I’ve always heard the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. In 50 years, I’ve yet to see that adage disproved. No matter how old they are, men are thrilled and fascinated with the roar and raw power of engines. I learned this lesson when I was a teenager.
My dad was running several hundred head of Charolais cattle on our north Texas ranch and, like most ranchers, he usually made do with the old tractors, trucks and farm implements needing constant maintenance. I don’t know what clicked in his head, but one day he decided he needed a new tractor. It was baffling to me because my dad wasn’t swayed by slick sales tactics and was way too frugal to fork over that kind of money all at once.
Nonetheless, he was smiling like a Cheshire cat when the salesman drove up to the house with the shiny, new John Deere 4020 on the back of the gooseneck trailer. He was practically trembling as it rolled down the ramps. It was funny to see him like that — so childlike and wide-eyed at the sight of his new toy.
In the weeks that followed, he got more farming done than he had in the previous year. He plowed, he planted, and moved enough dirt and manure to fill a landfill. Even though he had several functional implements, none were as treasured as his bright-green front-end loader which came with the tractor. The new had not worn off when my adult brothers came to visit the ranch with their families one weekend. Dad couldn’t wait to show off his new toy. Since they didn’t farm, my brothers found it hard to share his enthusiasm for a new tractor.
He proudly showed all the bells and whistle while they nodded solemnly.
"But the greatest part of all," he said, "is the front-end loader."
He then fired up the engine and demonstrated how quickly and easily the large bucket could be raised and lowered.
"Hey, I’ve got a great idea!" he said excitedly to my bored brothers. "Why don’t y’all get in the bucket and I will lift you high up and ride you around the lake?"
They were not too thrilled with the idea, but they didn’t want to disappoint Dad. So they all dutifully climbed inside the loader bucket and waited for Dad to put it in gear. He fiddled with the levers for a moment and then they felt themselves being elevated slowly.
Dad put the tractor into gear and let off the clutch. It lurched forward and they were on their way. They rode across the dam of the small lake behind our house. They were laughing and looking around when I came out the back door. Driving them proudly, it looked like Dad was having more fun than they were.
They stopped when they got back to the yard. I guess he was unfamiliar with which lever did what, but he accidentally moved one the wrong way. Instead of getting lowered, they got dumped from six feet in the air. They looked like three rag dolls falling from the sky with arms and legs in wild array. They landed in a heap on the hard ground.
My dad turned off the motor and hopped down to check on them. He was so embarrassed, but couldn’t help from smiling at the comical sight. After the initial shock wore off, they all started laughing and slapping each other on the back, and commenting about their wild ride. For a moment, they were all three little boys just playing in the backyard with their daddy. It was a tender and memorable moment — at least in retrospect — and an unforgettable initiation for the new tractor. Life has come full circle, now. It wasn’t too long ago that my kids got a ride in the bucket of that very same tractor. Luckily, their dad was a little better operator.