Hitching Farm Implements To An Older Tractor


From GENE LOGSDON

I know it’s different in advanced agriculture today where tractors and the implements they pull are the size of aircraft carriers. But on farms like mine, which make only limited use of three-point hitch systems, attaching a tractor to a plow, disk, rake, baler, wagon or star has not changed much since the “old fashioned” days. (I heard e-mail referred to recently as “old fashioned.”)  You back the tractor up to the implement’s tongue, get off the tractor while it idles, lift the tongue up to the drawbar and drop the pin through the holes in the tongue and the one in the drawbar.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it. It was fairly easy back when family farms really were family farms. Dad, on the tractor, could always bellow, and some poor child (me) would come running to do the actual hitching. As Dad, always in a hurry, roared in reverse back in the general direction of the wagon to be hitched up, poor child held the tongue up with one hand, prepared to move it to one side or the other to keep it lined up with the oncoming tractor draw bar. At the proper moment poor child dropped the hitch pin in place with the hand not holding up the wagon tongue, praying to God that Dad would stop the tractor at more or less the right time and that his foot would not slip off the clutch. The process often involved more shouts of “whoa!”, “back!” “up!” than it took to hitch horses to an implement.

When agriculture entered its FFA phase—Fathers Farming Alone— a whole new art had to arise to take the place of poor child. As all of you know who have spent the better part of your working life hitching and unhitching stuff, when you are alone you must bring the tractor to a dead stop at the exact right place, get off, and because you never are in the exact right place, pull the implement forward or the tractor backward the inch or so necessary with brute, hernia-causing strength. No tractor yet made, even on perfectly level ground, will stay put exactly where you stop it for hitching. When you push in on the clutch and put the gear shift in neutral, the tractor will ease an inch forward or an inch backward by the time you climb off and attempt to attach the tongue to the drawbar. So you outfox the bitch by stopping just a bit beyond the drawbar hole or not quite to it, depending upon whether your tractor likes to ease forward or backward. But that rarely works because the bitch senses that you are trying to outwit her and chooses to sit exactly where you stop her for the first time in 20 years.

So to hitch up, you stop the tractor in what you figure is the exact right place, keep the tractor in gear, and turn off the motor. Be sure to let the motor come to a complete dead, silent stop because if there is just one more turn of the crankshaft when you let out on the clutch, the cussed tractor will lurch one inch away from match up with the implement tongue before it totally dies. Then you have to start the motor and do it all again.

My cousin who had no poor child to help him hitch up and who farmed alone most of his life, attached a four foot length of baling wire to the heads of his hitch pins. The wires allowed him from the tractor seat to dangle the pins gingerly down through the drawbar and tongue holes when they were lined up correctly. Of course he also had to have the implement tongue raised up off the ground on a bucket or block or jack at just the right height. He solved that problem by using a steel rod bent into a hook on one end to reach down from the tractor seat and lift the tongue up so he could back the drawbar into it. This whole hitching up maneuver required the same kind of finesse you need to play The Warsaw Concerto on a violin while eating a bowl of soup. He would clamp his knees against either side of the steering wheel to guide the tractor, keep one foot on the clutch and the other on the brake, use one hand to lower the hitch pin on the wire, the other to lift the implement tongue with his steel rod. If you don’t think farming is an art, try this.

I have another ploy that usually works. I leave the implement sit on a gentle slope when I unhitch. When I hitch up again, I back the tractor a few inches too far past the tongue holes and turn off the motor with the tractor in gear. On the ground, I raise up the implement tongue with one hand, lean forward and press in on the clutch with my other hand. The tractor coasts forward (sometimes) and I can let out on the clutch to stop it at just the right place. As the old saying goes: “if you don’t use your head you have to use your hands and feet.”  When hitching up alone, you have to use everything you’ve got. Once I placed a pin in the drawbar with my teeth, the only part of me not already involved in the effort.
~~

24 Comments

Now, if you had a really old tractor that didn’t have electric start, you’d have to learn how to lock the brakes, which also rarely worked, and when they did one pedal worked better then the other, then get off the tractor (with it running)and hitch up the implement. To stall or shut off the tracor often meant lots of cranking (remember how the magnetos would go click, click, click as you cranked….).

In my younger days, dad would just hand someone (me) the crank. Today, I’ve solved the problem. I park the tractor at the top of the hill. If it doesn’t start on the roll. I tow it back up when the wife gets home.

I didn’t put it in the post, but I almost lost a finger to the hitching game. A clever doctor sewed it back on. Thanks for all your responses. Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a more prolonged and painful chuckle. Gene

My Massey 65 is exactly the same as Gene’s tractor – it has its own center that is an inch one way or the other off of the hole in the drawbar. I have set the brake, gotten off, missed it by an inch, gotten back on, missed it by an inch four and five times, before I got so red that I was shoving the tractor by the wheel trying to get the pin in. It worked once, but every other time I try it, I end up throwing my back out! But I’m not smart enough to realize that one out of 100 times aren’t really good odds! I’ve snapped tendons in my fingers, kicked tongues until my feet hurt, used 4 x 4’s for leverage (to no avail), and generally cussed a lot lifting up tongues or hooking up 3 points (especially the stupid plow which apparently weighs more than the entire Appalachian mountain chain!) Some things just weren’t meant to be done singuarly, I guess. Either way, I laugh at Gene’s description of the entire process as it is so familiar to me!

I remember listening to an old farmer telling about his first tractor experiences: he came up to a wooden gate in a fence and pulled back on the steering wheel. Damn thing didn’t stop, no matter how much he shouted “Whoa!”. He learned what a clutch was, though. Built a new gate, too.

You just don’t see modern farmers missing appendages anymore. When I was in grade and high school, it wasn’t uncommon to have a classmate missing fingers or an arm (gathering chains on corn picker were notorious, wagon tongues were hard on fingers, and PTO shafts were just deadly). Working plowed ground the first time with a tractor with narrow front wheels and no power steering (like a Massey Harris 44) taught the value of a firm grip, and the pain of a broken arm or busted knuckles.

I’m happy I survived, but I don’t miss the good old days. On the up side, they made us smarter, and tougher, and taught the ability to get rid of pain and frustration and anger by packaging them up into a few swear words. That should have been in the owner’s manual.

The worst is having to hook loaded hay wagons together by myself. Backing wagons is tough enough but then your vision is completely blocked of the back wagon and the on/off nature of checking your position and crawling under the wagon to check tongue positioning could be an olympic endurance event. Occasionally it goes relatively smoothly. Usually I end up with higher blood pressure and lower reserves of good will toward the universe.

One thing I have noticed since reentering farming on a small scale and acquiring old 1940’s and 50’s machinery to use is the balance built into it. My old AC 66 combine and Oliver 5 picker do not have much more than around 50 lbs of down pressure on the tongue. I have actually moved them around by hand in the barn by myself. The priorities of engineering were a little different back then.

I liked the aside about hitching your tractor to a star.

Gene,

Thank you so much. Your practical posts are wonderful but the posts that bring back memories are priceless. I agree that my education in swearing were during these times. I also remember that I loved when my city cousins would come to the farm and be more than willing to help – I was also more than willing to “give up” these kind of jobs for the day. Again thank you Gene you are truly an inspiration!

I don’t have a tractor and would like to start a 1/4 to 1/2 acre corn and/or sorghum patch, maybe rotate oats and wheat or whatever. I’m thinking livestock food. I do have a tiller but am looking for the easiest way to bust sod! I’m thinking of spreading a layer of horse manure and straw, covering it with black plastic (god-awful stuff but I have some in storage) to kill the sod and then tilling it in the fall for planting next year. Does this sound like it would work? Any other ideas? I am an “older” but somewhat fit woman who will be doing this alone–I need to apply the laws of physics and some forethought to compensate for strength! Gene’s lone hitching efforts rang a bell here. If Gene or any of this groupies has any input, please reply to taylor_betty@hotmail.com.

When I was the poor child my Daddy said to me, “Boy, if you don’t use your head, you’ll need to use your feet, fast.”

This brought back a lot of childhood memories. I’m sure my brother and I built up some muscle picking up the manure spreader tongue to hook it to the Farmall H. When dad got the fancy new hay conditioner, it took both of us to raise that up if the jackstand fell. The little Ford tractor we got when I was about 10 was the first 3-point hitch we had and it was easy because you could raise and lower the side arms with a screw mechanism. Loved that tractor because it was small enough to easily get on and off of, unlike the H, and for a little kid, that meant a lot.
In thinking about that Farmall H, it had a nasty habit of jumping out of gear occasionally. One time sticks forever in my memory. Ma was driving it hauling a hay wagon while we picked up bales from a particularly steep field, too steep to load the wagon behind the baler. Heading down the hill, the H decided it was time to coast and Ma and my younger brother and sister took one whale of a ride but came to rest in the gully unscathed. The look on their faces, though terrifying at the time, now makes me chuckle – kind of like an old-time cartoon. Oh what fun in the days before OSHA, safety requlations, and ‘quality’ engineering.

This is all very familiar. One idea I have not seen mentioned is having a tractor with a front end loader. Thats what saves me on my old Massey Super 90 with no locking brakes. I back up to what looks like the right position to hook up the implement, lower the front end loader so the edge of the bucket is vertical on the ground. This holds the tractor from moving. I can stand with the hitch pin in one hand and the other on the hydraulic lever. By pushing the hydraulic lever the bucket will move the tractor forwards or back, whichever is required .
I wouldn’t advise working a hand clutch from the ground though.

This post conjured up scary memories for me… Got my hand pinched in one of those telescoping tongues on a chopper box as a kid, and nearly ran over a cousin when I popped the clutch too far while backing the tractor up. I also remember getting relieved of tractor driving privileges during corn harvest when it took me a half hour to hitch up the gravity box full of corn by myself.

I have a 3 point sickel mower that is horrible to hook up and it has managed to maim me a time or two!There is not a person on this planet that could put that thing on without curse words. I recently missed out on a carted mower .. Seems like it would be so much simpler, hook the cart and the pto and the hydraulics…..mow!

Gene,
This article really hits close to home. Us part timers usually don’t have the luxury of help for hitching up (or good brakes with locks, decent jacks, etc, etc.). My Father was a horse man and never really got used to driving tractors. It was always my job to “hitch up” and it usually wasn’t harmonious as he could not seem to ever back up in line with the implement pole. This was acceptable until we purchased an 830 Case with Case-o-matic transmission, somewhat similar to an automatic transmission on a car. He was backing up to the New Idea corn picker and got confused and kept his foot on the gas pedal instead of braking. He almost crushed me and that was the last time he ever drove that tractor.

The technique that my family currently uses, when possible, is the family member who holds the tongue of the equipment. Another technique, where available, is the use of an extensible tongue (on the hay wagons) which telescopes as necessary. That allows the FFA technique without undue aggravation.

When we use the FFA technique, we try not to do so on any of the really heavy equipment, and shift the equipment to line up the holes, rather than the tractor (although I’ve done both).

One thing that you haven’t mentioned about the FFA technique is the risk of catching your finger between the tongue and the drawbar. I did that _once_ with a crimper, many years ago. Not an experience that I would recommend, even those who want to get the “real farming experience”.

Your drawing reminds me of a little trick it took me far to long to learn.

I mounted a ball on one side of the drawbar. (Don’t put it in the centre!) That way, I could hook up all manner of ball-hitch things like road trailers that don’t use a pin.

The only problem was that if you put any sort of load on it at all, the drawbar would rotate in the three-point, causing the trailer to pop off the ball, or worse, to damage the mechanism inside the ball hitch.

Finally, one day, while the top link was dangling there useless, it hit me: stick the pin for the top link into a convenient hole on the end of the drawbar opposite the ball hitch, and Bob’s You Uncle — no more rotation!

(Of course, if you accidentally try to raise the three-point, you’ve ruined your top link, or at least the pin…)

I think that my propensity towards the use of profanity started at a tender age helping Dad hook the manure spreader onto the Massey-Harris Pony with the pinched fingers that accompanied that chore. Now I have an excuse for turning the air blue around the 8N many decades later.

Once at about age 12 I was sent to hook the old MM U to the disk by my self. After a lot of frustration trying to align the holes, brakes didn’t work of course, I shut the tractor off in just the right spot. It wouldn’t start of course and Grandpa had to get another tractor to pull start it. I really got chewed out for that. “never shut the @#$% tractor off”. Next day it was time to unhitch the disk. I forgot the hydraulic hoses and drove off and pulled at least one in two. Grandpa said not a word. I was confused but it was quick release on the tractor didn’t release and maybe he’d done the same thing a time or two.

At one time I have 17 John Deere A’s and B’s [plus a 60], all with hand clutches.My scheme was to hitch implements, one each apiece, all around, but only got one each A, B and 60 running. The rest just hung around rusty and watched.
My fantasy was to run a toggled rope down through the the implement eye, then over to the drawbar eye, through a snatchblock and then throw a single loop around the belt pulley . I thoguht about it a lot but then decided just to have three kids.
Now my acreage is just windowsills.

Funny post – that’s exactly what I’ve been up to these weeks. Accompanied with lots of grumbling and swearing. I’m getting better though. If nothing, it’s a lesson in patience.

This brings up some good and some very scary childhood memories. My dad’s uncle has an old Ford (recently restored–it’s beautiful) that we would borrow for disking and mowing. I was the lucky boy hitching and unhitching. My place of honor standing on the rear axles as we zoomed down the country road, nearly strangling my father with my grip. It should be no surprise to dad that I don’t use a tractor for our garden. 20×100 we dig and turn by hand, swapping the shovel back and forth, and we can actually hold a conversation. Feel like I’ve accomplished something besides burning up fuel, and am more proud than I was after graduating college. I get the same feeling after shoveling a few hundred pounds of manure, knowing that this task is what college prepared me for the most. I’m quite the shit-shoveling expert, but not as proficient as my bosses.
Tractor craft is the one thing that scares me most about venturing out to farm on my own. Perhaps I’ll take up draft animals.
Nice post, Gene!

And actually using 3 point equipment at least doubles the trouble by adding pitch, yaw, and roll to the problem.

I mostly use small 3pt stuff, and every time I just have to hitch a trailer or wagon to the draw bar or hitch it is a tremendous relief. It still helps to have a spare kid handy, but with the 3pt stuff you need a couple of spare grown men.

I keep hoping I’m either going to find some clever way to do this with technique and oddments, or invent some patent solution which will make me rich.

I know i’m going to sound like a sick-in-the-mud, but I have to attend safety seminars every year as an OR-OSHA requirement, and since the presenter is a fellow old tractor collector I can’t go to sleep and I have to listen…
You all know how incredibly dangerous some of these things are. My grandpa was hooking the old MM U to something in the shed. He bumped the handclutch to back up the tractor and the tractor climbed his leg. He kept yelling whoa but the tractor couldn’t hear as well as Blackie and Pete…

I feel your pain!
After farming with small tractors for years we upgraded to a 150hp FWA tractor. I told the salesman I wouldn’t buy it unless they would throw in a quick hitch! Since we do a lot of no-till, I’ve only used it a couple times but it is amazing. It allows you to back up to an implement, drop the 3-point, back up just a little to get under it, and then you raise the 3-point. It locks itself on the implement without you getting on and of 15 times to put the pins in.
In your examples of dangerous ways to connect to an implement your forgot to mention wrapping a log chain around the three point arms and running it under the tongue of the offending baler or disk or roller that weighs 2,000lbs and someone forgot to block up when they unhitched. If you are clever you can lift the tongue with the three point and it will pull the tongue up to the hitch and you can just drop the pin in. If not, then it is another hour of pain and suffering!

I use old two-cylinder John Deeres for most of the work on our 120 acre farm so in order to hitch up most equipment I just get close then, standing behind the tractor, reach through to the hand clutch to back up the tractor the last few inches so I can drop the pin in. Works like a charm, as long as the clutch is adjusted right.

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