Life in the slow lane
His business card reads: “No business. Too healthy to beg. Too old to steal. Just a lion around.” Kurt Froese is a retired farmer with a sense of humor and adventure.
On April 9, 1957, Kurt traveled from Vancouver, British Columbia, to his farm near the windswept town of Pincher Creek, Alberta. It took him six days of leisurely driving.
Kurt’s mode of transportation was a John Deere model “R” diesel tractor. It had the usual complement of a rock hard seat, bone-jarring suspension, open air driving and a top speed of 12 miles per hour.
Kurt’s adventure began when his oldest brother, Frank, a mechanical engineer at an Alice Arm, British Columbia silver mine, phoned him with an interesting proposition. Frank, from a farming background, suggested using a tractor to move the silver concentrate down a steep grade to the Pacific Ocean where it was loaded onto waiting barges. Trucks were used in the summer to haul the concentrate down the mountain, while bulldozers were used in the winter.
A tractor was hired to do the freighting, but the union miners, who had driven the bulldozers, were reluctant to drive a farm tractor or oat burner as they called it. So the company decided to discontinue its use.
“My brother, Frank, phoned me to ask if I wanted a tractor with 45 operation hours on it for the cash price of $2,000. A tractor in those days was $4,000 to $4,500, so I said by all means.”
Kurt purchased the tractor but found many costs and delays in shipping it home. The company agreed to barge the tractor to Vancouver, where he would take delivery. The CPR could ship it to him in Pincher Creek for $400 while a trucking company wanted $300—and the delivery wouldn’t be immediate.
“We needed the tractor as soon as possible. After thinking it over, I decided to fly to Vancouver. From there, I would drive it back.”
With a full tank of diesel fuel, he left Vancouver and traveled along the highway that follows the Fraser River through many picturesque farming communities.
At Haney, a curious policeman stopped him and carefully checked things out on the tractor. He suggested that Kurt put reflectors on for night driving. “But after telling him that I didn’t intend to drive at night, he said good-bye and I was on my way again.”
Throughout the trip, he had to watch his fuel consumption as diesel outlets were not common. “The entire trip used 50 gallons of diesel for a cost of $17. You couldn’t do it for that cost today,” he said.
After his first refueling stop in Hope, Kurt drove to Rock Creek to fill up and change the oil at a local sawmill.
Kurt’s trip was not without its small adventures, including being mistaken for a policeman when interrupting a hot poker game at a bulk fuel plant in Creston, BC.
“The man at the plant had to use a five gallon can to measure out the fuel because there were no pumps for diesel. He suggested that I wait in the office while he did this. When I got to the office, there were four guys sitting around a table playing cards.
“They became very silent when I came in; you could tell that I had disturbed something. So I introduced myself and what I was doing with this tractor. One of them suddenly stood up and said with relief, ’Hey! You’re just another farmer!’ After that, all four men reached down by the legs of the table and brought up a large bottle of whiskey. So I settled down and had a few drinks with the boys. When I finally left, I didn’t have a pain in the world.”
At a truck stop in Cranbrook, a trucker approached Kurt with a puzzled look on his face. “He wanted to know how far I was going on the John Deere tractor. You see, he had passed me three times since I had left Vancouver. So I told him my story and we had a good laugh together.”
Kurt also tells the story of the perplexed gas station attendant at the Kootenay Landing ferry crossing, whom he left wondering how far he would get on two cups of gasoline.
It was a regulation on the ferry to stop the motor while crossing. But Kurt’s starting gas was low. The small tank held about two cups and he had used it a few times before so he was concerned that he might not have enough gas to start the tractor on the other side.
“I unscrewed the small tank and walked up the hill to get the gas. When I showed it to the man at the pumps he asked, ’Is that all the gas tank you have?’ I said, ’Yes, and fill it up, please.’ So he filled it up but when I asked him how much it would cost, he told me to never mind, it was such a small amount. I think he thought I would be back real soon for another fill up.”
After six days of driving by towns, lakes, rivers and mountains, Kurt arrived at his farm just before sunset to be greeted by his family. The tractor, used for many years with the same reliability shown on the trip, is fondly remembered as one of the best he ever owned.
Explaining the reasons for the trip, he is quick to volunteer two answers.
“I did it mainly for economic reasons and besides, as farmers, we go round and round the field for six days or more and think nothing of it. During my trip, the scenery changed with every mile. I saw hundreds of deer and one cougar. What more could you want? It was the most enjoyable tractor trip of my life.”