Nothing New About Robot Tractors



With all the talk about robotic farming and robotic everything else, I like to tell how one of my many uncles, on my mother’s (Rall) side of the family, invented a self-driving tractor back in the 1940s. Uncle Lawrence was plowing with his tractor, a Ford 8N, I think, that had a wide front end. He noticed that with one front wheel and one back wheel in the furrow, the plow sort of held the tractor against the side of the furrow and he did not have to do much guiding except to turn around when he came to the end of the field. He thought about how nice it would be to have a field with no ends. Well, riddle me a riddle, how could you manage that? With a round field, of course. Those were the days well before western plains farmers resorted to circle irrigators and planting rigs but since the field where my uncle was plowing was quite a large, fenceless area for those times, he decided to see what would happen. He struck a circle with the plow in the center of the field and round and round he went. Moving along that way, the plow held the tractor in the furrow even more firmly. Finally, Uncle worked up enough nerve to get off the tractor completely, stand by his pickup in case something went awry, and whoop with laughter. Though but a child, I remember that awesome sight of a Ford tractor doing what Mr. Ford never intended it to do. Plowing this way, of course, resulted in quite a mess. The outer corners of the field and the center had to be plowed or disked separately.

Grandfather Rall was still in charge if I remember correctly and he put an end to robot farming for the time being.

After I told that story in my local newspaper column, another uncle, Maury, on my father’s side of the family, called to tell me how Grandfather Logsdon invented a robotic lawnmower. Their home farm had a large, grassed barnyard and Grandpaw was tired of mowing it conventionally. So he stuck of post in the center of the yard, tied a rope to it and the other end to his motorized lawn mower out at the edge of the grass. Sure enough the mower went round and round as the rope wound around the post, doing a fairly creditable job of mowing while Grandfather sat in the shade and cackled in glee.

He also apparently made history with another feat of robotic tractoring that Uncle Maury swears he observed with his own eyes. The field north of the barn was a fairly long one and it seemed to take forever to make a round with their old lumbering wide front end tractor. Maury can’t remember if it were their early Fordson or Wallace but Grandpaw had noticed that it would stay in the furrow too when plowing. He figured out that he could let the slow-moving tractor and plow crawl along on its own while he drove the horses pulling a disk over the plowed surface nearby. The horses made it to the end of the field before the tractor, so he merely had to stop them, dash over and board the tractor as it drew near the end of the furrow, turn it around and let it go back across the field while he dashed back to the horses, disked his way across the field, stopped again to turn the tractor around and so forth.

None of this should surprise us. After all, the first robotic car was in use many long years ago and was especially handy if you fell asleep on your way home from carousing too long in town. It was called the horse and buggy.

P.S. My publisher wants me to ask you, if anyone is so disposed, to post something nice about my new book, Gene Everlasting, on Amazon as you have so graciously done on this website. I think it would be too self-promoting for me to buttonhole any of you personally this way, so I’ll just say, in a general sort of way, that if you are moved to do that, we’d be most grateful.


Constant Gardener March 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Mr. Logsdon: I responded to an Amazon e-mail request to review your book. Stupidly, I didn’t go to Amazon and read the earlier reviews. A couple days after I wrote my review I, on a lark, when I should have been working, visited the page selling your book. It turned out that I expressed some (too many) of the same notes literary critics had hit. My review stood out only for its amateurish flails.

I think the saying is that pros steal, and amateurs borrow. I didn’t do either (see earlier notation; stupidity). I don’t know what that makes me and I don’t want to think about that too hard. I feel a bit lousy after you responded to my post and, without a doubt, made my month. I’ve never had a literary hero write me a note before. I dined out on you for a week. I’ll mosey back to Amazon this week see if I can hack out a fresh take.

I hope you sell a million books.

Gene, I’m happy and honored to leave a review on Amazon for you. The world will be a much better place if we can get more folks to read your work.

I was more than happy to write a review for your book on the Amazon site!

Well, Gene, what kind of robotic tractor should I buy to harvest my new crop of guitars? Yes, guitars. Tennessee is on the brink of changing our Right to Farm Act to specify that ‘entertainment’ is an crop just as long as it is secondary to any other crops we may plant. Thankfully, the loud music roaring all night can not be determined to be a nuisance because of the RTF act. Even the zoning laws within city limits won’t apply so I expect to see many small yet urban farmers joining the band.
And as far as fertilizer for guitars goes, I don’t recall anything in Holy Shit that fits the bill on this one but I am looking hard at the rear end of the politicos in Nashville.

I have not read your book, Gene, but I may after having read Mrs Imchap’s comments above. My point here is one of congratulations for writing a book that “stings a little.” Shakespeare wrote that “Home keeping youth have ever homely wits.” You appear to have a good many “home keeping” fans. If you are writing something that is stinging the homely wits, well go go Gene. Delusion does seem to rule in the heartland. Good to learn you’re after it.

    Life of the hand:
    My point is simply that Gene’s tone wasn’t what one would expect from a writer such as Gene Logsdon. As I myself mentioned, I welcome Gene’s continuous challenging of my beliefs, as I he does in this book. I have no issues with Gene challenging my own faith or politics, I welcome it. Putting aside your snarky remark, if I convince one more person to read a Gene Logsdon book, I have succeeded.

Your story reminds me of stories I’d here about about the local farmers. Legend has it that Frank VanDyke (singer Leroy VanDyke’s father) would plow with two tractors at once. First he’d get the furrows started, then turn both around at one end of the field, and finally run across the field to do it again on the other side.

Good to hear it’s not just the locals who think outside the box!

Gene, I enjoyed your meditations in “Gene Everlasting” another wonderful read -Thank You for your work. My Mother is undergoing chemotherapy these days so I sent your latest book to her- she said she read it in two sittings and started reading it again more slowly just to make sure she didn’t miss anything. Your book has helped her with her attitude- I Thank You for that too.

Gene, a word about your book:

I am a big fan of yours, and I’ve read most of your books by now. Your wisdom and practical tips always teach me new things that I would otherwise have no opportunity to learn. I especially enjoyed this book, as this year, along with the birth of my first child, I’ve been spending much more time contemplating my own mortality. Your thoughts on the matter were most welcome, especially since I wish that your perspective on life could be followed by more of society. It is a courageous book, and I am very happy that you survived your illness and are able to discuss it so openly.
Being such an avid reader of your books, I’ve encountered your perspectives on religion and politics before, and you’ve always been “the contrary farmer” in these areas as well. I respect your opinions, and have enjoyed hearing your valid points on these matters. Both religion and politics are fraught with human error, greed, and ill-meaning. In this book, I must admit that I was taken aback by your words on these matters. It seemed to me that you were quite harsh in this book about both issues, and it did sting a little. You seem to have done away with dialogue, and just decided matter-of-factly that religion is delusional and led by evil, greedy men, and republicans are also evil, greedy men and both are ridiculously, hopelessly wrong. While you may be right, I feel that your tone was a bit too much. I love your work, and I continue to look up to you and respect you.

That was always the best thing about feeding with a team instead of a tractor. The horses would just handle the transportation on their own while we shoved the bales off for the cows. Not to mention that they fertilized the field, too.


Thank you for the post…We humans are always thinking of an easier way to do things…Thankfully. My grandmother never tied a lawnmower to a post but she sure did tie us kids up to a tree so we did not drown while fishing…

I just purchased three of your books, one being “Gene Everlasting”. I will be more than happy to share the experience when I get the book and read it.

FYI, being the tight a.. I am, I usually wait till I can get your books at the library. I just could not wait and so I ordered them and paid full price to boot!! Maybe you have mentioned this before but I would love to see your book signing schedule, especially if it includes a stop in southern Indiana or Louisville Ky.

    Ken, reminds me of one of my cousins who, years ago, tied his grade schooler to the tractor so he wouldn’f fall off. The child knew how to drive very well so dad was using him to do field work. No child labor laws back then, I guess. I don’t get much beyond Ohio for book signings anymore, the Buckeye Book fair at Wooster in Nov and the OEFFA conference in Granville in Feb. Some people send me a book to sign in the mail, in a return, stamped envelope and I gladly sign the book and send it back. Cost you extra money and since I am a tight a… too, I doubt you would want to do that but you are certainly welcome to. Ted. I know a case very similar to your two tractor story. To all the rest of you who write reviews and comments. You are all really good people and I am so honored. Bless you all. Gene

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