Me & Mister Roy
Every now and then, the sound of one of these old Kansas oil well pump motors takes me back to Todd County, Kentucky. It has nothing to do with oil wells. The whomp-whomp-whomp of single-cylinder engines almost always makes me think of Roy Morris and his old “Poppin’ Johnny.” Those of you with rural roots probably know that refers to a two-cylinder John Deere tractor.
Mister Roy’s had a hand clutch and I loved riding on it with him. That hand clutch seemed strange and wonderful to me, completely different from our Red Belly Ford and Ford Jubilee. Even the old Red Belly Ford seemed modern next to his Poppin’ Johnny.
He’d let me stand right beside his seat and hold on to whatever I could grab. His tractor was the tricycle type with two small front wheels attached close together and two huge rear wheels spread on either side at the back. That configuration gave the tractor a relatively small turning radius and seemingly made them more prone to turn over on a steep slope. Especially if you happened to make a hard turn uphill. I never heard of an actual overturn and never pursued any personal testing of the proposition.
I did, however, fully test the distance between our farms when I was nine years old.
Dad and my older brother Paul had gone over to help Mister Roy cut tobacco. He seemed several years older than my dad and about sixty pounds heavier. I think he only shaved on Sundays; most of the times that I saw him away from church he had short gray stubble on his chin and around his face. He wasn’t gregarious but he was always nice to me and I loved being around him. I was especially excited about helping him cut tobacco.
Apparently, Dad had no idea about my enthusiasm. He and Paul left before I knew they were getting into the truck. Mom wasn’t inclined to haul me over. I’ll admit it was a bit of an obstacle. I didn’t have a bicycle and there was three miles of gravel road between me and Roy Morris’s Poppin’ Johnny.
Cutting through the pasture south of the house saved me about a tenth of a mile. Forty-five minutes later, I was riding on that old tractor. Mister Roy couldn’t quit grinning about me walking three miles to come help him cut tobacco.
It’d have been worth twice that distance.