ANOTHER SAGA FROM THE STAFFORD-SHELBY FARM

Thirty-one years ago, my dearest and best friend Burton Chester Stafford came to me on a snow-covered day in December, sat at my kitchen table and told me that he was going to marry is high school sweetheart and wanted me to go shopping with him for the ring and help him present it in a cool way to his lady.

The man had never really been in love before, and never had love returned to him In over 4 decades. o He was beyond excited. At 67, he finally in love. We went ring shopping together, bought a Stuffed Christmas bear that had the year 1993 already stamped on its foot, and I sewed the rings to the underneath of the bear’s skirt to surprise his lady.

At that same time, Burton told me that he wanted me to buy his farm. Even though he knew that we had three young children and while I CHOSE to be a stay-at-home mom; to always be there and available for them at all times, it caused us to live very tight, borderline poor. I told him, we had no money to buy such a magnificent thing, and he said we would do a land contract for a dollar down and make payments to him, as his mom had done for him.

He he wanted someone to have the farm that would love it like he has. He moved to this farm in 1936, went to war, lost his dad, was sent home and remained on the farm.

I take a lot of pleasure and comfort in knowing each day that my feet walk where his did, and his parents did. Gladys and James McNutt Stafford. (Mac) I still wear his chore coat that I know is older than I am. There is so much about that man that I still miss today. THAT IS A LIVING LEGACY. When you loved others so well, you were kind and forgiving, and humble. That is the things that keeps him alive in my heart still today and he has sadly been gone for fifteen years now.

My beloved Burt was a witness to all my early years as a wife and mom. When our first-born daughter was born on Easter Sunday, 1983, I saw him walking on the road by this very farm because of his heart condition. I stopped and showed him what the Easter Bunny had brought us, I still can see his large, calloused hand reaching out and touching the hand of our newborn daughter. I wish I had taken a photo of it. On that day, I had told Burt to stop by for coffee sometime.

For thirty-two years, he and I were absolute the best friends, each other’s confidant, and I still say Burt loved me fully and completely, in the way they talk about Jesus loving us. There was nothing I did to earn his love, or kindness, I didn’t cook or clean for him, I didn’t work for him. I was simply his friend, and he was mine. The man always found something about me to love, and that concept was new to me.

We didn’t always agree on politics and some issues, but he never once was rude or hurtful to me or anyone. He visited me through three more pregnancies, was a witness to the poverty we lived in, and for a week one springtime……when my dad threw his back out, Burt came to my old, dilapidated but CLEAN mobile home trailer and watched my babies every morning so I could run down and do my dad’s chores.

Burt never had children, he wasn’t really around kids, so this was like asking a mechanic to bake cookies. Still, he did it for me, and with his usual bright smile. He taught me the love of a camera and nature, and loaned me his car once to go see my aunt who lived far away.

He was a precious, loving, kind human and I’d like to believe that I have done him proud STILL, and I believe that he is pleased when he looks down and see’s what this farm has become and how I have brought it back to life, while I ALSO farming the old-fashioned way that he did and loved.

THE TRACTOR.

This is the OLIVER ROW CROP 66 wide front-end tractor that Burt bought new in 1949. When I bought the farm, in 1994, it was part of the package deal, along with 60 head of cattle and misc other farm equipment. It was already forty-five years old when I bought it. We used it for a few years, and I can attest that that old tractor always started. Once, during one of the worst blizzards, it was the ONLY tractor on this farm that would start and pull our truck out of the ditch. It was reliable and dependable though she cosmetically didn’t look so good. Her fender skirts were gone, her color had faded. Burt had repainted it once with primer and never got back around to adding the right restoration colors. This tractor was later sold, and it broke my heart to see it go. (That is our son, in the top photo and again in the bottom photo)

NOW CIRCA 2024

My cousin Marshall and my uncle Dave found another Row crop 66, a narrow front end that a man they knew a man wanted to sell. It is the same year, and they wanted to know if I would be interested in going to look at it. I told them no, I would take it sight unseen, but Uncle Dave insisted I go see it, so we did, along with Aunt Cheryl. It was literally pouring buckets of rain and I didn’t care. I didn’t care if the tractor was running or not, If I had to use it as a farm display forever, I just wanted another Oliver Row Crop 66 back on this farm.

JUST LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIUFL OLD GIRL, sitting in a barn, abandoned… just waiting to for someone to LOVE HER BACK TO LIFE. I paid for it, and then Uncle Dave and Marshall, drug it to their shop where they decided they were going to clean out the gas tank, the carburetor, the filters etc and within two weeks’ time they had the old girl roaring.

The moment she ran Dave called me on my cell and said, “Hey Kid, listen to this.” Unknown to him I had just pulled into his drive, so I hung up quickly and dashed inside his garage. He was surprised and laughed his big laugh.

What a thrill to see the old girl running and I mean, she purrs like a kitten after a bowl of milk. I drove her home that day, and I cannot tell you the excitement I felt as I puttered along on the old 66. When the view of my farm was in front of me I almost cried.

IF ANYONE could have heard me, they would have shaken their heads and laughed, because I patted the top of the tractor ( the fender skirts and hood were in the bed of my Ford F250 behind me)

I kept saying, “you are almost girl, a new farm, a new place to call home, a new barn to sleep in. Someone new to care about you, a second chance, a second life, and then I swear the cloud above me parted for a moment , the sun shined brightly as I turned into my driveway.

In my heart, I will always believe that it was Burt saying “Good job Sher, you brought an Oliver 66 back to the farm, back to OUR FARM.

I backed the tractor into the shop, and within moments we had one of the heaviest thunderstorms we’ve had all spring.

I have played around with sanding on it a bit, not wanting to remove too much of its original patina.

Did I mention her name? I call her MAVIS. (I took M A from Marshall and A V from Dave.)

I am in hopes of getting the lights working, and the decals replaced, but I have no intention of repainting the tractor. I do love to get it out and drive it around the farm a bit every few days, and for a few weeks this summer I am parking it outside beside my garden center that is just waiting for me to install the white metal siding on it, then the oliver will look even more striking sitting next to it.

Right after I got the tractor home, a friend of mine came by to see it, and showed me how you can use a “jumper wire” and check to see if the wiring and lights are still good or if I will need to replace them completely.

It was a beautiful moment, to see that light come on.

Life is like that too, there is such beauty when a light comes on in your heart, or the heart of someone you love.

When you are sharing a story, or explaining something to a kid or grandchild, or a friend and suddenly their eyes light up and you can see that got it. They understand. They are hooked.

I love moments like that. I AM HOOKED ON THIS OLD OLIVER GIRL