Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day thoughts on an earnest young Producer

As folks can tell, my trip to Wisconsin to see Tony fired me up with some serious feelings of class.  Tony's book customers are damn amazing people.  He was set up at a gathering of folks who restore steam engines and old tractors.  This not an especially expensive hobby, but it requires resources—money, space, and time. It even requires a little courage—we are talking live steam and in some cases, 110-year-old boilers here.  But what makes Tony's customers so interesting is that even guys rich enough to have an old piece of equipment that mostly just makes noise and shakes the ground, they feel they must know their machinery themselves even if for many things, they just "call the guy" who fixes their broken technology.  And because they must care for their monsters, they become quite curious about the state of technology a century ago.  So they buy Tony's books on the history of the building of the steam age and if they find them, old operating and repair manuals.

Video I shot at the show in 2010.

By far my favorite story this year came from a young man (say 31) who bought a book on the John Deere tractors of the early 1960s.  Turns out he owned three—a 1010, a 3010, and a 4010.  And while these tractors are favorites of the restoration crowd, our young man actually farmed with his.  It makes sense—when the 4010 was new in 1960, it was the fanciest tractor you could buy.  I remember farm kids speaking in hushed tones about its ability to pull a 5-bottom plow.  They were ruggedly built and designed to be maintained mostly by the farmer himself.  And because the restorers love them, parts are available.  So because our young man is frugal and mechanically gifted, he is able to run a small dairy with only 20 cows and make it work economically.  He claimed that through Facebook, he was now in communication with a young farmer in Austria that only milked 10 cows.  He had some especially pithy remarks about the insanity of land prices and we shared a giggle about the economics of growing corn on $15,000 / acre land in Iowa.  And one of the keys to making his operation possible was that his tractors were paid off at least 45 years ago.  Guy had so much Producer Class virtue, it made my head swim.

My favorite comment of his came when postulated guys who buy the $half-million equipment were merely showing their preference for "new paint" because in his mind, the fancy new machinery was not all that more capable than his old reliable machines that were at least 20 years old when he was born.  Of course, it is fun to see a 4010 spiffed up to look like it did in showrooms during the Kennedy administration.

To give you some perspective of the time frame, we find this old footage of a 4010 shot with an 8mm camera back when they were new.

1 comment:

  1. I love old gear, but from a practical point of view I spend more time working on it than I spend using it. For people whose time actually is more valuable than the equipment they're using, it makes sense to buy new(er) equipment that's not so maintenance-hungry. I drive a 2012 Jeep Wrangler rather than a 1978 Jeep CJ-7, for example, because I just don't have *time* to spend on keeping the CJ-7 road-worthy, something's always breaking and needing welding back together or needing replacing on the old dears. They're easily field-repairable, unlike my new Wrangler, but my new Wrangler doesn't break, period, and has a 5 year 100,000 mile warranty on the powertrain (the expensive part of the beast). For the next four or five years all I'm going to have to do to maintain it is change the oil regularly and put gas in it. No replacing all the brake lines because of corrosion (for the hard lines) or rot (for the rubber lines). No time spent re-wiring it after it catches on fire because 40 year old wiring chaffed through finally. No need to re-bush the carburetor because it's leaking air around the throttle shaft and thus leaning out the mixture too much at idle, making it run terrible. No taking the heads to a machine shop to be rebuilt because it's started leaking oil through the valve guides due to them simply being worn out. It's all easy and simple to work on, unlike my 2012 Jeep, but it just takes *time* and time is in short supply for me (and my time is quite valuable -- my rates are over $75/hour).

    So in the end it's all about that tradeoff between time and money. If you have more time than money, or simply want to spend a lot of time on it as a hobby, the used gear is what you want to do. If you have more money than time...