Jean was laughing at me… Tears rolled down his cheeks… His overalls were draped over his hips and he was drenched in sweat. So was I, which is why he was laughing – if anything I was worse than him and I’d taken off my shirt and cargo pants. It felt odd and yet normal, in the circumstances, to be sitting in his office in just my boxers!
Since the middle of summer it had been obvious that we needed a more powerful tractor for our farm to handle the jobs that were beyond the abilities of the Massey Ferguson 5S with its 105HP engine. Don’t get me wrong – that little tractor has worked miracles. It’s been the mainstay of our farm throughout the first year. I think we’ll always be grateful to Jean for recommending it in the first place. But, when we got the water tank for the greenhouses and the Anderson bale loader, it was clear that we were asking a lot more from her than the designers intended. We could see it in the increased maintenance bills. You’d think that Jean would be happy with us spending more money but when we started looking for a second tractor with more horses, he couldn’t have been more helpful. He pursued his contacts, chased the local farmers and generally harassed anyone who might have a larger tractor for sale that would meet our needs.
While Jean was drawing a blank, I approach Claude Gerard – maybe the Farmers Cooperative had a member who needed to sell an older tractor? There was no response. No one, it seemed, had or knew someone who had a larger old tractor for sale.
In the interim, we ground away at helping with the harvest on the farms around, leasing the equipment to get the job done. We were making good money and getting close to the level where we could buy an older tractor. The trouble was that if we did find a tractor it would probably leave us with no funds.
On one of the summer harvest jobs for Hugo, as he and I were chatting after completing the final cut and getting ready to deliver the grain to the market, I mentioned our predicament. He raised a finger… stopped for a minute and then spun around in a circle… I was bemused! “Antoine! Antoine!… Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” he exclaimed.
It turned out that Hugo had a Brother-in-Law over in Mirande. “I need to ask him if he still has his old tractor.” He disappeared into the farmhouse and that was the last I saw of him! I thought no more of it until the next day when Hugo rang me. He was excited – almost out of breath in fact! “Antoine still has it!” When he’d calmed down – I’d never seen Hugo excited before although I had noted that his hair was always a mess! He explained that his brother-in-law had an old Fiat tractor that was quite powerful and might be what we were looking for. It was available for sale, but we’d need to go and collect.
We had to go and look although it was quite a way to Mirande. Mark said he’d look after the farm – keeping the chickens fed and taking the vegetables to market while I went to look at this tractor. Jean Armand volunteered to come with me to check out the machine. So, in mid-September, Jean and I caught a train east to Auch where Antoine agreed to collect us. Antoine was almost the spitting image of his Brother-in-Law, same tousled hair, same lopsided grin – you’d have thought they were twins!
The tractor was a surprise – It looked barely bigger than our Massey Fergusson. I was initially disappointed – “I’d expected something larger.” I said. Then Antoine fired it up… “Merde Alors! – Cela ressemble à un dinosaure” Jean laughed – “It is a Dinosaur!”…
…We were invited to drive it around the farm to see if we liked it. It drove well apart from having bad brakes – “You’ll get used to that.” said Jean. What I wasn’t getting used to was the manual gearbox and clutch with gear levers just behind the steering wheel. Jean squeezed into the cab as best he could and talked me through changing up and down. After an hour or so we had it in hand…
Jean said that it looked in good order but he also warned that getting spares might be a struggle. I went to see Antoine to discuss the price. He started at €45k and that felt too much for such an old tractor. I called in Jean for advice. He said “€11k and no more…” Haggling eventually got us to a price just over €26k and I was thankful for Jean’s help – I would never have had the knowledge to beat down the price like that!. “Nothing’s changed” said Jean after we’d agreed the sale, “Still going to be an issue getting parts…” With a shrug, he wandered back to the tractor.
Getting back home was a marathon drive and we spelled each other. Unlike the modern tractors, the Fiat didn’t have a jump seat so we took it in turns to squeeze into the corner of the cab while keeping the doors ajar and the rear window open to get some air through.
So there we were – 5 hours later in a state of undress in Jean’s office. We were both very tired and, frankly, sweating gallons. It was a good job, well done. We’d brought the tractor home and it had performed well during the journey. Jean had found a small exhaust leak and applied a temporary fix but, apart from that, it was a sound machine. We looked at each other across the office and shared a sense of achievement. We hugged to celebrate and then, before either of us knew it, we were kissing…