Dress For Success


Sorry, not a column on wearing a jacket and tie to a job interview.

Just the opposite.

By farm standards, Leigh Ann and I live on a small farm, just 16 acres of woods and pastures. In contrast, a cousin of mine in Illinois farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. We have a small tractor equipped with a front-end loader and a three-point hitch on the back, to which I can attach a three-blade, 60-inch wide grass mower.

As you might imagine, the grass mower is nearly a permanent fixture on the back of our tractor, as we mow quite a bit of grassy road bank between our three-board pasture fences and the blacktop that borders the south end of our farm. Even with a pair of horses grazing on them daily, our pastures also require regular mowing, as horses don’t eat prickly brambles, broad-leaf weeds, and certain grasses, especially once they get more than a foot tall.



Just like any lawn mower, the three blades on our mower gradually wear down. I crawl beneath the mower regularly with my grinder to sharpen them, but this spring I realized that there just wasn’t enough blade left to sharpen. Ordering a new set of blades was easy, but getting them installed proved to be a challenge. Try as I might, I could not budge the rusted bolts securing each of the worn-out blades to the underside of the mover. I pushed, I pulled, I tapped them with a hammer to break the rust bond that invariable forms between the threads, but I could not get them out.

The solution, I knew from past experience, required a tool I did not have: an air-powered drill with a three-quarter-inch socket mounted on it. A good air-powered drill costs at least two hundred dollars, which is a lot for a tool I might only need once every five years. Having my tractor and mower loaded onto a trailer and hauled to the Kubota dealer would cost even more, so my best option was slightly unconventional: Johnny’s Tire Shop.

I drive past Johnny’s daily on my way to the YMCA, the post office, or the grocery store, so Leigh Ann suggested that I stop by on my way back from my morning workout. I smiled, as I knew that Johnny, a chain-smoking, true Carolina country-boy with a foot-long white beard, only worked when he felt like it — and only if he felt you were worth his time. Walking in dressed in my Nike workout shoes, my Under Armour shorts, and a quick dry shirt wasn’t going to impress Johnny, and if Johnny wouldn’t agree to pull those rusted bolts out of my tractor mower, I was out of easy options.



So, I first stopped by the house and changed into my farm clothes: worn leather work boots, a pair of old Levi jeans, a Braves baseball cap, and a tee shirt with the American flag flying across the front.

Johnny was asleep in his cramped, smoke-filled office when I pulled up, but he must have felt sorry for me, for he grunted as he pushed himself up out of the chair and motioned toward the lift in the second bay. Five minutes later, my tractor and mower were five feet in the air and Johnny and I were standing beneath it, struggling to back out each of the bolts without snapping one off. Even with his air drill, the bolts resisted, but they eventually gave way, eliciting another grunt and a rare smile from Johnny as he dropped each one into my hand.



Afterwards, I tried to give Johnny a pair of twenties, but he only pulled one from my outstretched hand. It was my turn to smile, though, as I tucked the second one into his shirt pocket before climbing back on my tractor and driving off into the sunset.

Until next week,

“The most dangerous tool in your shop is a dull one.”