire surface of this area and determined it was dry enough to work.
I went back to the tractor, climbed aboard, and proceeded out onto the spot in question. Everything went very smoothly for about the first hundred feet when I looked back and saw the harrows gathering mud. I then looked down and saw mud building on the tractor tracks.
Uh, oh. Big trouble.
I stopped the tractor to assess the situation. I was in a real pickle. I couldn’t back up because the spring tooths were drag harrows with no wheels. When I tried to move forward, the tractor spun its tracks.
Nothing to do now except get the tractor unhitched from the harrows and try to walk it back out onto dry ground; then round up enough tow chain and cable to snake the harrows out, one section at time. I knew this would not set well with Dad. I envisioned the loss of a whole work day.
My palms were sweating. “I’ll see if I can wiggle the tractor just enough to loosen the draw pin,” I said to myself. This done, I jumped down and pulled the pin and freed the tractor from the harrows.
One small victory.Things were looking up.
I climbed back up to the seat, put the tractor in gear and moved it ahead a couple of feet. My strategy was to move the tractor forward just enough to where I could angle it and maneuver it backwards out around the harrows onto dry ground.
“Okay,” I said under my breath. “Ease the right steering clutch back and very carefully touch the right brake. “Careful now, not too much brake. If you lock up this right track you’ll be in deep do-do.” By now, my hands were dripping with sweat. The tractor moved forward, I started the turn, all was going well. I needed just a wee bit more brake to maneuver the tractor to an angle that would give me clearance enough to back past the harrows. I applied a little more brake.
The right track locked, “oops, too much brake.” The left track started to spin, the tractor began to slowly ease down into the mud on the left side. I immediately disengaged the main clutch and stopped the tractor.
“Damn! I removed my hat and brushed away the sweat from my brow. “This is one holy mess.” I wiped my sweat soaked hands on my pants leg. By now I was really talking to myself. “Maybe I can negotiate enough angle to get back past the harrows by putting the tractor in reverse, angling the rear to the left.”
I put the tractor in reverse, eased the left steering clutch lever back slightly and applied just a little brake. “Easy, now, release the steering clutch slightly, and not too much brake.” The right track started to spin, the right side of the tractor started to sink into the mud. I stopped the tractor once again.
I looked back and assessed the situation. I had enough angle to get passed the harrows. “Maybe I can back straight out onto dry ground.”
Another bad decision.
I’d have been much better off to have left the situation as it was and gone to get Dad and some help. But no, in my teenage judgment lapse, I had to exacerbate the problem even further. I put the tractor in reverse, and engaged the clutch. The tractor began to move backwards toward dry land. “Yay. I’m gonna make it!” Just then both tracks started to spin. Anyone who has had experience with crawler tractors knows that when both tracks spin at the same time in mud, the tractor sinks mighty fast; especially one that weighs in excess of ten tons. Before I got the clutch disengaged, the tractor sunk about a foot and a half deep in the mud. I…was…stuck! I mean, really stuck. Nothing to do now but go fetch Dad and face the music.
When I told him my sad tale, he said, ” I thought I told you to steer clear of that spot.”
“You did, but I stopped and got off the tractor and walked all over the area. It looked dry enough to work.”
“Did you dig down to see how close the mud was to the surface?”
“I didn’t have a shovel, with me.”
“There was a crowbar in the tool box, you could’ve used that.”
He looked at me with a disgusted look, which was worse than a chewing out. Then he said, “Well…let’s go see if we can clear up your mess.”
My uncle(Dad’s younger brother) owned a dry farm next to ours, and he also owned a TD 14 crawler. We got his crew and tractor, gathered up all the cable and tow-chains we could find on the place, loaded a bunch of old railroad ties in the pickup, and proceeded to get my ox out of the mire. We parked the other tractor on dry land, dug down far enough to place a couple of railroad ties under the rear of my tracks, hooked the cables and chains up to both tractors and with the help of this other tractor, we were able snake mine back onto dry ground by leap frogging it on the ties.
That done, we snaked the harrows back and re-hitched them up to my tractor, After wasting half a day, I was back in business. Dad handed me a shovel, and said, “here, son, dig the mud out of your tracks before going back to work.” Not an easy task after a track tractor has been stuck in eighteen inches of the stuff.
If you like nostalgia, click on the free download button at upper right of this page for your free copy(while they last) of the prologue and first three adventures of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, a book of tales about a young boy growing up in rural America during the 1940s. It might even bring back a few of your own childhood memories.