We’ve got an old circa 1980 786 International tractor that, for all its faults, is, for better or worse, the do-it-all workhorse of the place. It’s not necessarily the do-it-all piece of equipment because it has the capabilities to do it all, but instead, the tractor, not entirely unlike the guy who often inhabits the seat, is pretty much the only option we have on the place. I’m not sure of the horsepower – I’m guessing around 80 – but it’s often called upon to do tasks for which it isn’t really well suited. And, if it’s related to anything that should remotely resemble modern efficient farming techniques, the old red tractor is, again, very much like the guy who is probably aboard the cracked, black vinyl seat – which is to say, neither the tractor nor I are very good at farming.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

I don’t mention all of this because I have any disdain for those who may have a high aptitude for farming or because I’m necessarily a primo, top-hand cowboy. It’s just the way it is. It’s partly by choice, partly by fate and partly by necessity.

You see, I’m fortunate enough to be scratching out a living in the cow business in the deserts and mountains of south-central Idaho, where I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing farmers and farm country in the world (in my humble opinion). I’ve found that my time and efforts are much better spent working on things I understand and, for the most part, enjoy. Hiring my neighbors to do what they are infinitely better suited to do seems to make more sense than my stumbling about like a fool for half the year. It also spares them the potentially embarrassing pity they’d be forced to offer me if they had to watch me try to be a farmer.

A majority of the hours I put on the old red tractor are spent loading big square bales of hay onto my old flatbed truck to feed cows. It’s usually a simple procedure, depending on the depth of the snow or the greasiness of the mud in the stackyard on any given day during the winter and early spring months.

Just as I’m not much of a farmer, I’m not much of a mechanic. I’m set up with neither a good, heated shop or a cache of good tools. Still, necessity sometimes dictates that I break out a wrench or two on occasion. Last winter, along about the middle of January, I noticed the old tractor was losing power whenever I’d get the engine around 2500 rpm. This made it somewhat of a problem to finish even the simplest of tractor tasks, like loading hay.


Although, as we’ve already established, I’m not a mechanic, I figured the problem was a fuel problem. But, not wanting to be without a tractor altogether and dreading the thought of any sort of mechanic work in the frigid conditions of an Idaho winter, I limped along with my underperforming tractor until well into the spring. Finally, it came to the point where I had to do something. We pulled the old red beast behind the shop where I spent an hour or two changing fuel filters and blowing out fuel lines. The farmer part of my heart filled with joy as I listened to the old diesel engine roar.

Besides a flat tire and a blown-out hydraulic hose, I got through the spring and early summer without many tractor problems, but somewhere around the last part of June, the same old symptoms reappeared. So, it was back to the shop we went. I figured we’d better take a deeper dive, but not too deep, considering my mechanical savviness. This time I figured we’d better drain the fuel tank and take a good look at the entire fuel line from tank to injectors.

It was really a pretty simple job, and it didn’t take all that long. Other than a minor diesel shower when I took the line off of the tank, things went pretty well. Mike Rowe and Tim “the tool man” Taylor would have been proud. With my keen eye and sharp intellect, it took me only a few seconds to ascertain the cause of the problem. A fly was stuck in the line where it connected to the fuel tank. It took me only a second or two to remove the offending insect and another twenty or so minutes to put it all back together and Red Bessie was roaring like an old she-lion.

No doubt, there are several lessons to be learned here, and hopefully I took notes. First of all, my old friend Procrastination again served me about as well as he always does, which is not very well. I don’t think I care to calculate the lost minutes and hours and portion of my allotted cuss words that were spent on a problem that was relatively easy to remedy, despite my distaste for wrenches and skinned knuckles. Secondly, I decided it’s foolish to fear what we don’t know or understand just because we’re afraid of the requisite work to figure it out or study what we may not instantly comprehend. I’m no great philosopher any more than I’m a great farmer, mechanic or even cowboy, but I’m pretty sure this same principle could be applied to most human relationships, whether it be between spouses, parents, children, neighbors or even nations.

So, if you’re reading this, I admonish you to start working on that, however it best suits you. As for me, I’m going to town to find a fuel tank cap to replace the old T-shirt I have stuffed in my old red tractor’s fuel tank.