The Second Annual Tired Iron Tour

October 31, 2010

I’ll never trust the Weather Network again.  Oh, they were correct, all right.  For Portland.  Not for Westport.  But of course I didn’t think to ask if there would be a difference.

So on the Second Annual Tired Iron Tour, Peter Myers, Burt Mattice, Chris Myers and I drove our tractors into a sleet-and-snow squall just outside Westport, and it stayed with us through lunch and well down the North Shore Road on our way back to Forfar.

The morning had started out pretty well, though a few tractors had owners with better weather information than we four had, and they stayed in their barns.  Tony Izatt was along in a chase car to take photos.  He stayed with us until Newboro and then rushed back to Ottawa to set up for Hallowe’en.

The cattle and horses in the fields were frisky in the frosty air, and they all seemed delighted to use the noise of our little convoy as an excuse to boot it around a bit and get their blood warmed up.

Things went pretty well through Newboro and up to about the golf course.  Then we came over the hill and saw a dense white cloud where Westport should have been.  Into the maelstrom we drove.

Sleet mixed with snow is not the thing for a pleasant country drive on an antique tractor.  Peter later quipped to my wife: “Some of those snowflakes were so big they were like to knock you off your tractor.”

At Steve’s a dark angel seated us by the fireplace and brought us coffee, then lunch.  What else could we call her on Hallowe’en?  She wore a dark, feathered mask and black wings and she brought warm food.  We all ordered dishes with fries and gravy.  It was that kind of day.

A few years ago I wrote a column about riding a bike to the top of Foley Mountain without dying.  Things didn’t go so well on the return leg of our tractor jaunt.  The Mountain claimed two of the four machines.

The guys had razzed me all morning about the slow pace I set for my Massey Harris 30.  The trouble is that the gears on a 30 are set for the 38 inch wheel option.  Mine has the 28 inch size.  This gives great torque, but not much speed in road gear.

As we approached the bottom, I didn’t know how the old Massey would behave.  The McCormick W30 and the two John Deeres took a run at the hill and away they went, though the W30 started to die back half-way up.  I saw my chance.  The Massey was holding its own just fine on the steep slope.  Burt hesitated.  I yanked the throttle through the gate and gave my 30 full power.  Out into the passing lane and around the W30 we went.  My suddenly-eager steed blazed up the steepest part of the hill without a hint of lag.  Chris gaped as I blew by his “B.”  On I flew over the first hill, and then…. everything shut down.  No more ignition.  Nothing.

Peter had stopped to keep an eye on Burt on the hill.  He sized up my situation and backed up to the front of the Massey, uncoiled the tow chain, and after we’d established that it wouldn’t be firing any more today, hooked me up for a tow home.

Away we went.  Getting towed by a John Deere A is not an unpleasant experience.  Instead of the rattle-rasp of a straining Massey engine, there’s the remote putt-putt-putt of a huge, two-cylinder gas engine with those mesmerizing fly-wheel-like brake drums turning backwards right below the driver’s feet.  It’s a serene sound and rhythm, and as long as the route was uphill, nothing remained to do but steer and enjoy the view.  The interesting thing about the massive torque of the slow-turning engine is that when an “A” labours down almost to a stall, the front wheels bounce up and down an amazing amount with each piston stroke.

Of course on downhill stretches the Massey wanted to catch up to the chain.  My readers at this point naturally divide into two groups:  those who have been towed, and those who must imagine what happens if your front wheel runs over a chain dragging on the road, pulled by several tons of hurtling green iron.  Had time to think about that?  Now you’ll both know why I put so much careful effort into feathering the twin brake pedals of the Massey on the many descents of the North Shore Road.

But it worked.  Then Burt’s tractor grew impossible to drive.  The exhaust manifold had grenaded during a fit of backfires on the climb up Foley Mountain.  My Massey was already hogging the only tow chain, so Burt abandoned his wounded mount and climbed on with Peter for the ride home.

As we crossed at the Narrows Locks we looked up the lake and there was the snow cloud still hanging over Westport.  Peter dragged the poor old Massey to a stop in front of my garage. Charlie and Martin happened to be standing there.  Martin’s jaw dropped.  Charlie just shook his head.  We retreated to the kitchen for coffee and warmth.  It had been a cold expedition, though not without its adventures, this the Second Annual Tired Iron Tour.

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