A New Year, a New Tractor!
When I started Chubeza seven years ago, I realized rather quickly that tractor trouble could arise. We work in small fields packed with a variety of crops, necessitating frequent tractor use, but only for a few beds each time: to clear three beds, to loosen two others or score five others for planting. In the not so distant past, there were several tractors in every moshav, used by the farmers in their daily work. Today there are fewer independent farmers, and most farmland is leased to contractors who use large tractors to cultivate the land faster and more efficiently. With almost no farmers and tractors in Kfar Bin Nun, we were lucky to be on good terms with the few tractor owners there and in the adjacent village, who kindly let us use their machines. During the first years, most of the work was done with the tractors of Liora, Yoav, or Amir, and over the past years it was Gaby who came to help cultivate the new fields.
But these tractors, which belong to folks in their 70’s, have clocked a great deal of mileage and have undergone many a repair. Gaby’s loyal tractor, despite its advanced age, arrived in our field often, but at times its engine was loath to start, and many times it choked. We realized it was time for a new tractor. Gaby did research, and finally, with trembling hands, we officially purchased a blue “New Holland” (Fiat) with 90 HP. It’s an old-fashioned tractor, manual drive, computer-less, open-air chair, unenclosed cabin–but it is indeed a genuine tractor.
In honor of Gaby and his senior friends, I’d like to talk about tractors and farmers and all that is good.
A tractor is really a mechanized horse or ox, consuming solar instead of grass—instead of fertilizing the earth with its droppings, it contaminates the environment (bio-diesel is an attempt to solve that problem). But in general, its job, like that of all beasts of burden, is to pull work tools. This is how it earned its name, from the Latin trahō meaning “towing” or “pulling.”
But even before the tractor, there were attempts to mechanize farming cultivation, probably in the 18th century. For example: a big steam engine was placed at the end of the field, which powered a wheel to which a cable was hooked, at the end of which was a plow blade. The individual plowing knife was stuck in the farther side of the field, and the engine, assisted by the wheel, would pull the cable. The knife would slice the earth and the furrow was plowed. An enhanced version used a drum that rotated the cable, two knives and two engines on both ends of the field.
Starting in the 1850’s, new steam-powered tractors appeared. They were called “locomobiles” and they replaced the oxen that pulled the plow in the field and the workhorses who carried heavy equipment. These were slow, heavy, noisy machines, but they got the towing job done quite effectively. Due to their heavy weight, and to prevent them from sinking into the soft or muddy earth, the tractors were equipped with huge metal wheels or tracks, or a combination. They featured a connecting rod that hooked on to the farming tools. Most of the tractors back then had a transmission wheel (a system that transmits the movement from the place it is created to the place it is needed), to which belts were connected in order to transfer the power to stationary equipment. Gradually, tractors grew bigger, stronger and easier to maneuver.
Our developing country received its first tractors in the 1920’s and 30’s. Some were financed by donations from Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund), Keren Ha-Yesod (United Israel Appeal), or the Jewish Agency. The majority of the tractors belonged to a cooperative, and the farmers ordered tractors whenever they needed work. In wintertime, they would fix up the tractors and other tools so that by summertime the machinery could operate smoothly for entire days, and sometimes even nights.
Farming tractors have some special characteristics:
- – Separate braking for each of the back wheels (this is how they become a sort of axis, around which the entire tractor turns within a relatively small diameter), as well as a propulsion differential locking which makes all the wheels turn in one direction in order to be able to pull out of sinking earth.
- – An external propulsion unit, which transfers power from the tractor engine to external equipment being towed, such as a combine or a sprayer.
- – The ability to fix the rotational velocity in order to allow uniform speed
- – Rear hydraulic arms to lift external equipment like a plow or tiller
Sometimes the back tires are filled with water, so as to expand the weight of the back or the tractor while working with earth-cutting tools.
The relationship between a farmer and his/her tractor is no insignificant matter. This is a gentle, loving bond based on loyalty and responsibility. Just as it was in the past with the workhorse or the milking cow that constituted the household’s source of livelihood. The tractor was the tool you had to count on in order to secure your work, which is why the farmer took very good care of it. It was the kindred soul (albeit mechanic) that the farmer shared his/her long hours with. As young boys, they would dream about their beloved girlfriends, and as time went on, they would find refuge from life’s burdens in the tractor’s monotonous back-and-forth drive. When they became fathers, they took their small, excited child for a “round” on the tractor, as a rite-of-passage. In wintertime, they would spend long days in the tractor “beauty salon”, i.e., the garage, preparing for the next season.
As small farming disappears into big-company-owned agriculture that uses giant-size tools out of economical considerations, bereft of emotion, perhaps this romantic notion will disappear. But in the meantime, for present-day farmers and retired farmers, the tractor is not just a lump of steel. Ask the many “agriculture veterans” in Israel and around the world, who collect and renovate old tractors, “bringing the color back to their faces,” and sometimes even renovating the engine to sputter and restart once more.
One of these groups is “The Chain Club” from Kibbutz Givat Brenner, and this is a story that encompasses their love and connection to the old tools: “From Givat Brenner’s first day, our members needed farming tools. The first ‘tools’ were a pair of horses that transported the group in June 1928 from Rehovot. These animals plowed the rocky ground with a wooden plow and then delivered water from the well in Shiller to the kibbutz. A few months later, more animals were added to this ‘agricultural fleet, and devices to plow, cultivate, and to draw water were added to the toolbox. After weeks of deliberation, the decision was made to sell two horses and buy a tractor, mainly because at night, when they are resting, the horses still eat…
“It was a special, festive day when the ‘Caltrac’ appeared – a then-modern tractor made in the 1930’s. Later, hundreds of tools were added, in the beginning driven by chains and kerosene, later diesel and petrol, hydraulic units and modern pieces with air-conditioned cabins and computer control, pushing the ‘veteran’ tools into the junk shed. The Chain Club, established with the fall of Israeli agriculture, brought back the ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Caltrac,’ even if only for the ‘first fruit’ ceremony on Shavuot… With the opening of the museum, many of these tools were rediscovered, repainted and… re-loved.”
Some of the places that renovate old tractors and display them to the public are: The Ein Vered Museum, the tractors in the “Old Courtyard” in Kibbutz Ein Shemer, “John Deere Land” in Kfar Tavor and ‘The Chain Club’ in Kibbutz Givat Brenner.
Though there isn’t a special blessing for those who purchase a new tractor (although we definitely could have said Shehecheyanu), my wish is that we enjoy each other, and use the tractor well.
And lastly, we happily extend our congratulations to: Eli, our loyal Modi’in/ Jerusalem/Gush Etzion delivery man, on the birth of his daughter, Kana. To Alon, who was blessed with a niece and a nephew over the past few weeks, and last, but not least, to Melanie, our elder English-language translator, who celebrated her 60th birthday. We extend our deep love to all ages, and wishes for pleasant winter days with family.
May we have more wet wintry days like last weekend!
Alon, Melissa, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
What’s in the First Boxes of 2011?
Monday: Arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, radishes, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel or kohlrabi, leeks, dill or parsley, sweet peas or garden peas or fava beans
In the large box, in addition: cauliflower, red or white cabbage, celery
Wednesday: parsley, cucumber, daikon or fennel, tomatoes, carrots, arugula or mustard greens, lettuce, beets, kohlrabi or cabbage, small boxes: broccoli or cauliflower, Snowpeas – small boxes
In the large box, in addition: celery, cauliflower, leek, broccoli, Swiss chard
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers of these organic products: granola and cookies, flour, sprouted bread, sprouts, goat cheeses, fruits, honey, crackers. You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. The attached order form includes a detailed listing of the products and their cost. Fill it out, and send it back to us to begin your delivery soon.
I’m getting over a light case of the flu, so the recipe corner will have to wait yet one more week…..