The following article originally appeared in Branch #30 EDGE&TA publication ' 'On the Tractor Seat'', and is reprinted with permission granted by Carl Bergman, Editor.
Carl has asked me to write something for the newsletter but for this first one I was stuck on what to write about. There was not enough time to come up with a subject and do the research so I was stuck. I thought up several short subjects but each time I was stuck on how to continue. Finally it dawned on me to talk about being stuck in mud on the farm. It seemed that every year we had at least one tractor stuck and in wet years it happened several times.
I grew up in the 50's on a dirt farm in northeastern Missouri which was split between rolling hills and bottom land. At one time a small river ran through the bottom land between several sloughs. In the 30's a canal was dug to drain the land and make it available for farming. The canal was one border of our farm and most of the old river bed was on our side of the canal. This left several low places that would be slow in drying. At such places we would try to farm as close as we could get. At least once a year a tractor wheel nearest the wet spot would sink to the axle but the outside wheel would be on dry ground.
There was a small creek that dumped into the canal. We dug a drainage ditch to straighten the creek and help drain a few low places. Just a few days after the ditch was completed my father was working a field across the ditch with our Minneapolis Moline UD diesel. It was starting to rain so he headed for the house. As soon as the front wheels hit the bottom of the ditch they headed out of sight into the mud. No amount of trying to move out of the ditch did anything more than sink the front wheels deeper. He walked to the house to get me and the Ferguson 30. By the time we got to the MM the water was rising and the mud was deeper. We hooked the chain between the tractors and started to pull with the result that the Ferguson slid into the ditch and dug itself to the axles. The next thing to try was the Chevrolet 2? ton farm truck. By this time the mud was all over everything and all the dual truck tires did was fill with mud and spin sideways. With two tractors and the truck stuck, nightfall approaching and rain pouring down, all there was left to do was to head for the tavern. The next day my uncle was finishing a job nearby and brought his Cat D7 over which made short work of pulling everything out.
An important source of winter cattle feed was corn silage which we kept in trench silos. One was on the edge of a bluff and could only be approached in winter from the uphill side. As the silage was used the bottom of the silo would become a mud bog. One year we had a late winter with a wet fall. The mud bog was growing but we could still get in and out with the '50 Chevy pickup we had. It was my job to feed the cattle but it was a job that I did not like doing so I tended to put it off. I was 16 at the time and I felt I had more important things to do. One clear cold night I was late as usual. The temperature was dropping fast and after I got the pickup in the silo it was a hard job breaking the frozen surface of the silage to load the pickup. The interior of the silage was kept warm by the fermenting of the silage but on this night it was getting so cold that the new surface froze almost as fast as I loaded. I could see the spreading ice crystals on the surface of the mud but my major concern was how cold it was getting. The engine was running so I would load a bit then climb in the cab to get warm before another trip into the cold. When the pickup was loaded I put it in gear and tried to move. Nothing happened. Being young and in a hurry I thought the way to do this was to rev the motor and dump the clutch. After a couple of easy dumps with no result I decided to get into it. That little Chevy 6 was revved to an inch of its life and the clutch dumped. There was a little jerk, a loud bang and the motor kept turning but the pickup was not moving. This time my uncle had left a Cat at the farm for the winter so the next day we pulled the pickup out. The ice had frozen the rear brakes and when I tried to get the pickup to move the whole side of the transmission broke away. It was a cold day breaking the ice away from the rear end then replacing the transmission.
We had another trench silo below the house near land that never drained because of a small spring. During the time of the year when the silo was filled the spring dried up and we could get the tractors through. In the winter the ground was frozen so we could load with few problems. One year we had an early spring and the ground started to thaw. My father wanted to empty the silo before the spring thaw. The silo was nearly empty and we were getting the last loads out when a warm spell hit. The frost seemed to come out of the ground overnight. He decided to try to get the last loads out after a cold night when the surface was frozen. The morning started to warm but he got one load out and tried to get one more. The pickup was backed into the silo and loaded. The sun came out and the day warmed rapidly. As it warmed, the ground thawed and he decided to take what he had and get out of there. He was going as fast as he could across the wet part when the bottom fell out and the pickup sank to its axles. There was no way to get it moving again. My father got the Ferguson and backed up to the pickup. As he moved back the tires sank until he decided it was time to get out of there. By that time it was too late and he was able to move only a few feet before sinking to the axles. This time he got the MM and the longest log chain he could find. It took a while to get the MM started and to find the chains, so the day had a chance to get warmer and for the spring to thaw completely. He thought the log chain gave him enough distance to stay out of the mud. He started the Ferguson and put it in low at a fast idle then started to pull with the MM which proceeded to bury itself to the axles. By this time he was mad and wanted something out so he got the truck and connected it to the MM. The long log chain was still under tension between the Ferguson and the MM, so he had to use a shorter chain. With both tractors in gear and at a fast idle he started the truck. He had left some slack in the chain so the truck would take the load while moving. When the truck hit the end of the chain it broke through the top surface and was stuck itself. We had to wait for a freeze several nights later to get the Ferguson to move to get the chain from the MM. The MM pulled the pickup out and the truck was able to drive out on its own. I can still remember getting home from school and seeing the pickup, Ferguson, MM and truck all lined up stuck in the mud.
Each year would bring new ways of getting stuck in the mud or snow with car, trucks and tractors. If it wasn't us it would be a neighbor and we would take a tractor to help. One year the fields stayed wet into the fall and we could not harvest the corn until the ground froze and the tractors would not get stuck. Getting stuck became just one more thing to handle on the farm.