Ag Men and Their Tractors


This column was originally published February 5, 2014

Just the mention of the word “tractor” or anything tractor-related piques men’s interest into lengthy conversations. The kind of conversations that allow wives enough time to get their shopping done alone without being rushed.

Men-of-the-tractor are like Southerners and their college football; they’re serious about their machines and oftentimes proudly wear their tractor manufacturer’s colors. If farmers and ranchers aren’t in their tractor working, they’re maintenancing them, buying things for them, showing them off (if it’s one they restored), dragging their wives to dealerships just to look at them, telling stories about them, occasionally cursing them, or talking shop about them.

Last windrow

What farm and ranch women don’t realize about the tractor dealerships they often get dragged to is that these businesses can serve as a very convenient and free playland for husbands on those consolidated husband-and-wife shopping trips when grocery store and department store shopping are necessary. Farm machinery dealerships are always happy to see tractor men and will give them lots of attention. Dealerships also carry parts and implements to keep tractor men occupied looking around and on special days, some dealerships will even feed husbands complimentary cookies and coffee. Ag men can wile away time waiting on their wives by looking at, trying out (aka playing with), talking about, and asking questions about tractors.

pulling the V rake with the 656 North of Pringle

Access to tractors, implements, and related merchandise curbs boredom and grumbling about wives’ lengthy shopping stops.  Such businesses are a great place for men to go who aren’t fond of crowds, shopping beyond five minutes, shopping-and-comparing, or having patience. A non-shopper or non-crowd man is much happier and content waiting on his wife if he’s got tractors he can look at or talk about. The conversations men have about tractors lead to talking about the tractor they’re restoring or currently own, tractor manufacturer comparisons, faults, and of course, men eventually discuss the tractors they remember using growing up that their fathers had.

Men who have been exposed to a tractor at any point in their life I consider to be connoisseurs. Tractor men seem to know everything about all tractors, with their M’s and A’s, H’s, and four-digit numbered tractors. And that’s not including the year of each make and model. Such conversations sound like baby gurgling noises to me, but having been exposed to numerous tractor conversations, I realize men-of-the-tractor speak the same language. One guy will nod in understanding or agreement then reply using the same alphabet and language.

What I’ve noticed about these fine pieces of machinery is that they were no doubt invented by men, for men because all tractor operating instructions are designed with men in mind. There are no words to describe how to operate these machines because all tractor companies clearly mark silhouettes of turtles and rabbits by the lever to indicate “slow” and “fast.” Manufacturers use these simple operating instructions because men prefer brevity and simplicity—which might explain why men don’t understand women as easily. The only reason instruction manuals are provided is because they are a last resort in problem solving issues. From what I’ve observed, ag men enjoy problem-solving and figuring things out for themselves and an operator’s manual is the last thing on their mind when breakdowns occur.

My knowledge of tractors includes the ones I know I can get to start and operate. It’s a good thing tractor companies don’t make operator manuals for women because my husband probably wouldn’t like seeing me take a sledgehammer to any of his tractors.

© Amy Kirk 2014

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