July 16, 2020

The Age of Old Equipment

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

We run older equipment on this farm.  In fact my newest tractor, an International 656, was made in 1976.

Quite a number of people have asked me why.  Usually they phrase the question indirectly.  “How come you don’t get yourself a new John Deere?” or “You ever thought about one of those fancy Z-turn lawn tractors?” Occasionally somebody will make an oblique statement such as, “You know, Dorr’s Equipment has some pretty slick new machinery” or “Antique Road Show ought to feature this place.”

Never mind.  I’ll stick with the old stuff.

I do have reasons.  I’m not just being pig-headed despite my wife’s assurances that that’s my specialty.

Unfortunately ― at least around here ― new equipment always comes with a big, fat payment book.  In fact, if you rely on buying new, about the time you finally throw that old payment book away, it’s time for another.  Even fatter.

Most generally, new equipment seems worth the price until the first repair.  Of course that bill always comes at the same time your personal property tax is due.

Trust me, personal property tax is bad enough on old equipment.

While you starve for a month ― or two ― trying to catch up, something else goes wrong.

I have another issue with new equipment.  It’s all run by computer chips and relays.  Even the lawn tractors.  When something goes wrong ― and let’s face it, something always does ― it’s nothing you can diagnose and fix yourself.  Instead you have to call for an appointment with the mobile repair boys.  You’re down until they arrive.  Oh, they’re great people and fabulous mechanics but their trucks are expensive.  Worse, even they have to plug in the computer, punch up the code and let the screen tell them what’s wrong.  When they wave goodbye, you’re left with the bill for parts and labor plus that truck’s hourly rate.

None of it will be cheap.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that new equipment isn’t wonderful, that it doesn’t work or that it breaks down more frequently than older machinery.  I simply resent being held hostage by a computer code.

Older machinery is mechanical.  When something breaks it can be welded, repaired or replaced without somebody else’s help.  That’s huge.  In fact, a couple of my old tractors don’t even have electric systems.  They fire from a magneto.  Save for the sparkplug connections, there isn’t a wire on the machine.  Sure, sometimes what’s wrong is serious.  But there’s seldom a problem figuring out the issue.

Now I’ll be honest.  My wife argues that I’m the problem.  She has a point.  I’m part of this equation.  I can’t deny it.  But if I can repair old mechanical tractors but not the modern electrical nightmares, why buy new if both do the job?

Last, perhaps most importantly, I was made in 1954.  I remember 1976 vividly.  It just doesn’t seem that long ago.  I simply can’t abandon old tractors as useless without making serious statements about myself.

So yes, we run older equipment on this farm.  Whoever inherits it from me can buy that new John Deere.