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Contributed Article

Pop's Tractor of Gold

by Gary Teate

My father was a simple man but could repair just about anything mechanical that was ever made. From the time I was a young boy growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I would spend a considerable amount of time helping my father repair or rebuild equipment and engines, etc. on our 2 1/2 acre "spread". Pop always dreamed of having more acreage out in the country where he could retire and tinker as much as he wanted and often reminisced about his boyhood days on his grandfathers farm in Montecello, Florida and plowing fields with two mules.

Sometime in the mid sixties, Dad purchased 20 acres of land in the north Georgia mountains just outside of a small town called Young Harris. It was a beautiful piece of land with a view of "Brasstown Bald", the tallest mountain in Georgia. Pop retired from his Civil Service job in 1970, the same year I graduated from High School and he and mom moved to their "place" in the country. Unfortunately, I had to stay behind as there were few places of employment in this area and wages were low.

Pop's love of tractors went back a long way and I can remember him having a Farmall Cub and then later a Farmall "A" which we used around our place for a variety of things like mowing and gardening. Pop always liked his Fords and after my folks moved to Georgia, Pop purchased a 801 Ford diesel with a Bush Hog and other implements to use on the place. Later on, he bought an old 800 Ford gas tractor with a Sherman backhoe and frontend loader. Pop loved to work his tractors and used them and maintained them with all the care that a mother does a child. He taught me so much about the need to maintain equipment and how to treat it. He believed in sheltering everything and didn't waste any time building some sort of shelter to house his equipment in to protect it from the elements.

Pop only had a ninth grade education and had to quit school during the depression to work and help support his mother and sister. He later joined the U.S.Navy and was assigned to the engine room on a destroyer during World War 2. This self taught man also taught me that with determination and ingenuity, anything could be repaired and that if you take care of something, it will last as long as it needs to and then some.

As time went on, I got married and remained in Jacksonville to raise a family. For about 10 years, I didn't get to see Pop as much as I would have liked to but in 1980, Pop bought 18 acres in Starke, Florida which was where my sister lived. Starke is about 45 miles from Jacksonville and I saw a chance to start seeing my father more. He and Mom began making improvements to the place and I went down and started helping him build a tin garage first, and then later another garage which was insulated and partitioned off with part of it serving as a bedroom with a seperate living room and kitchen which he and mom would stay in while they built the house. This garage "apartment" was even outfitted with a wood burning stove.

Some time in the mid 80's, I went down to help Pop run some barbed wire fence. He told me to come out to the tin garage that he had something he wanted to show me. Well we went on out there and he opened the doors and there sat a clean little 601 Powermaster Ford Deisel with a five speed transmission. I looked at Pop and he had this half grin - half smile on his face that I had seen often. I had seen it when we had just gotten something running and Pop would idle it down so low that you could just about count the R.P.M.s. I had seen it when we would finish building a structure and he would look at it and you could just see the pride in his eyes. And I had seen it when as a boy, I would do something that made him proud and he would say "that-a-boy, now you're cookin'. I can't recall anything that made me feel as good as hearing my father's praise.

In 1988 at 71 years old, Pop had to have a valve replaced in his heart. The valve had crystalized from the effects of asbestos which he had come in contact with during his tour in the destroyers engine room. After a period of time of rest, he came back as strong as ever. I often said that he could work circles around men half his age and he could. The heart doctor that performed the operation told Pop that the replacement "pigs valve" would last about 11 to 13 years and then it would have to be done again.

Sometime around 1995, Pop had gotten to where he wasn't feeling as good as he had been and started having problems. We took him to the Mayo clinic and they performed numerous tests and finally concluded that Pop's heart was only functioning at about 40% of its capacity. By this time, he and Mom had just about finished building their new home in Starke and in January 1996, the carpet folks came and put the new carpet in to complete the final touch.

The next morning as I sat in my office, the telephone rang and my sister informed me that Pop had passed away in his sleep. I jumped in the car and headed down to my folks place not remembering anything about the drive but thinking that this could not be true...my father, this fair and noble warrior in life could not leave without saying goodbye. When I arrived, I went into the bedroom where Pop was and knelt down beside him and asked him to somehow let me know what he would have me do to fulfill my Mother's life now that he was gone.

My Father and Mother raised my sister and I in a Christian home where the Christian way of life was taught at home and Sunday mornings were spent in church and being both a Baptist and knowing the road to heaven, I knew that My Father was already there.

A few days later after we had laid Pop to rest, I went out to the old tin shed and opened the doors and there sat that old 601 Ford Powermaster diesel. I climbed up in the seat and cried like I never had before...sitting in that seat where my father had and holding that steering wheel where my fathers hands had been, I knew that I would never again have the opportunity to work side by side with my father again. I knew that we would never again sit on the porch sipping a cup of coffee, talking about tractors and running fence line or planning what maintenance we needed to pull next.

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my Father and wish that I could ask his advice on something. Somehow he has let me know his wishes and my wife and I are planning to build our new home on the same acreage where my Mom is so we can be close to her when she needs us.

My Father... this honest hard working man with little education but a lot of determination, fulfilled his dreams as well as mine... his willingness to help others and his compassion for his fellow man has filled me with a sense of values which I dearly thank him for.

My son remarked shortly after Pop passed away that he just knew his grandfather was riding a tractor made of gold... I had to agree with him and somehow know that Pop is wearing that half grin - half smile that he was so famous for as he drives off to work that tractor of gold, it's engine fine tuned and singing a sweet tune that only my father would recognize... Yep!!! it's a Ford and it's diesel too...

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