My Inspiring Russian Grandfather-in-law and his Six Wheel Drive Potato Harvesting Machine

Written from the air, between Bucharest, Romania and Girona, Catalonia

Lidiya and I visited her grandparents in Russia for a couple of fantastic weeks at the end of August. I set up shop on their cosy terrace, just in reach of wifi from a nearby hotel.

Lidiya is named after her grandmother, whose infamous baking I was almost daily privileged to.

Lidiya’s grandmother, Lida, baking her infamous piroshki

Lidiya’s grandfather, Sasha, is 82 years young. We arrived in time to help with the potato harvest; heavy work he still takes care of annually with his wife Lida.

Lidiya and I momentarily considering a quite, stationary, life on the land
Lidiya and I momentarily considering a quite, stationary, life on the land

While collecting the harvest, Sasha seemed to handle the 20 kg potato sacks comfortably. Another time during the trip he demonstrated 10 push-ups with perfect chest-to-floor form, and I’ve been told—and believe without doubt—he can still perform 5 pull-ups.

A healthy and active life of drinking and smoking abstinence certainly contributes to his vitality, but I also believe he draws much strength from particular character traits. Before sharing my thoughts on that however, enter some light industrial design observations.

The Six Wheel Drive Potato Harvesting Machine

Sasha skillfully commands this machine. It’s used for digging up, and then transporting the potatoes. It’s also used generally as a tractor & trailer for other tasks.

The Six Wheel Drive Potato Harvesting Machine

The machine fascinates me. It’s so alien, I spent some time examining it. I noted the six wheels, odd front bucket, and improvised seat. The seat reveals several layers of older coverings—like a timeline of the machine’s life told through fabric and linoleum.

Then there’s the externally mounted pull-string motor, and the two-lever steering. The left lever is pushed forward and back to control the left wheels, and the right lever controls the right hand side similarly. The plough, attached to the back of the machine, is used for bringing potatoes to the surface. It’s a modification Sasha himself implemented.

Sasha driving The Six Wheel Drive Potato Harvesting Machine

Although far from elegant, or what I imagine most people would consider beautiful, the six wheel drive machine is absolutely functional. And although not beautiful, I don’t find it ugly, I enjoy looking at it. In the context of Sasha and Lida’s garden—their “огород” (pronounced agarod), originally a state endowed allotment, later purchased by the couple— it works both in form and function.


Sasha made a great impression on me. Speaking with him, even without understanding every word, I can feel the wisdom in his eyes. Some of his traits, which I alluded to earlier, are incredible gratitude, peaceful temperament, warm and powerful communication, keen curiosity, empathy, and love for others. I believe these drive him to continue to learn and serve, making him even stronger in spirit than he is physically.

One day, I was surprised when Sasha started sharing his thoughts on malicious hackers and the consequential potential fragility of government security. Another time he commented on how great is it that technology enables me to work remotely. As well as being unexpectedly up to date on technology, it’s easy to get into in depth discussions with him on politics, philosophy and religion. He is still actively involved in his local community and continues to speak regularly as a pastor in his church.

USSR medals awarded to Sasha and Lida for hard work
USSR medals awarded to Sasha and Lida for hard work

Learning of the difficult life that both he and Lida have lived, and hearing of how grateful they are for all they have now, is something I took to heart. He wished Lidiya and I an even longer and happier marriage and life than they continue to enjoy, and I can’t think of a better person, and couple, to model to help us in doing so.

Sasha and Lida celebrating 60 years of marriage
Sasha and Lida celebrating 60 years of marriage

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