Trubie Mitchell's Pace Car

By Henry H. Mitchell

Tractor leads the way

From the vantage point of the third vehicle in the funeral procession, the tractor can be seen leading the way out of Blountville, Tennessee.

My father, J. T. W. “Trubie” Mitchell, was enthusiastic about mechanical technology, especially that related to agriculture.

My family and I were reminded of that fact after his funeral. The procession to the cemetery was quite long, about a 20-mile trip. The route was from State Street in Bristol to the Blountville Highway (TN 126) to TN 75. As we left the village of Blountville, somehow an elderly fellow managed to get in front of the long line of cars, driving his shiny classic Ford tractor. And he would not pull over! I imagine that most people in the procession, unable to see the cause of the delay, were aggravated. But with a clear view of the “obstacle” from the vantage point of our van (the third vehicle in line), we were laughing and quietly cheering.

Finally, the tractor driver pulled off to the left onto Muddy Creek Road, about 1/2 mile before we reached Tri-Cities Memorial Gardens, and went on his merry way. The symbolism could not have been more fitting. I later asked my sister Joan Keith how much she paid the man for that stunt, but she assures me that it just happened!

When we arrived at the cemetery, my first cousin Robert Helvey was still chuckling over the tractor event, as we were. Cousin Robert noted that Tennessee law mandates that if five cars line up on a public road behind a farm vehicle, its driver is supposed to pull over to let them pass. But we agreed that since in this case there were a lot more than five cars (50 or 75?), the driver must have thought it unnecessary!

Left turn

The shiny Ford tractor turned off to the left onto Muddy Creek Road about a half mile before the cemetery.

I actually wished the tractor had stayed in front as “pace car” all the way to the cemetery. Daddy appreciated tractors. He had grown up in Bland County, Virginia, using steam tractors, but he had adapted quite comfortably to gasoline-powered types. His favorite model was a Massey-Ferguson, but mostly he drove Fords, because they were more commonly available to us. We didn't own a tractor, but he borrowed one fairly often from one of our Spring Garden (Virginia) neighbors — usually Pete Bryant or Eben Cox — in order to do heavy disking and plowing of our large garden. (We had a walk-behind Simplicity two-wheeled garden tractor, but it was insufficient for the big jobs.)

Dad not only worked with a tractor himself, he also received much satisfaction from teaching the finer points of tractor driving and use to his vocational agriculture classes, and from teaching tractor and equipment repair. Many of his students won driving competitions after spending hours backing two- and four-wheeled trailers on his obstacle courses behind the vo-ag shop at Spring Garden School, where he taught. He was also fascinated by all the varied labor-saving tools which could be driven by the “power take-off” on the back of the tractors.

I must admit I was not among his best tractor-operating students. There were two aspects of tractors of the 1940's to 1960's which always troubled me: first, the divided left-right brakes were for the purpose of turning rather than stopping; and second, there was no changing gears once the tractor was in motion! Oh, I heard Dad's explanations, but it all seemed counterintuitive and counterproductive to me, a youngster with great car fascination and low tractor toleration. In spite of all that, Dad promoted me to chief tractor operator in the family before I reached my teen years. Not that it was an honor for superior perforance on my part — he didn't have any choice. He was finding tractor-driving difficult himself, because of a rigid hip resulting from an illness during his youth, and now arthritis added to that. Both my sister Joan and brother John were by this time adults, living elsewhere. And to put tiny Mom on huge farm equipment was unthinkable. So the job was mine.

One of my most rueful memories involves a time when I was about 13 years old and Mr. Cox brought over his brand-new Ford tractor for us to use. Dad assigned me to drive it, plowing a strip in front of our rows of beehives. I protested, knowing that my then-heavy shock of Vitalis-anointed dark brown hair seemed to attract bees if any were nearby (I figured they thought I was a bear). But Dad assured me that the honeybees wouldn't bother me, since they would be intent on avoiding the big noisy tractor, as well as on their nectar-gathering chores.

Having no experience in those aspects of apiary behavorism, who was I to argue? So off I obediently chugged, dropping the plows into the ground. In about five seconds I had umpteen stings about my head and face, so I abruptly and speedily bailed out and left the tractor plowing on its own along a narrow strip among buildings and trees. (Yes, I forgot to take it out of gear!) Daddy, rigid hip and all, ran the tractor down, jumped up onto it, and got it under control. All this happened with Mr. Cox watching, utterly horrified, I am sure! Dad was pretty irritated at me about it, reiterating to me the cost of a new tractor, but I felt justified in my dereliction of duty. It was about a week before the swelling went down so that my eyes could open enough for normal life to resume.


This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House B&B, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)