My neighbor Vern has an old Massey Ferguson tractor that he still uses to plow his ten-acre piece of ground. The tractor is old, but he keeps tinkering on it and somehow keeps it running. The bright red paint has faded to mostly rust, and the once-bright metal grill has dulled to a flat, rusted gray. But the trademark three-triangles-connected decal with the “M” and “F” printed on it is still attached to the hood of the tractor (see detail here).
I was driving around one beautiful fall afternoon taking pictures when I saw Vern out on his tractor working his field, plowing under last summer’s grain stubble and getting it ready for winter. I stopped to visit, and Vern let me photograph him, warning me to stay out of his way as he bounced along the trench he was following. Before he went back to what he was doing, I asked him when he was going to get a new tractor. Vern shook his head and said probably not until the old Massey-Ferguson died, and that wasn't anytime soon. He'd had that tractor for decades and was not in any hurry to upgrade!
I started out painting a wide swath of the field with the tractor in the background. Much of the detail was lost because it was so small in the painting. I decided that rather than a fall scene with a tractor, I’d paint more of a portrait of the tractor. It had so much character that it begged to be painted as the main object of the painting.
That meant going back to the drawing board and re-thinking the composition. I’m glad I did, because that old tractor had so much character. Years of hard use and repairs made it show its age. As I got into painting this picture, it was fun to paint the faded and rusting red tractor combined with the bright fall colors, and I liked how the rich, dark earth contrasted with the unplowed field. Today’s tractors may be technical marvels, but there’s something about an old, well-used tractor that just brings back the memories.