The Hoyt-Clagwell on it's way to another productive 10 minutes in the field. Yes, I know it's a Fordson. Go with it.

A tractor? You bought a tractor? Seriously?

Yes, yes we have. And while I can make a good, reasoned case for such an extravagant purchase, I can also make a good, reasoned case that we’ve lost our minds.

This has been an adventure, and often a frustrating one. I can buy cars with some sense of ease because I know more than a bit about cars. The same with RVs. Even with boats, I know a decent amount. But tractors, not so much. I know little something about the antique, collector sort, but this is a modern tractor that will have to earn its keep. I spent hours by the dozen watching YouTube videos and reading various tractor websites and forums. Finding a good local dealer (in business since the mid-1940s) didn’t hurt, either.

This process started three or four years ago when, on one Saturday evening after a particularly hard day, I mentioned to Mrs. Freeholder that the heavy manual labor was getting to be a bit much wear and tear on my worn and torn body. Some sort of labor-saving device was going to be needed soonish or I was going to start spending an inordinate amount of money hiring things done.

I love my wife, but there are days…

“Well, you already have that green tractor that we’ve spent money on every year keeping it fixed. Use it!”

My dear, what I have is a John Deere x530. It isn’t a tractor, it’s a lawnmower with delusions of grandeur. It can tow around a small trailer as long as it isn’t too heavily loaded. It has a lightweight ABS plastic blade I can use to push a few inches of snow. It doesn’t move dirt, skid logs or any of the other things that are piling up around here. Things like take a tractor–a real, honest-to-Pete tractor, plus some attachments. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but it has to be big enough.

And, with our respective viewpoints stated, the discussion stopped there. Sometimes it’s better to wait until the situation changes and makes your point for you. Be that as it may, I decided that I was going to start the learning process so that, when the day came, I was going to have enough knowledge on the subject of tractors to be able to move quickly and decisively. So I started watching the odd YouTube video and reading a lot of Interwebz tractor forums. I talked to people I knew or met about their tractors. Eventually, when you know it’s going to be a long while until you’re going to do something with the knowledge, you get bored with the process, and I did and so moved on to other things.

Occasionally I would cycle back to the subject for a bit and learn some more. This would be followed up by fieldwork in the wilds of Facebook Marketplace. I looked at a lot of cheap (and cheap is a relative term in Tractor World) tractors online and a couple in person. I seriously considered buying one. But some remembered wisdom from one of the old Whole Earth Catalogs, from an article on buying cheap cars that would get you around for a while, saved me. Hint-they don’t leak fluids.

I eventually found some good videos on buying used tractors from guys who had been there, done that and were wearing the t-shirt. You have to admire someone who’ll stand in front of a camera and tell you all the ways that they effed up on a purchase. Best free education ever.

A few of the things I learned about cheap used tractors:

  • You may buy a cheap tractor but don’t expect it to stay that way. It was cheap for a reason–a lot of crap on it needed repaired or replaced. Depending on the age, manufacturer and model, parts may be unobtainium.
  • This goes double for attachments. If it doesn’t come with everything you want, walk away. You may never find some of the older stuff, except when it comes attached to another tractor that’s in even worse condition than the one you bought.
  • Consider if you want a(nother) project/hobby or a tool you can use. Guess which side cheap used tractors come down on?

So I began looking at used tractors, 3-5 years old. You can find them in plenty, and often in very good condition. You can get parts and attachments. And the things cost 80-85% the price of the same tractor purchased new. Seriously. I spent a long time trying to find the exception that proved that rule. Found it a couple of times, several states away. Further than I was willing to go to just look at it. I wanted relatively local.

During this process, a couple of things happened to change the situation and make my point for me. One was when I tried to destroy my ankle. I was out of commission for months. While the injury healed, you don’t heal at 60+ like you healed at 20. The ankle isn’t quite right and it never will be. It’s good enough most of the time. But when I start doing heavy, sustained work (well, what passes for that these days) it will start to hurt, then start refusing to work. If I push it, I may be off my feet for a few days. Not a good situation.

The other thing was that Mrs. Freeholder could see the heavy projects stacking up. We’ve got something like eight large pines that have fallen in the woods in the last two years, and without considerable help, they weren’t going to get cleaned up until nature handled the task. There are stumps in the yard that need to be dug out. Parts of the yard need to be regraded. Dirt, in dump truck quantities, needs to be delivered and distributed nearly everywhere. I flatly told her none of these things were going to happen with just me doing them. The days when I would move a dump truck’s worth of dirt with a wheelbarrow and a shovel are over, and I refused to consider taking these big projects on. She eventually realized that we would have to replace my flagging physical abilities with horsepower or hire people to do it.

Then the “negotiating” began in earnest. I had to drag her along the logic chain many times, explaining in great detail, with pictures containing circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what it all meant. This subject was Not Her Thing, didn’t interest her and was going to cost a large amount of money, which took us repeatedly back to it couldn’t happen. Big projects kept slowly piling up. She decided that she really wanted one, the hand railings/column replacement on the front porch, done. I made her write that check, just so she couldn’t close her eyes to the amount. That stung.

I am nothing if not persistent (she says stubborn). Every time she complained about something not getting done, I pointed out several guys who could come handle it–for a price. And I just kept doing that. It took time and more patience than I really thought I had, and I about gave up a couple of times. Then that final tree fell in the forest, and the roadblock came grudgingly down. Now all we had to do was find something that met my requirements at a price we could afford.

The day came when three manufacturers, all with a new tractor I would be happy to live with, started throwing around zero percent money in the middle of the highest interest rates in decades. I suspect they were getting desperate to finally clear out those 2023 tractors. After talking to two dealers (one reps two of the brands), we decided to go with the “value” purchase and bought an LS Tractors MT125. The very one you see at the left (or above, depending on how the page renders for you) as a matter of fact. It was delivered this morning.

So far, I’ve taken it around the yard to see if it would rutt up. That was a go. Then I backed it into the garage for safekeeping, because I needed to mow. Of course, the heavens opened up and that didn’t get done, again. I’ve spent time looking at equipment trailers, which work just like tractors but only a tenth of the price. I’ve looked at those (not so) cheap metal carports so this thing will have a place to live out of the weather, and I’m working my way through a list of odds and ends I’ll need, like fuel cans. I’ll be buying these things along and along as we move forward.

This is a big purchase, and I’m crossing my fingers that I haven’t led us down the garden path. I’ve built quite a list of things I want to try my hand at over the summer and fall, and my ability to successfully manage those to completion will tell whether I get to sleep in the house or out under the tractor.

2 thoughts on “In which Ma and Pa Freeholder buy a tractor

  1. Congrats! Smallish tractors are a big help. Much better than a wheelbarrow. I hope you have a bucket for the front end. I assume that’s got quick disconnect attachments for ease of switching out from one to another. We’ve kept ours in the garage for 25 years, and it saves lots of deteriorations from happening. Good idea to keep it under cover. Get some heavy chains for pulling out the logs in the woods.

  2. Add some wheel weights. Seriously. Or a weight box you can easily put on the three point on the back.

    Having owned diesel tractors over the past 20 years, Howes (or other decent diesel treatment) is your friend. Use it regularly.

    Keep at least on fuel filter on hand. Also a gallon or two of the hydraulic fluid that it takes. And a grease gun is mandatory for the bucket arms and other load points. Use it every day you fire up the tractor. Grease is cheaper than the bushings and pins.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *