Selling Our Pony

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

1952 Massey-Harris Pony

1952 Massey-Harris Pony

Soon after we got to Tiny Town in 1985 it became apparent that life would be easier if we had a tractor. My husband Ed, who grew up on a dairy farm about 20 miles east of here, as the crow flies, learned to drive a tractor before he learned to drive a car. And many’s the time I’ve sat in the passenger seat wishing that sequence had been reversed.

The tractor he wound up with was a 1952 Massey-Harris Pony, an unprepossessing piece of equipment, its red paint faded but not rusted, its engine loud as a tornado, but it worked. Ed was happy with it, so I was, too.

As the name “Pony” suggests, it wasn’t the kind of tractor you need a heavy equipment license to operate, but it wasn’t a lawn toy, either. It plowed snow, hauled logs one at a time, pulled visiting cars off the icy place in the driveway where the sun don’t shine, and started up every time Ed asked it to.

Until. One day the starter bit off a few teeth on the ring gear, which let out a plaintive  scream, and that was all she wrote.  When we bought it, it was in its 30s. Now it was in its 50s. We didn’t have the hoist it would have taken to get the engine out, nor the tools to repair it.

Nor did we have the technical knowledge to fix it, but that wouldn’t have stopped us. Ed’s good with engines. In the late ’60s I rewired a 1951 Peugeot because it was either that or walk 25 miles to work. And our ace in the hole was Ed’s son Jim, a millwright at a GM plant whose mechanical brilliance astounds us on a regular basis. But I had a job and this would be more than a weekend’s project. We needed a working tractor and we couldn’t wait a year to get the Pony back in shape.

We figured the cost of having it hauled out, fixed, and hauled home would be more than it was worth. Ed ran the engine til the gasoline was gone and left it where it died, to rest in peace.  In the fullness of time it was replaced by a spiffy little tractor made in China, blue, not red, but able to do everything the Pony had done.

For a while this past year we thought of selling our place and buying a house all on one floor, on a bit less land, something easier for a couple whose ages total 161 years to manage. I started thinking about the Pony again. In my fantasy, people would come to look at our place, walk up the barn road, glance off 20 feet to the left and see the tractor, still resting in peace. “I’m not in the market for a junk yard,” they’d say, and be gone.  I started agitating to sell the Pony.

I also felt guilty about letting a machine rot that someone could fix and use, and I learned only a few days ago that Ed did, too.  We grew up in the days when people  didn’t let things go to waste, before the time of conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence.

There was a bit of doggerel when we were young that said, “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” We couldn’t do any of these things with the Pony, but we could find someone to fix it up.

There’s an engine show in a field about 20 minutes’ drive from here on Memorial Day weekend. The newspaper ad for the show featured antique tractors. If people who restore tractors are going to be there, I thought, we should be, too. Ed photocopied the front page of the Pony’s shop manual.  I wrote at the top of it “For Sale/Restoration” and Ed’s contact information.  We made 20 copies and drove on over on Saturday.

I spend about half my life pretending not to be shy. Ed’s not as good a pretender as I am. This marriage has worked for 35 years because we each do what we do best (among other things), so I was the one who walked up to totally strange men who looked like they might restore tractors, Ed about 18 inches behind me, and chat them up.

Disclosure time: In a former life I sold display advertising (as opposed to classified ads) for a chain of community newspapers. Actually, I never sold anything. I just walked into little shops, introduced myself, showed a copy of the paper opened to some ads, and said if the shop owner wasn’t satisfied with the number of people coming through the door, I could probably help. This approach worked so well that eventually I asked the publisher to put me on commission.  He refused, saying I’d earn too much money. Maybe he did me a favor, although I was beyond ticked off at the time. If my take-home pay had depended on making sales, I might not have been so laid back. Anxiety is a powerful enemy.

So at the engine show I’d ask people hanging out near antique tractors if they restored them. If they said no, depending on my instinct I’d either tell them we had this Pony for sale, say maybe they knew someone who might be interested, and offer them a flyer; or I’d say Well, I hope you enjoy the show, and head off to the next tractor with a person near it.

If they said yes, I’d tell them about the Pony, offer a flyer, point out the contact information on it, and say if they were interested they could call or drop Ed an email. Sometimes I’d say “Massey-Harris Pony” and see the man’s eyes widen. He’d ask a question, Ed or I would answer it. If someone asked what we wanted for it, I’d say, “If you want to take a look at it and tell us what it’s worth to you, we probably won’t turn you down.  We want it to go to someone who will fix it up and use it.”

Probably not the best way to get the most money for it, but that wasn’t what it was about. We’re people of modest means, and that’s fine with us. A couple of hundred dollars one way or the other isn’t going to make us rich, or poor. I told the truth. No artifice, no anxiety.

I gave the fifteenth and last flyer I handed out to Ray, one of the men whose eyes widened. He was talking to Jack when I walked up. The next day, at our house when the two of them came to look at the Pony and Ray bought it, Jack wanted to know how I knew which of them actually restored tractors.  Which of them would you have approached first?

Ray (left) and Jack with the Pony in between

Ray (left) and Jack with the Pony in between

Ray said he was from Vermont and he didn’t want to make a special trip, so he might come and look at the Pony on Sunday. He said he’d call if he was coming. I told him we’d be home all day, but he should call from the show because he was going to lose his cell phone signal before too long after he left there. At Ray’s request, I wrote directions to our house.

Sunday morning I skipped my regular meeting for worship so Ed and I together could haul the Pony the 20 feet from where it was to the barn road, where it could be walked around and inspected. We figured if Ray didn’t call, someone else would, and it would be in a better place to show anyway.

It took us four hours of walking around, cutting brush, figuring things out, and Ed using the Chinese tractor to pull the Pony. We had the whole day.  Ray wasn’t going to be done at the show before 3 or 4 anyway. The mosquitoes were so thick that you didn’t dare breathe and talk at the same time, but it was fun in its own way (or in our own weird way of thinking things are fun). Younger people could have done it it half the time, but they also could have broken off a front wheel or two.

Ray and Jack showed up a couple of hours after we were done. They looked it over, asked a few questions, Ray asked Ed to name a price.  He did. Ray said the best he could do was $100 less. Ed took him up to the barn to show him some stuff we’d give him along with the tractor. Jack and I stayed by the tractor, talking about living in the country and all kinds of things.

Ed knew I wouldn’t second guess him, whatever he did. We both believed Ray said honestly what it was worth to him, and we’d meant what we told him the day before, so the deal was done.

Ray was driving a pickup with a trailer that had slide-out ramps. He came equipped with a boat winch. You could tell he knew exactly what he was doing, that he’d done it all before. And Jack told us that Ray is the kind of guy who uses what he restores, and a year from now he’ll send us a picture of the restored Pony. That made Ed and me feel really good. Ray’s happy, Ed and I are happy, and the Pony will be happy to the extent that inanimate objects can be happy. (Things get lost and come back so often around here that I say there are no inanimate objects, only things that hold still when people are around.)

Ed left it to Ray to haul the Pony down the barn road to the driveway in back of the house, where he had the pickup in position. In doing so, he also hauled about half a ton of fallen leaves (I’m exaggerating here) that were on the road, leaving a fair-sized pile at the bottom of the road. He said if I’d give him a rake, he’d rake up the pile. I started heading up the hill to the greenhouse and Ray got it immediately that I was just about totally wiped out (he probably just thought it was because I’m old and overweight, but if you’ve read I Am a Bar Code, you know where I’ve been.)

“Just show me where it is and I’ll get it,” Ray said. I pointed to the greenhouse;  the door was open and you could see from where we were the tools with long handles standing at the end of the work bench. He raked the leaves like it was no trouble at all. To me, it was an act of great kindness.

What a sweet experience this has been. Sometimes life is so good I can hardly believe it.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Selling Our Pony”

  1. One of the best stories I have ever read. Have you thought about an anthology of your best Tiny Town tales as a book? I would buy that in a NY minute. I think many people would.

Leave a Reply