50 years in farming

Farrow Repair aids evolution of agriculture

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There were ranchers in Routt County who still relied on a team of draft horses to bring in the hay crop when G.N. "Bo" Farrow opened his welding shop on the west side of Steamboat Springs in 1955.

Within two years, Farrow had added tractor sales to his business in response to customer demands. He probably would not have imagined just how much Routt County agriculture would change in the following half-century and how much his implement business would change along with it.

Today, Farrow Repair sells more tractors to bankers and lawyers than it does to full-time farmers and ranchers. The change is emblematic of the transformation of rural landscapes in Northwest Colorado. Large ranches are being carved into smaller parcels where affluent professionals pursue a rural lifestyle.

Today's tractor buyer has a fresh outlook on farm chores, as well.

"Doctors and lawyers -- they all look at it as therapy, it's their relaxation," Lorna Farrow said. "The tractor is their toy."

To suit smaller acreages, tractors also are smaller today.

Bo Farrow died in 1995, and his wife, Louise, died in 1998. But their children are overseeing constant change in the business as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Gary Farrow oversees sales and computer operations, his brother Dusty is the service manager, and Gary's wife, Lorna, manages parts sales. Rounding out the Farrow team are office manager Linda Bernhardt and mechanic Judd Jacobs.

Although the company still works with large ranches and sells skidsters to commercial customers, an increasing share of its sales involves customers buying their first tractor to help with chores on a 40-acre spread. More people occupying smaller parcels of ag land adds up to more customers for implement dealers such as Farrow Repair.

"Some of the people who buy tractors now don't know the terminology, but we can teach them," Lorna Farrow said. "They have to move snow, they have to keep the

weeds down, and they have to harrow their pastures if they want somebody to put up the hay for them. It's pretty simple -- you just drive around in circles.

Lorna plows snow from her lane with a New Holland that is equipped with a blade on the front and a snow blower on the back. Lorna and Gary are enjoying their new little tractor after using a walk-behind snowblower for 20 years.

The crew at Farrow Repair also makes more house calls than your average country doctor.

Today's customers are less likely to change their oil, so the Farrow crew goes out to customers' properties.

Gary Farrow employs old-school and high-tech diagnostic techniques.

"Gary tunes tractors with a laptop now," Lorna Farrow said. "But you can tell by the scratches on (the tractor) if they've had it someplace they shouldn't."

Small farm tractors today typically range from 21 to 62 horsepower. They are much smaller than the tractors that pull hay rakes and balers across the fields of South Routt and the Elk River Valley, but they are, nonetheless, tractors.

Farrow sells new Holland tractors, noticeable for their sky-blue color, sleek rounded noses and black and white accents. The New Holland line is indicative of the consolidation in the farm implement industry.

The logo on the side of the engine cover reads "New Holland," but the chrome badge on the nose of the tractor is the stylized tree that stands for Italian tractor maker, Fiat. New Holland previously was acquired by Ford's tractor division, which subsequently was acquired by Fiat.

The New Holland TC-33 offers 28 horsepower for $20,000. Almost 90 percent of purchasers add a loader for $4,000, Lorna said.

They can be fitted with a large number ofttachments for any task imaginable. They also have become easier to use, with controls that, though varying significantly from an automobile, are relatively easy to master.

Hydrostatic transmissions allow operators to press one foot pedal to go forward and a second to reverse. A push of a button allows them to lock in the speed.

When one of the drive wheels spins in the mud, stepping on another small pedal locks the differential to distribute power between the two wheels.

There are tractors with cabs that pivot 180 degrees so the operator can use two attachments in forward gear, eliminating the need to crane his or her neck while operating in reverse.
The modern conveniences are appreciated by more than hobby ranchers. When longtime South Valley rancher Vernon Summer recently traded in his 45-year-old Ford tractor, he wanted a replacement with power steering.

"Vernon told me he just needed something that was a little easier on his arms," Lorna said with a smile.

Farrow can get fast delivery on large tractors and balers for the remaining large-scale production agriculture operators in Northwest Colorado and neighboring counties.

If a customer needs a baler that cranks out three-quarter-ton bales, Farrow can get them. Then again, many ranchers are buying the smaller tractors so that they can leave the big gas-guzzler in the shed when a smaller piece of equipment can get the job done.

When Bo Farrow retired in June 1985, it didn't last long.

"He went to California for three weeks, and when he got back, he came in and said, 'What can I do around here?'" Gary recalled.

He spent many hours chatting with customers, looking for the parts they needed and dispensing advice.

Farrow Repair retains that longtime local feel, but the current generation is changing with the times.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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