Al Batt: Never chase an Allis-Chalmers tractor on an empty stomach

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

My father was outstanding in his field.

Al Batt

As a farmer, he spent a lot of time in the dairy barn, but it seemed like he was always in the field. He dedicated a significant part of his life to riding our collection of farm tractors — Allis-Chalmers (orange), Farmall (red) and Oliver (green). Sometimes he’d get so busy in the field that he’d forget about eating. This didn’t go unnoticed by my mother. She was a woman who wanted people to eat regularly. You couldn’t visit our home without having something to eat no matter what time you showed up. If your drive home was over a block, Mother made sandwiches for your ride home. “In case you get hungry or have car trouble,” she’d say, putting a sandwich into a guest’s hand.

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Food was important on a farm built on healthy appetites in an endless pursuit of food. We ate a lot because a meal was always in progress. Once chores were done in the morning, we ate breakfast. Animals ate before humans. Around mid-morning, we’d have a bite to eat and called it lunch.

At noon, we had dinner. In mid-afternoon, we had a little something for lunch again. After milking the cows the second time, we had supper.

Now we eat lunch where dinner used to be and dinner where supper was. Supper went to church. The old lunches became snacks, eating between meals or going off a diet. A snack is what we had if we could stay awake until 10 p.m. Mom said, “I think ice cream and crackers would help us sleep.”

We had to agree with her. Mom realized the importance of timely victuals. Worried about my father’s lack of proper nourishment while working on the colorful tractors, she solved the problem by bringing him his lunch. She packed a little extra and ate lunch with him — baloney sandwiches and sugar cookies in a used brown paper bag or bread wrapper. She could put so much food into a bag or wrapper that it stunned all those clowns crammed into a tiny car. The brown bags advertised their cargo by showing the stains left by escaping butter or mayonnaise. I blew into a similar brown paper bag when I had hiccups for three weeks. It didn’t cure me, but I ended up with a brown paper bag full of hiccups. I put it on eBay but had no takers. I digress. Coffee and red Kool-Aid were poured into a couple of old, battered Stanley thermos bottles that had led rough lives with the dents and scars to prove it. There was a bowl of red Jell-O included in the feast, as there was always room for Jell-O.

Occasionally, Mom added potato salad or leftover meatloaf or hotdish (I was 15 before I knew what the word “casserole” meant) as a bonus.

One day, I was in the barn milking the Holsteins while my father cultivated corn (a slow and monotonous job) in the field nearest to the barn.

Everyone was running late on a busy day. Mother had Dad’s supper in its proper used brown paper bag and began walking toward the field. She thought better of it and fired up the old Allis-Chalmers WC tractor to drive the field food to my father.

I glanced out a barn window to see Mother chasing the driverless tractor in circles. Was it an active crime scene? I learned later that she’d been checking to be certain she’d brought the potato salad — a move as dangerous as texting — when she’d lost her balance and fell off the tractor.

She’d held onto the steering wheel for as long as possible, which caused the runaway tractor to run away in small circles. Mother, thankfully unhurt, was in hot pursuit of the fugitive Allis-Chalmers.

I ran out into the field and climbed onto the seat of the iron horse and put a stop to its foolishness.

I lectured Mother about her actions. It was fun lecturing an adult. I told her the senseless scrambling after a runaway machine could have resulted in serious injury. “Why did you have to chase the tractor?” I asked.

She said, “It had your father’s potato salad.”

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.