I spotted the Jaeckle property from perhaps a mile away. The low fall sun was lighting up a huge mass of rusty – somethings. They weren’t cars, I was disappointed to conclude, but of course I had to drive over and look.
I turned off the highway onto Jaeckle Rd., and crested the hill to see old farm implements laid out in rows that stretched down the road past the top of the next rise, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. There were all sorts of rigs for dragging behind tractors which I recognized, but don’t know the names of. Hundreds of each kind, not one of them looking to be in serviceable condition.
At the top of the next hill, I slowed to a stop.
Before me in a green valley was a scene that could be described as agricultural Armageddon. The carcasses of hundreds and hundreds of farm tractors lay dismembered, rusting away and sinking into the damp earth.
An old tractor is a simple machine. The stalwart engine is both the heart and the backbone of the beast. The rest of the tractor is simply along for the ride. The frame, which serves only to hold the wheels and provide a perch for the driver, is attached to the back of the engine block. Bodywork is nothing more than some safety shields which also serve as a medium to hold the maker’s color of paint.
Many of the tractors on the Jaeckle Brothers land had their most critical bolts removed, letting them collapse onto the field, spilling their gears and shafts onto the damp, grassy ground. Their higher extremities glowed with paint and rust and bare metal caught in the cool sunlight.
What interests me most about these machines are their human interfaces – seats, steering wheels, hand levers, pedals and instruments. Hundreds - thousands - of hours of contact with hands and feet had worn these simple controls to beautiful patina that spoke to me of the work and worry and joy of growing food from a piece of the ground.
The Jaeckle brothers, who have been on this particular piece of ground since 1921, pull these worn out machines apart and extract those parts that can still turn and lift - and transplant them into other tractors which still tug and pull at the fields of Jefferson County, Wisconsin.
All words and images copyright Jeffery Blackwell 2009