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father and son standing in field

Gentle tractor-driving reminders

Home Front: Harvest tractor training for the spouse who doesn’t drive tractors very often? Think warnings about poles, ditches and more.

Being John’s “hired man” in the spring and fall is not the easiest job. More than once I have mentioned that speaking to an audience of over 1,000 junior high school students was less intimidating than hopping on a tractor.

Part of my uneasiness (and potential whining) comes from the fact that I drive one tractor in the spring to cultivate, and then when the fall rolls around, I drive a different tractor to haul grain to the elevator.

Don’t let Kendra fool you. I’m almost certain the difference in the tractors has very little to do with her lack of confidence. More accurately, I believe it’s the break of several months between planting and harvest — months when Kendra spends almost no time on or near either tractor. Then as the new season begins, she must start all over again in her training.

John might be right. The stress I initially experience when I head for the elevator in the fall might not be caused entirely by the fact that I’m on a different tractor. It might be more accurate to connect my tension to the fact that I need some gentle reminders before I begin the job.

Yes, this is much closer to reality. That’s why each spring and fall, I do my best to go over a few things — some reminders about how to operate the tractor and any other helpful hints.

Ah, yes, the “reminder” talk. Even though these are, for the most part, very helpful, I can still distinctly remember two of last spring’s reminders.

After pointing out the location of the throttle on this tractor, followed by the speeds I was to travel in the field, exiting the field and on the road, John mentioned two tips I’d never heard before:

1. Don’t drive the tractor into the ditch.

2. Don’t hit a telephone pole.

You might be wondering if I had done either of those things in the past. Let me relieve any anxiety you may be feeling. No! I’ve never driven the tractor into the ditch and have never hit a telephone pole.

As I listened to his final instructions, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. Instead of doing either, I chalked those reminders up to the fact that I had been doing so well year after year (even when I experienced a new tractor as the seasons changed) that he had to think of something new to add to his gentle reminders.

Sure, sure, that was it. I was at a loss for new reminders. (Wink, wink!)

The good news is, Kendra followed my directions, including both of those reminders she found unusual —  to stay out of all ditches and avoid contact with all telephone poles. And she did it on the tractor she hadn’t driven for a year!

John and Kendra Smiley farm near East Lynn, Ill. Email, or visit

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