Baboon Redux – Farmers and Their Tractors

Today’s post by Clyde was first published in 2011.

In my childhood the few farmers of southern Lake County shared equipment and work. Many of those farmers were characters worthy of being remembered. Two of them were Nordic Bachelor Farmers.

The Swede

Ole, his real name, I promise, lived in the valley below us up a side road of a side road of a side road in a small house. I always wanted to get into that house, to see if it was as neat and precise as were his barn and garages and to see if it had any frills. I never made it in.

1948 Massey-Harris

In our early years on our perch above the valley, before the trees got too tall, we could just see his farm. It was three miles away, but by road it was seven miles. Ole owned a threshing machine. We would trade work or oats for him to come to our farm with “the separator,” as we always called it. Ole would putt-putt along at a much slower speed than necessary in his 1940’s era red and yellow Massey-Harris tractor towing the machine to and from our farm. Ole never rushed anything. Never. Ole never got excited. Never. Ole would talk . . . but . . . seldom . . . softly . . . with lots of . . . pauses.

He was slight of frame with massive hands at the end of long dangling arms. He always wore a cap, except when he came awkwardly into our house to eat. I waited for that moment when he stood at the door wiping his feet, cap in hand, calling my mother “Missus.” Powdermilk Biscuits would not have cured his shyness, nor given color to his pale skin, which somehow never tanned or burned, nor given thrust to his receding chin.

It was his head I waited to see. He had classic male-patterned baldness, and, here is what I awaited, five large bumps on his head. I do not know why he had them. They seemed benign, and he lived into his late 70’s. But what child could not be enthralled by those bumps!

The Norwegian

Noble—yes, that was his name—was my father’s best friend. And as opposite of my father in temperament as a man could be. He had been a Lake Superior fisherman until the coming of the lamphrey. He switched to farming, with which he needed much help from my father. I liked his name, and he did have a serene Nordic unpolished nobility. But I liked his brother’s name better, Sextus, which always made me giggle. Noble was short, stout of frame, and walked with small slow careful steps. He always bent his upper body forward and furrowed his brow as if deeply worried, which he was not.

Oh, how many stories there are about his kind, gentle, and implacable nature. For instance he once brought back 50 wild yearling steers off the Montana Range, and trustingly left a gate open, letting them escape. We got back 49, one of which died.
One was found as far away as Beaver Bay.

One day when he was about 50 years old sitting drinking coffee at our house, calling my mother “missus,” he casually mentioned that he had married the week before. My parents snorted coffee. It was a woman we knew—brusque, demanding, fast-moving, and intolerant of incompetence. It proved to be a lasting, loving, and happy match.

After I moved back to Two Harbors, I often saw Noble. Once I mentioned to him that my backyard had a large pile of firewood which was too punky to burn in our fireplace. He agreed with my suggestion that it would burn in the large barrel stove in his garage, fashioned for him by my father.

Fordson Model F

One Saturday he showed up with a hay wagon pulled by his 1930’s era Fordson tractor, famous for its durability and utter lack of power. Noble had three tractors, one a powerful International Harvester, but he loved to use that old putt-putt Fordson. As he backed it down into the low spot in my yard where the wood was piled, I told him that I did not think it had the power to pull out the load. He thought a moment and said, “Yup, yup, probably not,” and started to load wood. Halfway through the job we went in for coffee. He took off his hat, wiped his feet carefully, and charmed my wife, calling her “Missus.”

As you can guess, the Fordson would not pull out the load. He did not get mad; he just laughed and said, “Yup, yup, you were sure right about that.” He drove the 11 miles home and 11 miles back the next day with the IH, which pulled it out easily.

That was, sad to say, my last meaningful contact with that exemplary man. But I picture him every time I hear the term “Norwegian Bachelor Farmer.”

What are the tools of your trade?

45 thoughts on “Baboon Redux – Farmers and Their Tractors”

    1. Rustic grace.

      I knew several bachelor farmers growing up, but not in the usual sense. These were sons who ended up just staying on the farm with their aging parents. One got married later in life, one dropped dead of a heart attack, don’t know about the third and I suspect I knew more if I gave it some thought.

      I imagine those “old guys” were probably younger than I am now…. thanks for reminding me, Clyde.


      1. I knew Ole from age 55 to 70 is my guess. I knew Noble from age 45 to about 72, but another guess. Both had that soft pale Nordic skin that does not age.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Starting from the beginning of a linoleum project. Knee pads, safety glasses, gloves, caution tape, buffer, scraper, hand broom, stand up broom, hammer, chisel, mixing bucket, water bucket, mixer, smooth trowel, box fan, measuring tape, pencil, chalk line, six foot straight edge, large square, utility knife, hook knife, edge trimmer, heat gun, small square, masking tape, glue trowel, rags, 100 pound roller, hand roller, hand groover, heat welder, skiving plate, skiving knife.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. someone came by the oh her day. and needed a bandaid. we don’t have em. never have. I think we gave them an aloe plant tip. a piece do paper towel and some packaging tape. its only a minute til the bleeding stops isn’t it?
        they are concerned about keeping the blood thinner at the proper level in me after my heart stuff. I do bleed a little longer with the thinner in there. that should be done in a month.


    1. last linoleum job I did was a deli oleum job. peeling off 10000 sq feet of black and white squares to get to a 1920’s concrete sub floor which was rubbed stained and sealed in a warehouse designer crossover that turned out nicely but the scraping played too big a roll. we didn’t have my little electric jackhammer I have picked up along the way since so ramming the chunks which a scraper and a hip was the m/o. good excersize.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the descriptions Clyde, the men come to life with such a brushstroke outline of their characters.
    I was going to the tools of the trade back in the day from the question of the day. the question of the tools of the trade today takes me a different place entirely. today it’s wits and vision and finding ways to do the hoop jumping to make the world wide net cast it’s wide and sweeping offering to make the art of presentation an art form of modern day snake oil salesmen. hurry hurry step right this way has given way to search engine optimization and analytic breakdowns that drive the direction of efforts.
    my new projects are ruled by results before they begin,
    this is a far cry from the old line salesmen I grew up with. a briefcase a car that would drive 4000 or 5000 miles. a month the nose pointed to the offices of friends and partners in the Midwestern homes of groups of hardware stores auto parts distributors catalog showrooms garden distributors big box up and coming players and old timers reminiscing about the days gone by. my desk was a piece of art from the Industrial Age. gray and massive perfectly designed to hold the tools of the trade, my calculator, phone Rolodex files in that bottom drawer on the left pens a stapler a yellow legal pad the map on the wall and the list of customers and checklists of companies products buyers and buddies sales managers and constant circles of calling on the same guys with different products daily weekly monthly and yearly, trips to Chicago Las Vegas New Orleans New York on the romantic end, Portland billings Sheridan or Casper Wyoming Kansas City Indianapolis Louisville lake of the ozarks Fargo rapid city and St. Louis on the less traveled circuits . the lines for the pay phones at thee trade shows and the lunch with Bloody Mary, manhattan rusty nail coffee with cognac followed by a sales meeting to write up the order was a way of life that was an experience not to be missed full of characters waiting to become story lines in dime novels that sell today for 24.95 in Barnes and Nobel and for 6.98 in amazon, costco and best buy on the featured item end cap for promo before the 1/2 price bookstore gets a stack they pile up on top of the shelves full of dog eared paperbacks and once read best sellers no longer collected in the family library but shuffled off to be a quick read for a book person or an assignment for an English major or a Econ student.
    I have tool collections I may need to sift through as I begin the downsizing of life. my wife kids business partner all encourage me to get rid of everything but I am a collector at heart and have a hard time losing the tools of the trade that I enjoyed or dream of using one day, the tolls are the things needed to do the things life has to offer. options and methods learned and awaiting. life is a choice of tools and how we choose to apply the lessons learned. ole and noble are perfect models of their version. we are perfect examples of ours, today’s tools are the refined results of the things yesterday taught us to choose going forward. iPad is frustrating with all it’s spellchecking capitalization but man is it handy and intelligent. you have to make allowances. and that is the story of my life. you have to make allowances.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Current trade: Retirement. Tools: milk bucket, hay fork, hay hook, water hose and buckets, cart; iMac, iPad, printer, scanner, books; dish pan & cloths, pots & pans, whisks & rubber spatulas; mops, brooms & dust cloths. Oh, and Netflix.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Years of watching directors ply their trade has given me a real feel for juxtaposition.

    This morning I woke up to a frozen yard and a new for sale sign next door.

    I’ve headed to the farmer’s market. I think I need to load the oven with roasting vegetables and a bundt cake and maybe a pie.

    Grandpa was right, never complain about having work.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I could not say.

        While I have had plenty of times without adequate funds, I have never been without work.

        It is a concept I cannot wrap my head around.


  5. My first job was delivering newspapers. Tools: canvas bag to hold the papers, bicycle, chrome coin changer on a belt (used Thursdays to collect for my services). Optional tool (added later): golden retriever and custom saddlebags to let him walk with me carrying the papers.

    For the job of freelance magazine writer, my job for decades: computer, 35 mm slr camera with lenses, AWD station wagon or SUV, fishing boat on trailer, fishing gear, hunting gear, camping gear (especially down sleeping bag), outdoor clothing, duffle bags, maps of about six states and at least one dog.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No, actually my dad did that. He was a stuffed toy animal designer, meaning that he worked in a factory where fabric items were sewn. He learned to run a sewing machine, although I think he usually handed his special projects (like a design for a new animal) over to a trusted seamstress.

        Danny carried 15 to 20 newspapers on each side. His pack had bags on each side. As Danny walked along with me on my route I was careful to take papers from alternate sides so his load would always be even. I had to walk that route at something like six o’clock each morning. The streets in Ames were mostly empty then, so I appreciated Danny’s cheerful company.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Good morning. I have a fairly large collection of gardening tools. The frequently used ones are: a shovel for spading and digging: a garden rake: a leaf rake; a hand trowel; watering cans; a pointed hoe; pruning shears, a prunes saw; and a kneeling pad. I can do almost all of my gardening chores using those tools.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Well, I suppose that all the psychological tests that I have are the tools of my trade. I test children, adolescents, and adults for a variety of issues including emotional problems and cognitive problems. Memory, intelligence, brain dysfunction, you name it, I can test for it. That means I have innumerable black cases full of gadgets; closets full of finger tappers, and pegboards; Rorschach cards (I somehow ended up with four sets). Oh, and a timer/stopwatch. Somewhere in my office I have various parts of the Halstad-Reitan, a test of neuropsychological functioning. I only use parts of it, and can’t bear the thought of throwing the unusable parts away.

    I will have husband describe his grilling equipment sometime today.


  8. I know a farmer who self identifies as a bachelor farmer. I would completely trust this guy to never knowingly take advantage of anyone. I think that might also be a characteristic of the two bachelor farmers that you described, Clyde.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Most of my grandmother’s cousins were Norwegian farmers in the Grand Forks area, but not bachelors. I met them once or twice but never saw their farms or their tractors.
    The tools of my trade have varied considerably with the nature of my trade. Fifteen years ago I would have said almost exclusively computer, but these days the tools of my trade are: a pencil, an eraser, a Sharpie pen, a stack of 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets and a computer and scanner to be able to send my production to the client. A low overhead business.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Depends on whether it’s my job or my hobby. For my job as clerical worker: computer, printer, pen, rubber fingers for sorting paper, electric stapler, phone and date stamper.
    For karate: appropriate uniform, belt, tank top, sports bra, assorted weapons, complete sparring gear, money and lots of heart and commitment.
    For jewelry making: jewelry wire, lots of beads, lots of time, patience, creativity, good taste, beading board, pliers and wire cutters.
    For reading & Netflix: time, comfy couch, remote and good snacks.
    A capsule of my life, right there.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Ah, I regularly look at all the tools and wonder why I’m still hanging on to some of them. There are cooking tools, sewing tools, writing tools, music listening tools, garden tools, correspondence tools, piano books, wine making tools, craft tools, surviving winter tools….

    The tools I use most often are my feet, my voice, and the computer.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Have been off the trail spending a handful of days with women who build and make (or want to build and make) the things that are the tools of my trade: computers and computer software. 12,000 women gathered in Houston to talk about being a woman in that industry, industry trends, getting young women started in the biz…so for those days the main tool of my trade was my voice, a dash of enthusiasm, and an ability to talk to lots of women about why Minnesota (and my employer) are dandy places to work. Mostly the tools of my trade are a computer, some software and skills with metaphor and translating business needs into things we can create with software. A little more esoteric than my theater days when my tools were actual tools (driver-drill, saw, hammers, paint brushes, locking pliers…).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Barbecue expert’s tools of the trade:
    3 grills (rectangular, with smoking box, for large cuts of meat; kettle,with table and ash catcher; ceramic, for cold weather, cooking hot and fast.
    Tongs, pair of meat hooks, basting mop.
    Pebble ware baking pan, non-stick aluminum foil, hot mitts.
    Lump charcoal, briquettes.
    Smoking chunks and chips (various woods for flavor)
    Grill covers/tarps
    Instant read thermometer
    Small shovel to remove ashes
    Charcoal chimney, electric starter, matches, fire startery sticks, newspaper.
    Cooler for beer.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Every job is an opportunity for a new tool.

    Last new tool I bought was a 1/4″ magnetic bit driver. Course that was a replacement more than new. Used it putting steel on the crib.
    Prior to that I bought a 21′ anhdydrous applicator because the coop was selling them because they’re too small for them to keep in inventory.
    And before that was a 16′ flat trailer for hauling straw and other stuff like 14′ steel for the crib.

    Tools of the trade:
    How about a good sense of wonder, curiousity and amazement.

    (Saw Theater Latte Da’s production of Sweeny Todd today. Man they do good stuff!)

    Liked by 1 person

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