It is hard to believe that it has been almost 29 years since my grandfather died. Fritz and I were buddies. He was that special adult in my life that had a significant influence on me, and has always held a special place in my heart. And, for as long as I can remember, he had one of these tractors out in the yard. I don’t remember him ever actually touching it, but for some reason it is firmly tied to my memory of him.
There weren’t many toys at my grandparent’s house. A couple of old toy tractors, mini bikes, riding lawn mowers, real tractors, and guns were the things we had to entertain ourselves. Oh, and of course the millions of things that you find on a farm in West Texas. But, for whatever reason I just loved that tractor sprinkler.
The engineering behind this is quite brilliant. Technically I think it is referred to as a walking sprinkler. The intended function is to move forward as it waters the lawn/garden. It is designed to follow the hose, with the front tire being designed to fit over the hose. The water hose is connected to the tractor and turned on. The water flows out through the swing arms and forces an inclined plane to rotate. That is interconnected with a gear that us turned by the rotation of the inclined plane. Attached to the gear are two arms, each extending to a swinging metal tooth. The tooth is designed such that as it moves forward in the rotation the tooth pushes another gear, which is the tractor’s tire causing it to turn and propel the tractor forward. As the tooth swings back, it freely flops over the teeth of the wheel gear and repeats the cycle again for the next rotation. You can create a path with the hose and it will follow that path until it bumps into something, dragging the hose behind it as it goes. I watched it do this for hours as a kid.
When Fritz died in the late summer of 1986, that tractor became a part of my memory of him, and I always wanted one ever since. They still manufacture versions of the tractor sprinkler, but they aren’t that old fashioned sturdy kind. They aren’t Fritz’s tractor. I had seen a few of the vintage ones over the years, but they were either too expensive or I just didn’t have the ability to get them at the time. But this spring I was at a construction material reclamation business looking for doors (that is another blog story for someday in the future), when I saw it.
This one was cast iron, just the way it should be. It was used, but not abused, and it still worked. I haven’t run any water through it yet, but the swing arms turn and all the mechanisms follow suit accordingly. And after all of these years, I finally have my tractor sprinkler.
I have given it a place in Brayden Garden. Brayden Garden is a memorial garden that I built after the death of my nephew. He was 5 years old and he died of the flu and meningitis within hours of first showing symptoms. It has become a place of grounding for me. I always find myself reflecting on the fragility of life when I am working that garden.
The artifacts in the garden are growing in number. The first thing that went in was a cherub statuette that was given to me after my neighbor heard the story. I watched her heart break right in front of my eyes when I told her about Brayden. The next day, she brought me the cherub while I was out working on the garden.
The next thing added to the garden was Brayden’s Tonka Truck. This truck was bought by my brother the day Brayden was born and it sat in the hospital room with a bouquet of flowers. The next time I saw that truck with a bunch of flowers in it was at his funeral. My brother James and his wife Melissa gave us the truck when they found out we had created the memorial garden and wanted some toy of his to go into the garden. Every year I plant flowers in it and it sits out in the garden.
Other things have been added to Brayden Garden over the few years it has been, but none with the significance of those two. Anyway, when I got this tractor, it was a bit of a memorial to Fritz, so it was obvious that it needed to be added to the garden.
Now I can guarantee you, that there is going to be a time when I put that tractor to work doing what it is supposed to do, but in the mean time it gets to sit there in Brayden Garden. And there, it will serve as one of those things that bring me back to another time and place, gives me access to memories that I otherwise might forget while at the same time helping me to stay grounded in the present.