What’s to admire in these monochromatic, rather monothematic images that I refer to as the big hayfield? BTW my tractor is not that sickly orange in reality, nor is that some strange yellow primer  being applied before a restoration paint job. Some day!
No, this is red tractor country, and the jaundiced effect is ragweed pollen. The pale yellow-green of the uncut fields is blooming ragweed, in what we call a “flush” – a heavy growth year aggravated by last year’s drought and this Summer’s heat.
The thought behind these pictures showing dwindling yellow-green and increasing greeny brown, is the history of this field. It’s about twenty acres, a strange jagged U-shape dictated by the terrain – one ridge split into three, one arm cut by a neighbor’s property line, the others by woods boundary.
In the best year ever – 1999 – two neighbors mowed it within inches of the margins and left us 875 bales of hay: some to sell, some for the 8 horses then in residence. Since then, it’s been catch as catch can: most farmers locally are hard pressed to get their own hay up when weather allows, never mind anyone else’s. Hay equipment (sickle-bar mower, hayrake and baler) is complex and subject to a host of mechanical problems, usually calling for costly parts which are mysteriously out of stock during hay season.
So this field, of good orchard grass and clover, has lain fallow for much of the past 23 years. Two years ago, I got frustrated at the encroachment of not only noxious weeds but cedars and other opportunistic trees, and determined to replace the Ford 861 (a fine tractor, but my feet couldn’t reach the pedals) with something I could use. I could start it and run it up the driveway, or use it to pull out a stuck SUV, but as far as mowing these ridges – steep, twisting, swaling and prone to sinkholes – forget it.
The replacement is as you’ve seen, a low-built, wide-based IH 444, which starts like a brush fire, runs like a striped ape, manoeuvers on a ten-foot radius and waits tables. It came here 2 years ago, but use was limited for a while by tire and electrical problems. It still doesn’t have much brake, but I’ve taken care of that with a few simple rules: pull on to level ground to stop: don’t shift while turning or approaching fence, trees or other barrier: use 1st gear on steep ground: stay out of situations that require sudden stops. That’s worked fine so far, and the brakes will get worked on during Winter down time.
Meanwhile, 2 or 4 hours at a time, this machine with its 5-foot JD mower is my partner in restoring some beautiful, healthy land.