Gate crashing in Manawatu

Last updated 14:30 18/12/2012

Patricia Reesby on the Ferguson at Rongotea

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Patricia Reesby on the tractor with her mother and aunt.

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As we get older, the places we knew as children often haunt our memories. For me, it's my mother's family farm in the Manawatu I find myself thinking about these days.

I think about the white goose, who comes running as I bend down and turn over a piece of rotting wood. I'm being brave, for woodlice give me the horrors.

I watch in disgust, mingled with affection, as he pecks them off and gulps them down. Tweety loves those slaters.

It's the August holidays, 1953, and I'm eleven. As usual, I'm on the Rongotea farm. I play with the goose and feed the new calves. They can drink from a bucket now, but their strong sucking drive is unsatisfied. When the bucket's empty they suck my fingers greedily, while their anxious mothers bellow from the nearby cowshed.

I help with milking, and soon get to know the cows first in to the shed, and how it's no use trying to push them in to a bail they don't want to go in to. They have their favourites, these old timers. And then there are the skittish heifers, still learning the routine. The older cows don't need a leg rope but if you don't tie one firmly on a heifer she could give you a nasty kick.

I wash down udders, fold over the vacuum cups the way I've been taught and attach them to the teats. The cow adjusts her position, relaxes, blinks a little, chews the cud. Another has finished so I remove the cups, undo the chain around her backside, open up the wooden hatch and give her a gentle shove. See you later Clem, Margaret, Snow, Vicky ... they all have names. Mary was my favourite but she died of mastitis.

The engine room's out of bounds and I don't understand how the cream gets separated from the skim milk destined for the pigs. But when all the cows have gone I turn on the high pressure hose and delight in my sudden power. Whoosh! Torrents of cold water stream on to the concrete, flushing dirt and mess in to the gutters. It's like some giant water pistol and soon the shed is clean again, water dripping everywhere.

I like helping to put the feed out too.

I can remember when Bonny pulled the dray. She was the big brown draught horse and when I was small they would put me up high on her warm, broad back. Bonny worked on the farm for years but on the day the first tractor arrived she was found dead in her paddock, as though she knew she was no longer needed.

I learned to drive the Ferguson last holidays and now I'm going to drive it again.

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My mother, aunt and uncle have gone ahead and I'm to follow with the tractor, towing the trailer loaded with bales of hay. It's too early for spring growth and hungry cows are waiting for us in the far paddocks.

All well and good. I steer carefully, away from the hay barn and down a rough and muddy track towards the closed five-bar gate. I'll get down and open it when I'm there.

But, we're going downhill and the tractor is speeding up. I'll have to put the brake on. but where is it?

I must know where the brake is - I drove the tractor last holidays! Surely I haven't forgotten.

I fumble around with my feet, searching for something, anything, which might be the brake. I must remember! I've used the brake before – where is it?

The tractor goes faster and faster. I have no idea what to do.

In despair, I do the only thing I can think of. I switch the power off. I know that won't make us stop but what else can I do? At least it's something.

I grit my teeth as the tractor, with its heavy trailer load of hay, crashes in to the five-bar gate. There's the sickening sound of splintering wood as we lurch through. The gate is bordered on one side by huge old macrocarpas, and I duck as the overhanging branches just miss my head. We finally come to a halt, stuck midway through the gate.

My relations, halfway across the next paddock, come running.

I suppose they're relieved that at least I'm unharmed. They don't mention the damage I've done to a perfectly good gate, or that I should have checked where the brake was before I started up the tractor.

As for me, I just feel stupid. And later I think of old Bonny. I'd have known how to stop a horse, and besides, Bonny had some sense – she wouldn't have gone barging through a closed five-bar gate.

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