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The old gray tractor caught my eye because it was just what I needed for mowing the thistles on our land a couple miles north of town. It was in the parking lot of Solon Truck and Tractor and had a for sale sign, so I went into the shop.
Owner Mike Aicher and I go back to 1981 when we both showed up on the Solon business scene.
I’d just scraped together every penny I owned and borrowed the rest to buy the Solon Economist. Mike had traded in his experience as a farm boy, sailor and mechanic to open his shop on the south edge of town.
One of my trademarks, as publisher, was writing a story about new businesses. It was a two-for: besides being news, it was a positive way of getting my foot in the door for a follow-up ad sales call. Mike had the story framed and it hangs in a prominent spot in his office today. My strategy worked, and Solon Truck and Tractor was a steady supporter of the newspaper.
I liked Mike from the start. He spoke his mind on any number of issues and he didn’t pull punches, but he didn’t sucker you either. His opinions were blunt, but not mean, and he could dish it out as well as take it.
He was also a good mechanic who worked for a fair price– always a good man to have in your corner. His intention was to specialize in stuff you found on a farm, mostly tractors and grain trucks, but he soon branched out to other equipment.
Making sales calls, I never knew what I’d see next. I’ve come across him elbows deep into the greasy workings of school buses, dwarfed by barn-sized harvesters, and crawling over massive industrial end-loaders. On the other hand, once I found him working on a kid’s bike and, another time, walking out dressed smartly in his class A Army uniform, ready for duty with the American Legion’s color guard.
One of the oddest places I found him was in a rocking chair in the bed of an old pickup truck. The truck was parked in the middle of a large garden and Mike sat in the rocker, a cooler of beer to one side and a transistor radio on a small table on the other. Across his lap he cradled a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun.
I knew Mike was very active with the American Legion, but I didn’t know he was a hobby gardener, who kept the few acres behind his shop growing in various vegetables and fruits. He donated the produce to the local care center or anyone else he thought might appreciate it. Anyhow, it was fall and one of his trademarks was sitting out with the crops all night to scare off the raccoons.
But my favorite visit was the call I made the day of Christmas Eve. It was another trademark of mine: at least once a year, I visited the businesses that support me but not try to sell them anything. With Mike and a few others about town known to enjoy the occasional tipple, I’d make the holiday call with a bottle of good whiskey in hand. More than once I’ve sat with Mike in his office and got a whiskey buzz going.
The day I came in to look at the tractor, he had a school bus-turned-party wagon up on a lift and he was cursing the idiot who worked on it last.
“See that fitting,” he said, while clanking at a pipe going into a massive metal wheel. “Some idiot made that out of tubing instead of paying extra for the real part and it could get someone killed.”
I’m not sure but I think the “idiot” in question was the owner of the bus, who was standing nearby looking at his feet.
I’m not sure what Mike thinks of me, but I’d like to believe he rates me at least an “he’s all right.” If he really disliked me I’m sure I would have heard about it a long time ago.
In short order, we came to a deal on the tractor. It’s a Ford 841, probably built in 1959. It sold for $3,000 brand new, and the going price for its make and model, today, is almost double. The previous owner was someone we both knew, and Mike had been helping with the service and repair. He made it clear that there were no guarantees as it was more than 50 years old but that it was in good running condition now. We made a quick negotiation on the price and shook hands, I threw in I needed it delivered.
When I dropped off the check, I asked where the trailer was he’d transport it with, and he replied, “I ain’t putting it on no #$%% trailer, what kind of dummy transports a tractor on a trailer when it can be driven?”
That made this dummy realize, I, too, could drive it there myself. You might have seen me that morning tooling through town, smiling ear to ear under my orange hat.