Tricounty News

Runaway Tractor

By Elizabeth Cooper Mike

From the pen of Elizabeth Cooper Mike, Kimball Historical Society member, in her book "The Girl From Stickney Hill, Kimball Prairie, Minnesota" (Reprinted with permission of the author.)

"It roared away from us and we chased it. It made a big swing in the farmer's pasture and came roaring back and we ran like heck, away from it, back up on the road," said Rachael Ann.

She was telling me the story of the day Viola Donnay's dad's tractor got loose and demonstrated it had a life of its own.

Rachael Ann Cooper is my younger sister. She said, "All I could think of was what Daddy was going to say when I got home." I could hear her laughter over the phone as we talked. "It's funny now, thinking back, but it wasn't funny then, she said. I couldn't stop thinking of Daddy and I wasn't even driving the tractor."

So Rachael Ann told me her story, in her own words, during a long distance telephone call recently. This is what she said:

"It was a lazy, hot, summer day, a Sunday, and I was bored out of my skull, tired of reading, tired of listening to the radio, tired of hearing Nancy Lee and David argue."

"This boring old farm, I thought. I'm stuck out here in the sticks on a boring old farm with absolutely nothing to do. Sixteen years old with no glamour in my life, not even a Sunday afternoon date. I'll probably be an old maid, I thought, living with my parents forever. I wished some of the boys would come around."

"I took my glass of lemonade out on the porch and threw myself down in a chair, thinking, maybe I could write a few lines in my diary, but what did I have to write about? Cows and horses? No, I'll just sit here and waste away, I thought. I'll just be an old maid. I took a long swallow of lemonade and closed my eyes, thinking, I'll just die on this darned old farm without ever getting married."

"Then up the road came Viola Donnay, chug chugging up the road on her dad's tractor, into our yard, and right up to the porch where I was sitting. 'Do you want to go for a ride?' she said."

"I jumped off the porch, 'Do I ever!' I shouted. 'Give me a minute to tell the folks.' Muddy was lying down resting. Daddy was in the living room, alternately reading and nodding off into little naps. 'Go! Go!' they both said, barely aware that I was leaving. They knew I was bored to death."

"My parents had no concern about the driving ability of Viola. In those days every farm kid, boy or girl, knew how to drive the tractor, ride the horses, milk the cows, pitch hay, shock corn. What ever had to be done, they learned how, and sometimes at a young age. Sixteen-year-old Viola had been driving the tractor for years."

"I jumped up behind her, holding on to the back of the seat, legs apart for balance, saying, 'you saved my life!' She laughed. 'I mean it,' I said. I was bored out of my skull, thinking this Sunday afternoon is what it's going to be like when I'm an old maid. Nancy will be married, Davy will be married, the folks will be sleeping and I'll be on the porch drinking lemonade."

"We both laughed. Viola said, 'You'll probably be married before me. Maybe we'll find a husband for you today.' She reached back to give me a little slap on the hip. 'Let's pick up Margie.' Her name was really Margaret. 'And we'll get DeEtta too. Then we'll take a nice ride. I don't have to be back until time for milking.'"

"We chugged up the hill, then down the long dirt road, past the farm where Daddy and his brother and all his sisters grew up, the farm from which Grandpa Cooper, his father, when he was alive, escaped to Goodner Lake for fishing every chance he got. Muddy said Daddy's ancestors, the John Coopers, came to this country from England in 1720 and lived in Pennsylvania for many generations, but Grandpa Cooper's itchy feet moved the family around a lot, from Pennsylvania, in the late 1800s to Minnesota, then Mankato, Sedan and finally here, the farm we were now passing."

"The tractor wheels kicked up little puffs of dust, which gathered in a big dust cloud trailing behind us, hanging in the still, hot, summer air long after we passed."

"Then we came to the crossroads, to the Stickney Hill School, you know, the one-room, big, white building that could hold 60 kids in one room, where you went, and where all our brothers and sisters went, and even our mother and father, and aunts and uncles went to school."

"Here at the crossroads we picked up Margie and DeEtta and they jumped up beside me, all three of us standing behind Viola, me hanging on to her seat and them hanging on to me. Viola asked, 'Which way?'"

"We shouted, 'Stickney Hill. Up Stickney Hill, of course.' And Viola turned the tractor north at the mailboxes and started up the long, big, old Stickney Hill which was tops for sledding in the winter, twisting and turning for the long ride down, to stop at the schoolhouse, the mailboxes, and the crossroads view of nearby farms, the Meyers, the Eders, the Jake Donnays, and the old Cooper farm."

"We chugged along, four 16-year-old girls, singing and joking and laughing, until we came to the Pearl Lake Road where we turned right again and where we ran into trouble. And it was boy trouble."

"A car full of boys started following us, trying to pass us, hooting and hollering, shouting things like, 'You're my baby.' 'I'll take the one on the right.' 'I'll take the red-headed one.' One of them said, 'There's Rachael!'"

"I recognized some of them, pimples and all, from nearby Watkins. They didn't look much like husband material to me."

"They got past us, then parked and let us chug by them. Several times they did this until Viola got a little rattled."

"As they squeezed by one final time, we jumped for safety. Margie and DeEtta and I, we jumped off the tractor."

"Viola tried to get control. She tried to turn the wheel sharp to keep from going in the ditch. Instead, the tractor lunged down on one wheel into the ditch, plowed through a fence and into a pasture and started going in circles."

"As the tractor began its first circle, Viola jumped to safety, too. The car full of boys sped away. They knew trouble when they saw it."

"The fence was made of old weather-worn wooden posts strung together with wire. All the wires broke except the top one which became twisted around the exhaust pipe of the tractor, and as it loosened, the tractor roared into the pasture and, as the wire tightened it brought the tractor back."

"It was going in big circles and the old wooden fence posts were breaking off at the ground level and pinging up into the air every time the top wire tightened its hold."

"We knew we had to get the tractor under control. When it made a circle away from us, we ran after it trying to get on. When it made a big circle back, toward us, we ran back on the road, four hysterical 16-year-old girls, crying and screaming."

"Three times that monster tractor made a circle, when down the road in a pickup truck came a really mad farmer. He stopped in a cloud of dust and now he chased the tractor. But he knew enough to stand to one side when the tractor made for the road and jump on when the tractor made its circle back. He finally stopped the tractor, and we breathed a sigh of relief."

"The tractor was okay, a few dents but okay. But the fence was a mess. Fence posts every which way for about two blocks. We were too scared to lie. We gave the still mad farmer our real names. Of course he knew our families."

"It was a very long four miles home. I didn't have to worry about what I was going to tell Daddy, that mad farmer had already called with every last little detail and Daddy was waiting when I got home."

"I knew I was never going to ride on the back of a tractor again, so my punishment was really nothing, when that was the very thing I was forbidden to ever do again. Of course, Daddy said he would probably have to pay for the farmer's fence. But whether he ever did, I don't know and I didn't ask. I thought let sleeping dogs lie."

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Can't Miss Stops: Kimball Area Historical Society presents: "Celebrating Kimball Memories." In about a week, Kimball Days will be in full swing! Hope it's on your calendar. Friday, Aug. 7, supper in the park happens and our ninth annual history exhibit at Kimball's historic city hall. Aug. 8 begins early at Audrey's Coffee Nook, 30 Main St. S.from 7 to 10 a.m., plus the all-day history exhibit 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 9,Open House last day at the restoration and history exhibit in city hall 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., prizes, souvenirs and more, all in air-conditioned comfort. Don't miss it.

What's ahead? Sept. 22, a great family genealogy program at city hall. Oct. 27, special Armistice Day program at City Hall. Nov. 17, the annual Holiday Social at city hall.

With a special grant deadline extension, Phase 5 donations and pledges for the city hall restoration may still be made towards further interior preservation. You need not be a society member to participate. Your support is much appreciated and what a great lasting memory you can leave. Remember your donation or pledge is doubled by a grant, pledges need not be paid until 2010, it's totally tax deductible, but if possible, we would love to hear from you by Aug. 15. Thank you.

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For information on the above, membership, city hall donations, items you have for this column or the permanent collection, or simply questions you may have about us, contact the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball, MN 55353. Phone (320) 398-5743, or 398-5250, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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