Best Supporting Tractor
If a movie were made telling the history of the Chrysandt Koenigs family descendants who were born and raised in Mitchell County, one piece of equipment would be featured prominently. Grandpa Paul's Farmall B. We are not a clan inclined to sentimental attachment, yet this tractor has become a beloved artifact, playing a significant role in the formation story of numerous family members.
The B's arrival in the summer of 1940 ushered in the transition from animal power to mechanized power being one of the first gas tractors in Mitchell County. Rated at 17 HP, it could pull a 2x14” plow and triple the amount of work done per day compared to a horse drawn implement. Paul's sons John, Deo (Dad), Roman, and Jerry; three of whom became farmers, learned how to work the land and operate machinery at the wheel of the B.
Over the course of the next 20 years, larger and more powerful tractors replaced the B for field tillage, but due to the diverse blend of crops and livestock on farms in the 1960's and 70's, the B still had its niche. John, Dad, and Jerry, as well as Paul's brothers Joe, Arnold, and Aloys, worked together to make hay in the summer. Most of the barns were equipped with a bale fork and track system for moving bales from the hay rack to the hay loft in the barn. The B was the perfect sized tractor for pulling the eight bale fork vertically from the hay rack to the trolley and into the barn. Inside the barn, bale stackers would shout to the man on the rack to dump the bales with a trip rope. Then they would stack bales between dumps.
Stacking in the barns was best suited for young, unskilled, males with a high tolerance for discomfort and risk. One of our favorite games was playing chicken with the fork loads of bales. Have you ever been buried alive in five hundred pounds of alfalfa? The idea that adversity develops resilience was enthusiastically practiced in our German Catholic community.
Summers on the Koenigs Family of farms were spent making the circuit between these half dozen farmsteads as the cutting of hay was coordinated to ensure availability of labor. For almost every male member of the extended families, this rite of passage was a required stop on the route to adulthood, or a “big boy” position stacking hay on the rack, whichever came first. While every location on the hay run had a slightly different configuration, two constants in this enterprise were the B on the fork rope and cold beer when the work was done.
Features that make the B so well suited for this task were its size, maneuverability, and user friendliness. It was years ahead of its time in this respect. By the mid to late 80's, all the Koenigs Farms had gotten out of milking which ended the summer hay making ritual. Sadly, subsequent generations missed this character building opportunity.
Luckily for the B, increasing emphasis on maintaining an attractive farmstead opened a new career. Deck mowers designed to mount under the frames of tractors were a popular alternative to lawn mowers as this option was less expensive and equally productive. The B stayed occupied in this capacity through the early 2000's.
With the arrival of hydro-static, zero turn, ergonomically designed comfort seat mowers, essential everyday tasks for the B today are few and far between. Circa 2019, its main uses are tractor rides, portrait back drops, or parade float tow vehicle. You may have noticed it pulling the Pinicon Farm float in McIntire's 125th Anniversary celebration.
Uncle Jerry has owned the B since he purchased it at Grandpa Paul's retirement sale in 1969. Several months ago, Dad, Uncle Roman, and Uncle Jerry stopped at my office while on their monthly, growing season, news update, and field tour. These three Amigos are 84, 83, and 80 years old respectively. Funny how their annoying behaviors morph into endearing quirks over time.
Uncle Roman encouraged me to tell the B's story. It will celebrate its 80th year in the Koenigs Family this year. It is well preserved despite several near death experiences, and as I previously described, has been an integral element of the preparation for life ethos our family subscribes to.
The more I thought about it the more I came to agree. Not so much for its lengthy tenure as a valuable member of the Ag production fleet, but for its role in preserving the emphasis on basic life skills that have been a Koenigs Family trademark for generations.
Long live The B and all it represents.