Reflections from Fran: Tractors and Horsepower

3 year old Ken Wolff “driving” our first tractor in 1924

Take a moment and picture a farmer in a field working… What did you picture? …Straw hat? Of course! …Overalls? Probably …Possibly holding a pitchfork, or is the farmer on a tractor? Ah, the tractor! There are few things more emblematic to modern farming than the tractor. It’s right up there with the barn and the silo when it comes to classic images of a farm. And for good reason; tractors are an indispensable tool of modern farming. They have been a part of Wolff’s for MOST of our history. Most, but not ALL, for one main reason…

Our first “tractor” mowing the apple orchard, 1910’s

When Frank Wolff planted the first apple trees here in Media in 1908, tractors weren’t much more than experimental oddities seen at places like World’s Fairs and Expos. The older ones were steam powered while the new “cutting edge” ones were gas powered, but all were generally regarded as unreliable. They were expensive, required a lot of maintenance, and were prone to breaking down. (It wasn’t until 1917 when Henry Ford introduced his mass-produced Fordson tractor that these “newfangled things” began to catch on.) So, in the beginning, our original orchard was plowed, planted, mowed, and maintained by ACTUAL horsepower! This “horsepower” had names like Jasper and Frisky rather than John Deere and Farmall.

Frank Wolff on our first tractor (metal wheels!) circa 1920

But, in the late 1910’s, we purchased our first tractor and we were immediately hooked! Plus, more powerful, dependable, and comfortable tractors were continually being made. Simple innovations like rubber tires made navigating the field more reliable and comfortable.

Ken Wolff, late 1930’s, testing out the “modern technology” of rubber tractor tires.

The “workhorse” of the farm immediately stopped being a horse at all. Yet all tractors (and cars for that matter) are still measured by their “horsepower” to this day!

Gennie Wolff on a tractor in the Peach Orchard, early 1950’s

My mom spent the 1950’s and 60’s helping my dad on the farm by driving the tractor while he worked with apples, peaches, pears, etc. (usually, one or two of my older siblings would be riding along too, in bushel baskets fastened to the wagon!)

Nate Wolff, plowing Wolff’s parking lot, late 1960’s

 

Nate Wolff harrowing Apple Orchard, May 1973

Through the 1970’s and 80’s, tractors continued being an integral fixture on our farm, used for everything from planting trees, to mowing grass, pulling stumps, hauling apples, plowing snow, and much more!

Ken Wolff mowing Apple Orchard, June 1990

To this day, we still have four tractors. They’re now mostly just beloved old relics from a bygone era. But all four still do run, and routinely get called in to service, utilizing their dependable “horsepower” as their actual horse predecessors did all the way back when Wolff’s began!

Shane Wolff helping plow with his Uncle Peter, Oct. 2011