Perhaps you’ve heard The Tractor Story.
Perhaps you recall certain parts of this unexplainable tale, but for the benefit of those who have not yet heard of it, have no fear. I shall now regale you with the spine-tingling details of this unsolved mystery.
Our story begins in the late 1990s, when I lived in a house that sat in a small valley. It was during a particularly cold Alabama winter with bitterly frigid temperatures, especially after nightfall. An uncle of mine had some land adjacent to the house and would regularly stop by to feed his cows, bale hay during the summer, and take care of various other farming details. He would often leave his tractor parked nearby the house, since it was next to his property.
One particularly cold night during this particularly cold Alabama winter, when temperatures had plummeted to single digits, I was watching TV when I heard a noise that sounded like machinery running. I peered through the rear kitchen window and saw nothing out of the ordinary, except for an indigo blue sky sprinkled with stars and a small white puff of steam rising from the tractor exhaust. It did seem rather unusual, but I assumed my uncle had stopped by to tend to his cows and make sure they were warm.
I returned to the movie I was watching, but the tractor’s engine continued running. I thought my uncle had started the engine and was allowing it time to warm up.
Ten minutes passed. Fifteen.
Finally, my curiosity won out. I wrapped myself up like Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story and went outside to skulk around and look for clues. I was not prepared for the shock of the icy temperatures and immediately ceased all skulking activity. It was so cold that within seconds, my heart was almost frozen solid in my chest. No other vehicles were around anywhere. There was no sign anyone had even been there. The old tractor sat idling all by itself, eerily illuminated by the pale winter moon, steam rising in ghostly plumes from its exhaust pipe.
I was rather perplexed, to say the least. A farm tractor’s engine running, lit by a milky pale moon, sitting in my back yard on the coldest night I can recall, and no one around? It was like something out of a David Lynch film.
Twenty minutes passed. Half an hour. By now even a greenhorn like me knew something was amiss.
I dialed my uncle’s home number and he answered. I explained to him that I felt he should be aware his tractor was idling in the back yard. He sounded mildly amused, but not at all surprised. He gave me a few suggestions of how to shut off the engine, and again I wrapped myself like Nanook of the North and ventured back into the arctic back yard.
After fumbling for several minutes with a screwdriver, trying to shut off the engine, the tractor continued its steady idling. I returned indoors, pausing to shake off the icicles, and called my uncle back to report my mission had failed. He chuckled and nonchalantly replied he’d be over in a few minutes.
Within an hour I spotted the headlights of his truck swing across the driveway. In a few minutes the idling stopped. The only sound was him packing up his tools, climbing into his truck and driving away.
To this day no one really knows how that tractor engine started.
Still, they say that on cold, moonlit nights down in that valley, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of an old tractor idling in the distance. 78