Finding Tractor Mac (s)

When I visit fairs, schools, and tractor shows to sign and sell my books or to do drawing presentations, I am often accompanied by a ‘real’ Tractor Mac.  I am often asked the question, “which came first, the tractor or the book?” Or, “is this the tractor that inspired the books?” Although I did grow up on a small farm, my dad used a Kubota tractor (and later, a 1950 Massey Harris for brush cutting).  The farm that I occasionally worked at used an Oliver and a Ford tractor, among others. I have always had an admiration for the design and dependability of the big International Harvester tractors of the forties and fifties, so when I designed the character ‘Tractor Mac’ for my books, I based him roughly on a Farmall ‘M’ series tractor.  I chose the name ‘Mac’ because it began with ‘M’ and the fact that Cyrus McCormick was one of the early Tractor developers that became IH.

Sometime after my first Tractor Mac book was published I was away at training, (I am also a commercial airline pilot).  My brother called my wife from a flea market, of all places, and said, “I think I found Tractor Mac!” He had come upon a forlorn looking, one-eyed, rusty, beat up tractor for sale and saw potential for what it could become.  My wife Julie took the drive over to the flea market, met my brother, negotiated a reasonable price, and purchased it. What she bought was a 1948 Farmall Cub, (the smallest in the Farmall series of tractors, but a perfect size for hauling to fairs and shows.). It came with attachments; a single bottom plow, a grader blade and a sickle-bar mower.  Julie and my brother Chris loaded all their finds onto his trailer and hid it in my garage. This was my Father’s Day surprise, as my kids gleefully exclaimed, when I returned from my trip.

It was a fun experience to bring this old tractor to life.  It had mismatched tires, crumbling wires, and a bad fuel tank, an incorrect carburetor and fifty years of grime, plus rust and plenty of abuse to fix.  With help from our friends ‘Dr. Lou ‘ and his son Steve, we got it running beautifully. After a new coat of paint I made eyes for the headlight mounts and carved a mouth of high density sign foam and mounted it through the crank start hole beneath the radiator. The little Cub became a huge hit wherever it went.  For distant shows generous tractor owners would loan me their Cub tractors and I would install the mouth and eyes from my tractor to stand in for Tractor Mac.

The only outstanding difference between the little Cub and the much larger ‘M’ is that a Cub has a wide front end and the character in my book has a narrow tricycle gear front end. (This allowed farmers to make a much tighter 180 degree turn, pivoting on the rear tire.) Many sharp-eyed children have pointed this out to me over time. Thus started our quest to find the smallest of the Farmall tricycle gear tractors, the Farmall BN.

After several years of searching tractor shows and auctions without any luck of finding a proper tractor in our price point, I got a call from my friend Ed who had been on the lookout for what we needed.  “I think I found Tractor Mac,” he said. After seeing his photos I drove to eastern Massachusetts to see Ed’s neighbor Don, and his tractor. What Ed had found was a magnificently restored 1947 Farmall BN, a real museum piece and in our price range.  Julie and I brought the trailer out the next week.  Ed had made a step for kids to climb up on the tractor and had moved the headlights up on the cowling to act as eyes.  I carved a new mouth for the smiling tractor and he has served me well as Tractor Mac ever since, posing for countless photos over the years at fairs, schools and events.

The little Cub now has a new life as Tractor Mac’s friend, Daisy, who first appears in the book “Tractor Mac: New Friend.”  It’s fun to bring them both out together at our local tractor parade and close-to-home shows and they both seem to like the attention, always smiling, always posing for photos.