It’s A Farmer’s Life For Me
by Jessica Louque
Bobby and I were on our way to drop off some bees in a pollination contract and check out a blueberry farm when we went by a Case International Harvester dealership in eastern NC. As I like to take a lot of time to plan out decisions, I decided immediately that we needed a tractor. Both our hand tillers are broken at the moment, and neither my back or Bobby’s is really up to the challenge of cultivating about an acre by hand. I also don’t like using the zero turn mower on the hay field front yard, and we (by “we” I mean Bobby) spent about seven hours the week before digging holes to plant nine honey berry plants. Bobby shakes his head and says we should take some time to think about it, so of course I call my mother to tell her I need to buy a tractor right NOW. Since my impatience is clearly not inherited, she responds with “I’m surprised you waited this long. Let me call Daddy (my grandpa) and see if he’d let you have his” which would be totally fine with me. Anything that’s his makes it ten times better, even if it’s not new. In this particular case, the difference in “not new” and “maybe a bad idea” was the part where the brakes didn’t exactly work unless you knew how to finagle it . . . and sometimes even that wasn’t enough to placate it. Now it’s on to find a new tractor.
Most farmer families have some pretty strong alliances to certain brands. You either won’t buy anything but a Ford, or you buy anything but a Ford. John Deere green coats the landscape as far as the eye can see, or you’d only have one on your property if a neighbor was driving it and it happened to break down there (and even then, only for as long as it took to get it away). In my particular case, I’ve never paid for a vehicle that wasn’t on a Ford dealership, and I’d have a Ford tractor if they had made it through the economic crash before selling out to New Holland. My family runs on Case IH tractors. At this point in time, New Holland and Case Corp merged, but they still sell the two brands as individuals. I think they realized some people like to keep their reds and blues from becoming purple. One year for Christmas, my present from my grandpa was a red Case IH hoodie. Two of my uncles tricked out their Case IH tractors with flames and chrome for tractor pulls just to get to the point of having so many trophies that you couldn’t give them away. Uncle Tony is the exception with a barn full of green, but he just finished his last year of tobacco production and is selling out, so he will no longer have to sit in the corner at holidays.
As I start researching the tractor of choice, I start negotiations with mom, which usually starts with me calling to say “I love you” and her reply of “how much is that going to cost me” and then discussions begin. I explain to her that her contributions to my fund for the needy (those who need a tractor) would go to a good cause, namely a long list of equipment to use with said tractor. We come to a loose agreement, and the search is on for real. The next week, we had to go talk to a landowner in Siler City about some rental for bees, and he was going to be about an hour late. It just so happens that there was a tractor store in Siler City that sells Case IH. We sort of explained what we wanted and where we lived, and he explained that he also lived in an area with soil that grew rocks better than potatoes. Within the hour, we had signed a purchase agreement for a Farmall 50A with a loader, a Bush Hog, an auger, a tiller, and a subsoiler.
We were headed to Oregon the next week for work, and told him we’d be back after that weekend to pick everything up. This is a pretty taxing time because on one hand, you now have a tractor, but on the other hand, you don’t have the tractor yet. The obvious way to satisfy this is to order ridiculous amounts of flower seeds to appease the farmer gods. This isn’t to say that the “ridiculous amounts” haven’t been happening all winter, but it just amped up from a piercing shriek to a jet engine roar. I think we have 15 different sunflower varieties, three types of clover, a 50 pound bag of buckwheat, chicory, bachelor’s button, some 100+ bulbs of whatever looked pretty, and then a random assortment of other flowers that could possibly be bee attractive. This was enough to keep me occupied during the wait. At the end of the week, we weren’t sure we were going to make it back in time to pick it up because the store was only open until 12 on Saturdays, and it’s not close by any means to our house, and our flight was supposed to arrive back in NC late on Friday. Excitement won.
We went to pick everything up, and it turns out that some of the equipment didn’t fit quite right. At the time, this was incredibly frustrating, but it turned out to work in our favor because I had badly underestimated the size/weight of the tractor we were getting and there was no way we were going to be able to get everything on our little trailer. Since nothing but the tractor was ready to go, we took that home and they delivered the equipment for free after it had been fitted for our tractor size (on a different 50A that was on the lot).
Since we brought the tractor home without the “toys” coming too, we made the best of it by using the bucket for literally anything we could even pretend might be a good idea. There was an odd hill of gravel left by the last load from the driveway (right about the time that the guy left the dump bed up and ripped out our power lines and destroyed the transformer) and now that hill is magically flat. A pile of broken cedar branches that was left over from the Great Storm of 2013 was pushed into the woods and out of the way of the lawnmower. Hive equipment was cleaned up and we learned that the loader would hold exactly four hive bodies side by side. It was amazing to see that the tasks that had been previously avoided were suddenly completed in minutes.
My first goal after getting the equipment was going to my grandpa’s house and tilling up his garden with the new tractor, just because I could. Unfortunately, sometimes stories don’t always have a happy ending. The Monday before we left for Oregon (about 24 hours before, actually), he had a stroke and ended up in the hospital. We went to see him, and I told him when I got home, I’d go till his garden so he could get going on my meat trees (when I was little I thought my grandpa could do anything, and I asked for trees that grew ham and bacon, and he tied packs of meat on all these little “trees” that he’d planted so I could “harvest” them and make supper). He was going to need a stay at home nurse from now on, but after rehab, he’d be able to go home. We came home, picked up the tractor, and were waiting on the equipment delivery on Monday afternoon. On Monday morning, he died in the rehabilitation center. I had planned on writing about buying a tractor since it was in the works, but it was supposed to end with a picture of us with Pa Harvey and the tractor in his garden. I guess sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan. Instead, this goes out in loving memory to my grandpa, who read Bee Culture every month from the time I started writing until the April 2016 edition, who fed my bees and wore NC State ties to church on Sundays because I went there, and who taught me how to point out the big rocks in the field to my cousins who were picking them up as I sat on the fender of his Case IH 584 while he drove. My Granny Ruby was a UNC fan (hey, everybody makes mistakes) and they lost the NCAA tournament on the same day Pa Harvey died. I like to think that she finally got to see him again and told him that he was her consolation prize for the tournament loss.
In my grandpa’s life with my grandma, he has created a family of (by my account) 57 offspring, plus their significant others, step-children, and ex-spouses that are biological parents of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or the great-great-grandchildren. That’s quite a legacy to leave behind. Before he died, he was able to meet five great-great-grandchildren, and has at least a sixth one on the way (there may be a seventh, but it’s hard to keep up with everyone with a family that big). That newest addition to the generation will never be able to meet the man that the rest of us loved and lost, but it’s up to us to make sure that Pa Harvey is never forgotten.
Jessica Louque and her family are keeping bees, farming, gardening and living off the land in North Carolina.