Since moving out into the bluff country between lakes and prairies, it didn’t take us long to figure out that we will be fending off snow seven months out of the year. Of course, we’ve always had to contend with snow here in central Minnesota, it just comes in different ways with each property we’ve owned.
Out here, the wind howls across the neighboring corn fields and has little resistance until it smacks our haven of woods and buildings. Here the snow piles high and drifts out over the hillside to monumental proportions. “It’s a marshmallow world,” as Dean Martin called it. Dreamy to kids with sleds and plastic shovels, but burdensome to those who need to find a way around, over or through it.
Our driveway is longer here and I no longer will have neighbors with tractors taking pity on me as they watch me struggle to shovel away the first, second and third berm made by passing snowplows. I have come to the realization that my small snowblower and shovel stamina may not be enough for the next snowmageddon.
“All I need is a small tractor,” I tell myself quite foolishly. “That’s it. And then, I’ll have it all.”
Of course, I need a loader or blade to move the snow. And if the tractor had live hydraulics, power steering and a three-point — well then I’d be set for anything that came my way.
Surely something like that must exist
at a cost that even I could work with. Oh, what a foolish notion that was.
Here’s an example of one of my findings:
For sale: 1943
. Ran and drove great last winter. Does not run now. I’m losing a lot of money at this price. $4,000.
“Let me get this straight, ( I say to myself in an imaginary conversation with the seller) you don’t know what’s wrong with it? You don’t know how many hours are on it? It’s 80 years old? And there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever be able to use it for anything other than scrap metal?”
“These things are unstoppable,” responds the seller, who knows they have something that, if not me, some other weary shoveler will inquire about in the next hour.
“But it doesn’t currently run,” I respond.
“Well, not today,” the experienced seller retorts.
In my non-mechanical mind I know that I cannot purchase such a tractor. Not that tractor, but anything that runs is moving faster than syrup at a pancake feed. Rising costs of virtually everything have been hitting the tractor market for years. Emerging farmers know that their only way into farming is with something that’s economical. That means it’s going to be decades old, as new paint is just not an option.
In a May 2022 report, used farm tractor prices rose 14% year-over-year. When an income depends on it, a person can maybe justify that cost. When you are mostly just pushing snow, I have to use a whole other analysis that I can only hope confuses my wife enough to agree with me.
Part of my non-mechanical upbringing came from the fact that the Ford tractors my dad owned and used every day rarely needed any work. I almost envy those friends of mine who grew up with equipment that needed repair because they know how to repair it, and I am forced to depend on YouTube University if something goes wrong.
Instead, I look for the keywords “good running.” I checked out one of these tractors from the 1940s, having realized anything newer is out of my price range. The owner didn’t actually know the year, but he was 83 and can remember driving one like it as a kid. Yes, it had rubber tires, and no, I did not have to use a hand crank to start it. Even at about 80 years old, they were asking more than when the tractor sold brand new. Yep, you could pick one up for $2,200 in 1943. The kicker is that the average U.S. income in 1943 was about $1,800.
That new tractor was bought with the promise that it would provide a livelihood for a farm family for generations, whereas today that tractor would not be used to make a living, rather to keep me from killing myself.
I’m convinced, after scouring the internet for longer than I care to admit, that I’m as likely to stumble upon an affordable tractor as I am to capturing real footage of bigfoot in my backyard.
While I may never get his photo, it’s looking like I’m very likely to find evidence of his tracks in the knee-deep snow that I will almost certainly be moving by hand.
Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-640-2312.
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