My Funny Little Tractor

| July/August 1997

25 E. Larsen Fresno, California 93706 .

On a recent trip to the Umpaq Valley of North Dakota to see family and friends, I was invited along on a family picnic to the country. A lot of the younger people had their motorcycles and ATV's along and were playing on a nearby hill. Being so far from town, this was the popular thing to do after chores or after church on Sunday.

I happened to notice some strange tracks on the ground, much like Caterpillar tracks, and when I asked, they told me of a neighbor who had this antique tractor that they had tried out on the slopes just for fun the week before. When I showed interest they suggested we go get it; it was only twenty miles away. And, so we did.

This was the strangest little tractor I'd ever seen, and I was impressed with it right away. It was a single-track type crawler with a two wheel driver's cart and a steering wheel to guide it. The boys invited the owner along for lunch, and we loaded it up and headed back to the outing. They said it was a little slow and cumbersome but a great little hill climber. They .warned me about the crank not disengaging on startup. I'm glad they told me as I might have broken an arm on it. You've got to let go quickly!

Back at the picnic, as we finished our lunch I really had no interest in eating. My mind was on nothing but the 'Little Fella' we'd brought along. I expressed my interest, and as the little tractor had no name tag for identification, I nicknamed it 'Greenie' after its dull green paint job. The owner corrected me and said that he thought it was a 'Bea' for he had discerned a barely legible 'John Bea' on the inside of one of the castings. The boys preferred 'Greenie' to 'Bea' and that's what stuck for the rest of my stay in the Umpaq Valley.

Greenie was a strange design alright, as if the designer had tried to stay narrow and only built it with one track. But then he had to widen out with the two wheels on the driver's cart to keep it from falling over! The boys were right; it was very hard to steer because of its articulated design, but it would almost climb a tree! Its Caterpillar type track had cleats that got a very good bite and nothing would stop it except the truly perpendicular. Its large front wheel (idler) could easily roll over any rough spot and its smaller, rear drive sprocket assured plenty of power to the track.

I was so fascinated that I must have climbed that hill a dozen times. The boys laughed at me and called me 'Greenie' too, after my little mechanical friend. While taking a break to get my strength back (that steering wheel was a killer) I checked Greenie out some more. The owner, Earl Knutson, told me that it had been in his family since the Twenties and it had seldom been used for anything but play, as it had no decent toolbar. And yes, he might sell it if he knew its worth.

That night I lay in my bed, my mind going over in detail the makeup of this little darling of the past. Its strange little opposed, two cylinder engine was tucked right up close to the left side of the front wheel; its crankshaft, on center with the wheel hub itself, but it was a rear sprocket drive! The inventor had come out of that neat little planetary gear box on the right side of the big front idler wheel with a shaft drive to an offset gear arrangement on the rear sprocket and it was just so darned cute I could have died! It had only one speed and no reverse. A large honeycombed radiator and fan hugged the left side of the engine and I noticed that the fan had been snagged many times. I would have to be careful of this hazard, too. Earl said that some of the engine parts were from the Model T Ford. I wondered what it would cost me.

The day before I was to fly home I went to see Earl again and we agreed on a price (that would probably cost me my happy home). I couldn't back out now when the deal was already made. How I would get it home? Rent a U-Haul? What about my plane fare? Would I get that back? Would Rosie kill me if I lost that too? What to do? My head was swimming and my stomach burned.

Then I got a flash. Since I'd always been plagued with buyer's remorse, I decided to put $50 down and come back with my pickup and trailer if I still thought it was worth it after I got home. Beside, who would care about a JOHN BEA in California? The thing couldn't even back up! After being home only two days, I was on the road again with my pickup and trailer, my chains and binders, an ice chest and a hunk of cash that could choke a horse.

I arrived at Earl's house just as he was just headed out the driveway to Iowa to a cousin's funeral. We quickly loaded the little tractor on my tilt trailer and I headed for Umpaq Valley to spend the night with a nephew. I am an inveterate insomniac and Greenie wasn't helping matters! I didn't sleep a wink!

On the fourth day, somewhere in Nebraska, a spring hanger broke on my trailer in the middle of the night and stranded me. I had padlocks, and locked all the binders down while I went for help. A tow truck came and dragged the whole affair on board for a ride to town. As the driver unloaded, he told me a collector he knew might want to see my little treasure. Greenie was really trying my patience about now, and my old nemesis, buyer's remorse, had caught up to me on the Interstate. I was not only broken down in the middle of now here, but more than a grand over budget. Think of all the good things I could've bought with that money! My wife Rosie had not been in favor from the beginning now, she would surely kill me!

Just as I was looking around for a motel, the collector guy showed up. He looked like Boss Hogg from TV in his western getup, his fat belly and his cigar, and I could tell he wanted Greenie. Here was a chance to get rid of that little monster and maybe make a few bucks on the side. He eyed me suspiciously, wondering where to start his offer, and I decided to play hard to get. Weakly, I told him I had paid $5,000 for it and he offered six without batting an eye! Wow! I was making 500% profit and I had not even had to paint it! As I stood there with my eyes blinking and a frog in my throat he made his last and final offer of $7,000 and said, 'Just drop it right there; I'll be back in an hour.' He then climbed into his 4x4 pickup and sped off, gravel flying. The garage guy showed no emotion as he locked the place up with Greenie inside. I think he probably worked for Boss Hogg.

Now, with no load on my trailer I didn't need repairs. I could just slip a chain around it with a binder and get on home. I didn't need a motel, either; I couldn't sleep anyway! By the time I was done chaining down, Boss Hogg was back with cold cash in his hand. He didn't tell me his name or even say 'thank you.' He left and so did I. I'd heard the garage guy call him Mr. Wart or Warp, or something like that, but I had my own nickname for him.

The rest of the trip was a blur and uneventful and I was back home at the end of the sixth day and slept for two more. I hadn't even had the sense to take a camera along, but on my adventure I had found and owned the object of my dreams. I had learned to love it, have fun with it and hate it in a matter of a few days but most of all I found the only true cure for the dreaded buyer's remorse: Profit!


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