Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

The reader may recall that as part of my “retirement” occupation, I’ve been filling in for Mexican tractor drivers so that they can go home for extended visits. It’s for fun, a source of writing material and a chance to explore new countryside and machinery up-close.

I’ve considered, at times, getting a part-time store clerk position to fill in the financial gaps. Mowing is somewhere in that category monetarily and you get a tan.

Another consideration is that a modest pay rate keeps the landowner from supervising. If he or she sees something that they don’t care for, then the landowner is more likely to just shake their head and mutter something like “… sure hope Pedro comes back soon.”

Of course, if the tractor breaks, the service truck is right there and the mechanic’s rate kicks in with a vengeance and a 15-minute minimum.

Apparently, one of these arrangements has run its full course — Alfonso is back. I stopped at the Addis place (1946 2N Ford). We had been having trouble with the mower wheels coming apart. I had 2 very expensive Befco wheels with me with the intention of installing them and mowing the place. However, I found that the place had been recently mowed — and much more smoothly than I seem capable of doing.

A late model SUV that I didn’t recognize sat in the circular driveway close to the house. A young woman, apparently the tenant, walked a German Shepherd. We had never met as she was always working in town when I made my mowing/repair visits.

This was my world during the day. “Can I help you?” she asked.

I told her that I had come to mow the place, but that someone had apparently beat me to it. Her eyebrows lowered slightly, the dog leveled a suspicious stare.

“Afonso mows the place using the vintage tractor,” she stated flatly.

What? I thought — I’m Mr. Vintage Tractor. Not only was she invading my space, but she was also usurping my nomenclature while she was at it. I explained my position in the workings of the place in greater detail while going to some lengths to demonstrate my familiarity with the Addis family. (Anyone who has read Todd Addis’ book can feign close kinship.) Apparently satisfied that my intentions were honest, she walked back to the house taking the dog with her.

It only occurs to me now that the sudden appearance of the Addis’ local representative which followed may have been more than a coincidence. Being closer contemporaries, this woman and I were able to relax any suspicions, which, in this setting, can only lead to one thing — swapping stories about the good doctor Addis.

She was from the same Pennsylvania community as the doctor and his family and visited their estate regularly as a child.

“The big enticement was the swimming pool.” she began. “But we could only swim after we finished a bunch of chores.” That’s the Doc, alright. She must have been a really cute kid if her appearance in middle age is any indication.

We walked over to the tractor. The mower sat firmly on an eclectic mix of wheels — one of which was steel. Alfonso had scrounged around the place and without a vise, torch, welder or taps and dies, had performed the necessary fabrications and replaced the broken wheels.

The cause of the smoother mowing was due to the tractor’s governor not working. With the considerable weight of my Baltic/Scandinavian frame, the mower blades were turning more slowly on the ascent of the place’s many inclines and faster on the descent. Alfonso, at less than half my weight, produced no noticeable effect.

Without ceremony or prior notice, we instantly switched back to our old arrangement where Alfonso handles the mowing and I would only be called in to make repairs that where above his pay grade. (I’m hesitant to say that anything I do is beyond his capability.) I excused myself and headed for the next gig; Evermay Farm and Ramon’s big International Diesel.

Hopefully, I made all of my mistakes on the first day. The tractor is equipped with an offset orchard mower. These put 5 feet of mower out beyond the tracking area of the tractor’s wheels on the right side. This unusual arrangement is for mowing under apple trees. When orchards became fewer, equipment dealers palmed these mowers off to horse owners; “You can git real close to the fence.”

Right. How about IN the fence. I finally adapted to some degree. Another problem was a number of markers posted in a grass arena. In 4 feet of mature orchard grass, they were invisible. Indeed, this was the area where the manure spreader was usually discharged. The owner had told me that I would recognize this area as such, but only as I plowed through this jungle did I understand the full implication.

I mowed over a marker and, thus alerted, avoided the rest only to forget that I was pulling an offset orchard mower and thus mowed the survivors over with the protruding deck.

Parking the tractor after a nerve wracking afternoon, I noticed some activity at the stable. Assuming that my client was there, I walked over to the barn. There, I found a strange woman angrily slapping a horse.

She then ordered me to be quick about mowing the fields as her horse was appearing with seeds and burrs in its fur. After a short ride, she reappeared and with all the tact of a rabid chicken, screamed at me for running over the markers. I presumed her to be the classic bossy cousin.

Nonetheless, I’m still in good standing with the owner. This equine dominatrix is thereby sentenced to comb out burrs for — say — another week with a 2nd week suspended.

I wish Ramon would come back. Being also employed by a fruit grower, he is accustomed to pulling an offset mower.

Well, I still have the private 1950s farm museum to mow.

I’m filling in for Jerry who died in 2010. I doubt that mowing will still be of great concern when he comes back.

First published June 21, 2017. 

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