The Last Windrow: The days when there was nothing better than a John Deere tractor

There were lots of brands of tractors, but somehow the tall, thin-framed tractor with bright yellow wheels and green paint set the standard.

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There was smoke, there was noise, there was dust, there was steam flying through the air.

No, I wasn't in a battle zone, I was at the annual Rollag, Minnesota, Thresher's Reunion last week. My wife, brother-in-law and I took in the event and came away with memories of farm days.

I even got to hug a 1951 orange WD Allis Chalmers tractor, one that I grew up on. Gee, that seat looked hard!

I wrote a column way back in 1994 that talked about tractors I had known, especially the two John Deere models that adorned our farmyard. I chanced across that long ago column last week while pawing through some old editions.

After the Rollag experience, I thought I'd rerun the piece. I hope you don't mind.


A Race Horse Of Tractors

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I just heard about a club that has been formed in the area that will devote itself to the "popp'in Johnny" tractor, the John Deere. I'm interested. That tractor is a part of Americana and no doubt there will be one of these mechanical horses taking up space in the Smithsonian someday, if not already.

In the spring of the year the silence of the country would be penetrated by the sharp "pop, pop, pop" of a John Deere tractor pulling a two-bottom plow up the hills and down the valleys of northwest Iowa. You could tell if the farmer was going uphill or downhill by the loudness of the "pop." The louder the sound, the harder the pull.

By merely standing outside our farmhouse door I could tell if our neighbor was plowing oat stubble or an old, hardened alfalfa field just by the sound of the tractor. Hearing that sound, a farmer could discern what his neighbor was actually doing in his field.

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There were lots of brands of tractors, but somehow the tall, thin-framed tractor with bright yellow wheels and green paint set the standard. I think the manufacturer purposely made the machine taller just to make the human running it feel a little larger than life.

You didn't get that magnificent feeling sitting on the low-slung seat of an Oliver or an Allis Chalmers. Only on the statuesque John Deere could you stand erect and survey your domain as you came home from the field.

Kind of like a conquering hero returning from the wars. All covered with dirt, oil and battle scars.

And the manufacturer did one more thing to endear this tractor to a young kid heading for the field. They put in a road gear that would get you there faster than most any other tractor of the day.


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We owned a "Model B" that I could outrace any tractor in our vicinity. One had to glue both hands to the steering wheel because at high speed the front end was basically out of control, but I loved it! Many a neighbor kid's tractor succumbed to the speed of that tractor.

John Deere retired the two-cylinder model in the early 1960s and replaced it with a multi-cylinder powerhouse, the 4010. But somehow the smooth sound of the new beasts just didn't emit the same emotion from a kid piloting the older "pop, pop, pop" John Deere.

The newer, more powerful models pulled the plow smoothly through the fields with barely a whimper. A neighbor farmer had a tough time discerning what his other neighbor was doing.

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

The times had changed. I think I had the same feeling about the new John Deere as my granddad when his work horses were eventually replaced by tractors. He didn't like the change either.

But, I'd almost bet that the old "Model B" John Deere of ours would have given those newcomers a challenge heading down the road in road gear. I just bet it would have. It was a race horse of a tractor.

See you next time. Okay?

Opinion by John Wetrosky
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