| January/February 1998

A reprint of Chapter Nine of To Gather Together: CENEX, the First 50 Years, by Leo N. Rickertsen, copyright 1980 by the Farmers Union Central Exchange, Inc. Sent to us by Mr. Walter A. Taubeneck, 11801 52nd Drive NE, Marysville, Washington 98271.

For twenty years it had been unchanged. Tractors started with a crank. Broken arms or wrists made it a worrisome farm operation. Even experienced farmers could be caught. A moment of inattention, a split-second of vented anger, a final tired, frustrated attempt and splintered bones or strained muscles resulted. It was the hazardous human connection to the mechanical beast that allowed the farmer to twist life into a valved, pistoned, metallic heart.

It would seem as if, like the horse, the tractor had hidden emotions that could blow up and take over. In a fit of frenzy, a team of plow horses might bolt and carry farmer and plow from fence line to fence line. From the horse, this sudden change in personality was anticipated and visible. From the tractor, such irritable leanings were mystifying and impossible to pierce. But suddenly and without warning, it would happen.

Ox-strong individuals could manage to turn the crank all the way through the circle and move without interruption into a second, third and even fourth revolution. These individuals enjoyed the rare experience of starting a tractor quickly. There were others, younger, lighter, less experienced, who wore themselves out trying to get a stiff engine started one crank at a time.

This unaltered ritual lulled the farmer, experienced or not, into an inevitable mistake. An aggressive pull would carry his weight too far. For a precarious instant he could be leaning on the crank at the bottom of the cycle. At that instant, the crank would remain engaged in its socket. Unexpectedly the tractor would cough on its own. Crank would turn viciously on cranker. Forearms and wrists would catch in the spinning handle and give way. The inevitable had happened. And, standing at the business end of a hand crank with a son's arm in a cast, many a farmer must have figured there had to be a better way to get the tractor going.

The catch word was parity. On a par with. Farmers realized that there had been no parity between automotive improvements and farm tractor improvements. While cars were continually becoming faster, more reliable, quieter, easier starting, the tractor lagged behind as a baffling beast that, in many ways, was unable to handle the jobs it was supposed to. CENEX, rapidly becoming an extremely important cooperative resource, responded.