Notes from Sagaponack

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My brother has a “transformational” tractor. It’s a John Deere 5020, the one he’d wanted his entire life. He found it in the Midwest, where it had always been, built in 1966 in Moline. People climb on it and you see something come over them, as each sits up straight and grasps the wheel. It is a tractor that personifies and proves that they just don’t build them like they used to.

It is the most graceful hunk of steel you’ll ever see, beautiful. Furthermore, the tractor represents a time when nothing was outsourced or lost but was made by Italian, or French, or Irish, right here in America, in prosperous factory towns that pumped out tractor parts.

She’s only a little banged up; I think the bruises suit her. She is statuesque. Her green paint is faded and all exposed metal is smooth. When we tow-started her for the first time, she blew precise smoke rings and then her mighty engine came blasting to life. Indeed, the tractor is feminine, as she’s got so much ass—meaning the tractor can pull.

My brother intends to restore her. For now, Dean makes observations about which repairs need doing and he’s happy to work her at any old task, even to loan his new gem out. I spread lime, and later Dean, taking a much-deserved break from planting potatoes, disked it in.

Perfect as this tractor is, she’s missing an important accessory. She doesn’t have a weight bracket or the weights to go on it. When a tractor has power to pull, you need something to hold the front end down. Due to the classic styling of this tractor, the weight bracket is just as unique … and hard to find.

“Them, I believe, is as rare as hen’s teeth,” someone said during coffee break.

My father and I were in Southern New Jersey last week. I had to pick up a new piece of equipment and he came along to make sure I didn’t mess up. While at the dealership he inquired about an “old boneyard” somewhere around here. “I think they might have had auctions too.”

“Oh, yeah, you might mean Don.” And while one wrote down directions another service guy dialed him up. The stars began aligning—he was nodding, “Yup, yup, okay, well I’m sending them over.” He set down the phone, “He says he thinks he might have a pair kicking around.”

It was no boneyard but an immaculate farmstead where all the so-called bones are brought, restored, refurbished, pretty much ready for work—all neatly in barns. There was no scrap, there was nothing rusting, laying about. Beyond that, the fields were freshly plowed. My father commented on their soil, “looks like nice ground.”

The proprietor didn’t seem too excited about helping us. He said he’s got a meeting, that the guy from the dealership inquired about a different tractor. He squinted, laughed, tapped a pebble in the driveway with his foot, “them is as rare as hen’s teeth, ain’t they.”

He then took us on a circuitous route through barns, between tightly parked tractors, out through a narrow slit between buildings and there, leaning up the back of the barn, he pointed to two cast iron curlycues. “There they are, he said, “I thought I had a pair.”

My father and I were delighted; we knew my brother would be thrilled.

“How much you got to have for them?” my father inquired about the price.

Don wasn’t ready to name his price, “Well, how much are they worth to you?”

I called Dean. To my astonishment Dean said we shouldn’t get them. He said a trucker that comes to our farm had told him he thought he knew where there was a pair in New Jersey too, and, if so, he’d pick them up on his way through. Dean didn’t want to end up with two sets.

Don didn’t seem too upset about this. He and my father had already agreed on the price and we could get them some other time. They were talking about other things now, about the kind of farms they run and the equipment they had. About corn prices, about kids and jobs and outsourcing and the overall state of things, which, according to them both, is mystifying and probably headed for trouble.

Finally, we drove away empty-handed. I imagined passing Excalibur and not even tugging on the stone. “Damn him anyway,” my father said, a little disappointed at Dean, thinking he’d let an opportunity pass.

By the time we arrived home it was late afternoon and Dean was just finishing up the first day of potato planting. He said he knew he’d messed up and should have just told us to buy it.

And when his phone rang it was his friend, the truck driver, telling him that the fellow who had the weight bracket has just called him because there was a man and a woman down there today and they seemed real interested, so how much did Dean want to pay?

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