By MARINA WATERS
It was about 50 years ago that Paul Armentrout would take his father’s old Farmall tractor, cutting through pastures and down a quiet country road to his neighbor and lifelong friend Robert Shanks’ house.
Back in those days, Armentrout would sit on a fence post watching local farmers cut hay with the most eye-catching tractors Armentrout had ever seen. But now, on most blistering hot day summer days, Armentrout can still be found, sitting on a tractor while his old friend, Shanks, chats with anyone who stops by — including a Herald & Tribune reporter — about their love for tractors and memories of yesteryear in East Tennessee.
“When I was a little boy, (Shanks’) dad and another fella farmed on the farm that joined us. My brother and I would sit on a fence post and watch them work with those old tractors. Well, they were new tractors then,” Armentrout said, laughing at the memory. “In fact, Robert and I used to take tractors down to each other’s houses and play on Sunday afternoons.”
Now just down the road from where those memories took place, Armentrout is living that young farm boy’s dream, cutting hay on a 1946 Farmall M tractor from his childhood that he’s now putting to good use.
“I love to operate them and see them work—that’s what they were designed for,” Armentrout said. “I just like to hear them run. Growing up on a small farm, we just had a small tractor. I still have the only tractor my dad ever owned which was a little Farmall 100,” Armentrout said. “I don’t know, just being a farm boy (sparked an interest in tractors). Not much else to do. That was our entertainment I guess.”
In addition to Armentrout’s old family tractor, he owns a Farmall M and a 1948 Farmall H. A few years ago, the Washington County native found the two antique tractors on a whim—and for a reasonable price as the man selling the tractors was prepared to junk the antique farm equipment.
“By driving them back in the early ‘60s, you had a fond memory of that particular tractor,” Armentrout explained. “In fact, I was on my way to South Carolina to look at a Farmall 300. My daughter lived in North Carolina at the time and we had stopped in to see her on the way and my brother called me about the advertisement in the farm bureau paper. I didn’t even go on to look at the 300 because I really wanted the M model and a H model even more so and was probably going to get the both of them for less than what I would have paid for the 300.”
Though he started as a young boy dreaming of driving the farm equipment of his youth, Armentrout later joined the Air Force as a airframe and repair technician during the Vietnam War. Later he went on to work as a computer and program analyst, but eventually, he was led back to his roots of farming on the land he grew up on.
“It’s just basically a hobby, something you really enjoy and you missed it working on computers,” he said. “They’re very different. Working with computers, you come home and you have a mental fatigue. And where you work on the farm, you usually come home with a physical fatigue. A good night’s sleep with cure that, but a lot of the mental stuff you carry to bed with you. You’re laid up for hours trying to figure out how to solve this problem. It’s a different type of way of thinking about things when you try to relax.”
Now he’s ready to relax and work as a “hobby farmer” in the one place he always wanted to come back to, East Tennessee.
“I’ve been blessed. I’ve had the privilege to see every state in the union including, Alaska and Hawaii, I’ve been to Europe three times and I’ve been to South America once and there’s no place like East Tennessee,” Armentrout said. “I’ve been on three different foreign mission trips and the first one I went on was in Venezuela. I was actually in homes that you could go to the dump and get the material to build everything that they had in their house.
“That’s how poor those people were—but the most loving people I’d ever met in my life. They took little figurines off of the walls of their house to give to me as a going away present. You hated to take them but you didn’t want to refuse them because you knew it would hurt their feelings.
“We’ve been so blessed in this country but it has changed so much in the last few years in the negative way that it’s scary for raising children and grandchildren today.”
In that hay field on Bob Shanks Road, Shanks shared a memory of standing in that very same field to see a red double-wing airplane zip through the field writing “Coca-Cola” in the clouds like you see on the bottles today. For Armentrout, that same road has seen many changes—from generation to generation.
“I can remember my dad talking about running to see the first car that came up the road. So that’s quite a bit of change isn’t it?” Armentrout said, laughing. “Between two generations, you go from seeing an automobile to putting the man on the moon.”
Today with all the world’s changes, above all else, Armentrout fondly remembers the memories he with his family in a simpler day in age that seems to have been swept away by time.
“You sit down as a family and you ate your meals together,” Armentrout recalled. “Now we’re just hitting and missing and trying to grab something to eat and families aren’t together like they were going up on the farm. Those are things that I really cherish. My mother and dad have been dead for 17 years and it’s just constantly, every week I’m having memories of the wonderful things we did together. At the time you didn’t appreciate it that much. But now you look back on it and oh, it was a wonderful way of life.”
But his love for the country life, farming and his East Tennessee home doesn’t end with Armentrout—now he had a grandson who is embarking on similar farm adventures—with his grandfather’s same love for tractors in tow.
“My grandson’s been out all morning with me on the old H tractor just loving it and enjoying it. He loves tractors I believe more than I did,” Armentrout said. “It brings back memories.”