Hitching farm implements to an older tractor
I know it’s different in advanced agriculture today where tractors and the implements they pull are the size of aircraft carriers. But on farms like mine, which make only limited use of three-point hitch systems, attaching a tractor to a plow, disk, rake, baler, wagon or star has not changed much since the “old fashioned” days. (I heard e-mail referred to recently as “old fashioned.”) You back the tractor up to the implement’s tongue, get off the tractor while it idles, lift the tongue up to the drawbar and drop the pin through the holes in the tongue and the one in the drawbar. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. It was fairly easy back when family farms really were family farms. Dad, on the tractor, could always bellow, and some poor child (me) would come running to do the actual hitching. As Dad, always in a hurry, roared in reverse back in the general direction of the wagon to be hitched up, poor child held the tongue up with one hand, prepared to move it to one side or the other to keep it lined up with the oncoming tractor draw bar. At the proper moment poor child dropped the hitch pin in place with the hand not holding up the wagon tongue, praying to God that Dad would stop the tractor at more or less the right time and that his foot would not slip off the clutch. The process often involved more shouts of “whoa!”, “back!” “up!” than it took to hitch horses to an implement.
When agriculture entered its FFA phase—Fathers Farming Alone— a whole new art had to arise to take the place of poor child. As all of you know who have spent the better part of your working life hitching and unhitching stuff, when you are alone you must bring the tractor to a dead stop at the exact right place, get off, and because you never are in the exact right place, pull the implement forward or the tractor backward the inch or so necessary with brute, hernia-causing strength. No tractor yet made, even on perfectly level ground, will stay put exactly where you stop it for hitching. When you push in on the clutch and put the gear shift in neutral, the tractor will ease an inch forward or an inch backward by the time you climb off and attempt to attach the tongue to the drawbar. So you outfox the bitch by stopping just a bit beyond the drawbar hole or not quite to it, depending upon whether your tractor likes to ease forward or backward. But that rarely works because the bitch senses that you are trying to outwit her and chooses to sit exactly where you stop her for the first time in 20 years.
So to hitch up, you stop the tractor in what you figure is the exact right place, keep the tractor in gear, and turn off the motor. Be sure to let the motor come to a complete dead, silent stop because if there is just one more turn of the crankshaft when you let out on the clutch, the cussed tractor will lurch one inch away from match up with the implement tongue before it totally dies. Then you have to start the motor and do it all again.
My cousin who had no poor child to help him hitch up and who farmed alone most of his life, attached a four foot length of baling wire to the heads of his hitch pins. The wires allowed him from the tractor seat to dangle the pins gingerly down through the drawbar and tongue holes when they were lined up correctly. Of course he also had to have the implement tongue raised up off the ground on a bucket or block or jack at just the right height. He solved that problem by using a steel rod bent into a hook on one end to reach down from the tractor seat and lift the tongue up so he could back the drawbar into it. This whole hitching up maneuver required the same kind of finesse you need to play The Warsaw Concerto on a violin while eating a bowl of soup. He would clamp his knees against either side of the steering wheel to guide the tractor, keep one foot on the clutch and the other on the brake, use one hand to lower the hitch pin on the wire, the other to lift the implement tongue with his steel rod. If you don’t think farming is an art, try this.
I have another ploy that usually works. I leave the implement sit on a gentle slope when I unhitch. When I hitch up again, I back the tractor a few inches too far past the tongue holes and turn off the motor with the tractor in gear. On the ground, I raise up the implement tongue with one hand, lean forward and press in on the clutch with my other hand. The tractor coasts forward (sometimes) and I can let out on the clutch to stop it at just the right place. As the old saying goes: “if you don’t use your head you have to use your hands and feet.” When hitching up alone, you have to use everything you’ve got. Once I placed a pin in the drawbar with my teeth, the only part of me not already involved in the effort.