By O’Ceallaigh –
I went to a boarding school in the Finger Lakes Region in Central New York for High School. It was called Union Springs Academy, situated on the “…shores of Lake Cayuga, where the rippling waters play. And the pine trees softly whisper, at the close of every day….”
That’s how the school song went – at least part of it. We still sing it every year on Alumni Weekend, the first weekend in May. We’ve been doing that since 1923 or so!
Well, I haven’t, I’ve only been doing it since 1954 when I first attended there in my freshman year.
It cost our parents a lot of money to send us there but they all believed it was worth the effort. Most sent their kids there at considerable sacrifice. When it came time, our kids went there, too.
I had to work while at the school to help pay for my way, we all did. It was also part of our training. There were several industries in which to work, a broom shop, a flower shop, an apple crate shop, a kitchen and a farm.
Having grown up on a farm, I got stuck working on the farm.
Most of the work was quite mundane as most farm work usually is. So, as teenagers, we took every opportunity to spice up our working hours with whatever chicanery we could muster without being destructive.
I was browsing through the internet the other day and ran across a website that had a whole bunch of tractors. This was the trigger for this story. There, dead center in the page-full of images, was a little Silver King tractor staring back at me.
Silver Kings were not held in terribly high esteem by most of the farmers in our neck of the woods but they had their good points.
The Academy did not have a whole lot of ready cash so they always sought out the best deals they could get. I recall one time when they came back from a surplus sale with a Caterpillar D-4 diesel that they had purchased from Army Surplus for $85.00. Boy did we fit ground with that! Two sets of 8 foot discs, 16 foot of spring-tooth Drag harrow, followed by 16 X 4 foot of plank drags behind all of it. We’d pull it all along in 4th gear and the old D-4 wouldn’t even break a sweat!!
See how easy it is to get lost in the excitement of the story!??
We bought the Silver King at one such sale. It was an Air Force Lawn unit so it had “terra tires” (smooth tread rather than lugged tractor type tires) and the school only paid $35.00 for it. It wasn’t very powerful and couldn’t pull a plow, but it could pull a trailer or a hay wagon.
The beauty of this little rascal was that the Air Force must have believed in speed! It was fast! I mean, it would travel at about 30 miles an hour in fourth gear!!! You can bet on which tractor we would grab whenever we had a job to do!
Archie was the Assistant Farm Manager.
Archie was probably one of the most loved faculty members at the school. He was always happy! He had a broad toothless grin that simply won the hearts of every one of us who worked the farm. Archie was top-notch!
We had occasion to take a hay wagon up Spring Street to a field near the Smith Farm where there was some wheat straw waiting to be brought to the lower barn. The straw had been in the field longer than it should have been so we were going to stack it behind the barn with the bales separated so as to aerate it for drying.
Upon arrival at the field, we found that the bales were very heavy due to the excessive moisture. We were able, however to load the sixty or so bales on the wagon in three tiers and begin exiting the field on squatting tires.
I was driving the little Silver King.
The other two kids were riding on the load of straw and Archie -? Well, Archie was sitting on the front edge of the load in his striped engineer’s hat, his “man spread” and his ever present grin.
Spring Street was only a slight down-grade approaching the farm so I shifted into fourth gear and eased the throttle up to max. The Silver King grunted and groaned and reluctantly gained speed.
Archie said, “You had best slow down!”
The tractor probably weighed 1200 pounds the wagon at least that much and the straw, each bale weighing in at about 75 pounds. Let’s see: that would be about 5700 pounds being pulled well, at this point, PUSHING, a dinky 1200 pound tractor!
I decided I should take Archie’s advice!
I throttled back and applied the brakes.
Had I had a thermometer I would have checked it to make certain that the summer weather had not turned into a cold snap causing ice to form on the road!
Both rear tires simply slid with no notable slowing whatsoever. I hit the brakes again! Slide some more!! I pumped the brakes. Still at 30 miles an hour!!
I shot past the driveway to the farm!
Now I’m really worried! The slight grade on Spring Street now becomes a hill! The hill heads downward to – did I mention this town was called Union Springs? Did I mention that we were on “Spring Street?” At the bottom of “Spring Street” there was , yes, how could you not guess, a spring! A very large spring!!
I was now beginning to wonder if I still knew how to swim. Then, strangely, I began to worry about Archie!
Between my efforts and maintain control and trying to stop the out of control Silver King and Straw Wagon I glanced back and Archie! There he was sitting on the precipice of straw in his Engineer’s hat with his toothless grin! I was in absolute awe!
Somehow, with the throttle shut down and the brakes being pumped I got the massive weight and balance problem under control before we submerged in the spring. I sheepishly drove down Main Street, into the village with the load of straw, turned up Seminary Street to the campus of Union Springs Academy, traversed the entire campus in front of everybody and back to the farm.
Archie never said one word to me, – or to anyone else.
They made me President of the Alumni Association many years later and I think it was in 1998 or 1999 that I bumped into Archie again at one of the Weekends. We reminisced a bit. I asked him if he remembered. He did.
Archie hadn’t changed a bit. Still had that happy grin pasted on that friendly face. But now, teeth! And whether he had them or not, didn’t even matter!
I just loved old Archie anyway!