A Tractor Parade with Alexander Botts

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In Botts Aboard, the second volume in the Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor series, Botts and his wife, Gadget, travel to Europe on a tractor selling mission! Fresh off the boat, they decide the best way to spread the word about their solid, American-made machines is with a cross-country tractor parade! In this excerpt, the parade travels through France, in search of its first sale. Volume 1 & 2 of the series are now available!

Never in my life have I felt so proud and happy as I did yesterday morning, when our magnificent tractor parade debouched from the garage down by the Marseilles waterfront and swung magnificently up the Canebière. At the head of our column rolled the big sixty-horsepower machine, driven by myself; it was draped with the Stars and Stripes intertwined with the French Tricolor, and surmounted by a tremendous red-and-blue sign bearing the words “Ver de Terre.” (Note: This is French and it means “Earthworm.”) Hitched onto this first tractor I had our large twelve-foot blade grader and a wheel scraper. Behind this came the thirty-horsepower tractor, driven by Gadget herself, and bearing a large green-and-orange sign with the words “Grand Tracteur Americain.” (Note: This is French, and means “big American tractor.”) This machine was pulling our large dump wagon, containing the plow and the fresnoes. Behind this was the little twenty-horsepower machine, driven by Jean, and bearing the inscription in small letters, “Honneur et Gloire à la France et à l’Amerique.” (Note: This is French, and it means “Hurray for France and America.”)
This last machine was pulling the small dump wagon, which was of course decked with flags and which contained the tractor plow, the steam piano and the young French musician. Before we started, he had stoked up his boiler, opened the drafts and tied down the safety valve, so we had a truly terrific head of steam. When he started to bear down on the keyboard we got a burst of the loudest and most remarkable music I have ever heard. As we swept along that beautiful main street of the magnificent city of Marseilles, the entire region reverberated to the stirring and ear-splitting strains of the “Marseillaise,” rendered as only a young and talented Frenchman can render it. I was so occupied with the driving thatI did not have time to look around very much, but I feel sure we attracted a good deal of attention. In fact, I had a distinct feeling that the entire town was looking at us with the greatest awe and admiration.
On two or three occasions we were stopped by les gendarmes. (Note: This is a French word meaning “the cops.”) Apparently, they objected to something, but as they talked only French and as I did not want to bother to ask Gadget to come forward as interpreter, I never did find out exactly what was eating them. Possibly they didn’t like the noise. In each case, however, after I had talked to them awhile in English, they spread out their bands and raised their shoulders in a futile sort of a way and let me go on.
Note: This is the best way to handle these foreigners. Just talk to them in English, and in time they will give up.
It took us more than an hour to get out of Marseilles. We then followed the Route Nationale—that is French for “National Route”—through the hills, and by noon we had reachedthe flat country of the Rhône delta. The road was not bad at all. Of course it could not be compared with the new concrete highway between Chicago and Earthworm City, Illinois, but it was pretty good.
At one o’clock we stopped for a picnic lunch, and at once my Frenchcalliope player began to get a little temperamental. He had been alternately stoking the boiler and massaging the keys all morning. He remarked that he was tired of playing, and right away Jean said that he himself was twice as tired of listening. The young musician at once got very sore, and there was such an argument that I had to step in myself and quiet it. On the whole, I was rather inclined to sympathize with Jean. I find that the music of the steam piano—though it is wonderful at first—tends to become a trifle wearying after the first three or four hours. I tactfully suggested that the young musician might take things a bit easier through the afternoon, but he was so sore that he played practically continuously in the hope that it would annoy Jean. It did. And it also began to annoy me.
About suppertime we reached the small town of St.-Chamas, where I arranged for us to spend the night in a small inn. During the evening we showed the tractors and the machinery to a crowd of the inhabitants that had gathered around. Unfortunately, there did not seem to be any very lively prospects.
The next morning we got under way early. Before starting, I had Gadget tell the piano player very emphatically that he was to operate his instrument only at such times as I ordered, and he was not to keep up any such continuous uproar as he had the day before. This very reasonable request he seemed to regard as a reflection on the quality of his playing, and during most of the day’s ride he sulked and grieved like a spoiled child. But he obeyed orders; we had music only while passing through towns, of which there were not many, and, in consequence, the rest of us had a much pleasanter time.
We had lunch at a place called Arles. And late in the afternoon, as we were approaching the town of Tarascon, we discovered something that filled my heart with joy. On the bank of the River Rhône, just south of Tarascon, we saw a large and splendid castle. It was built of stone. It had towers, battlements, a yard unrounded by tremendous double walls, a big gate, and a moat—just like the pictures in books. All around the castle were a lot of dingy, mean-looking houses and shacks.
All this was very interesting, but the thing that made me stop and prick up my ears was the fact that there seemed to be a lot of work going on. There were several dozen men hard at work tearing down some of the houses right next to the castle wall; others appeared to be grading the surface of the ground and smoothing it off at a place where some buildings had already been removed.
In other words, I saw that there was dirt moving going on. And wherever dirt is being moved, that is the place for me to step in and sell as many Earthworm tractors as the job can possibly use.