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John Deere Dealer in Jordan, Minnesota
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
General stores have a unique place in the history of small town Americana, where people would gather to hear the news of the community and beyond. A visit to a general store would not only supply people with their material needs, but would also nourish their spirits with good neighborly discourse and interaction while they were there. This was so, because outside of the livery stable, train depot, and church on Sunday, there were precious other locations for people to gather. What’s more, anything a person could possibly need could be obtained from the general store. If the exact product were not available, the storekeeper would simply try his best to order whatever the customer wanted. Hopefully, the product would arrive in some future delivery, aboard a train or on a Wells Fargo wagon or an Overland stage. Chances are the slogan that hung in many a small town general store was more than apt: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
As small towns grew, however, grocery stores sprang up to specialize in food products, dry goods stores specialized in clothing, and lumberyards were started as independent businesses. All of these businesses offered the public a much larger selection and variety within their particular economic market than did the old general store. Usually, in the course of this small town diversification, the general store, stripped of all other products, was left with the hardware business, e.g., nails, bolts, pipes, plumbing supplies and hand tools. Needless to say, customers of the hardware store still found the old fashioned comradeship and neighborly atmosphere in most small town hardware stores. For travelling salesmen, this atmosphere was a welcome environment, with a potbellied stove pouring out heat in the wintertime and an overhead Casablanca fan offering cool refreshing breezes in the summer.
At first, in most communities, farm machinery companies sold their grain binders, plows and cultivators through the general store. Later, specialized hardware stores became the natural outlet for farm machinery. In the beginning, all farm equipment companies, as well as automobile manufacturers, would share the same hardware store in the small town, where Overland-Willys’, Studebakers, and Chevrolet and Ford cars and trucks might all be sold together with Case steam engines, Buffalo-Pitts threshers, and horse-drawn farm wagons from the Bain Wagon Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, or from the Brown Manufacturing Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Later, as the farm equipment business became more competitive, companies like International Harvester and Allis-Chalmers began to offer only exclusive franchises to retail outlet stores. Pursuant to these exclusive franchise contracts, the “franchisee” would agree to sell only the farm equipment products of the franchisor company. In exchange, the company agreed not to establish any other franchise dealer in that town or in the surrounding community.
In many a rural community, a chance to get into the farm equipment business offered a real opportunity to many hardware (general) stores that were looking for ways to avoid the decline they were headed into as they lost their exclusive market to food products, dry goods, lumber, etc. In the mid 1920s, as farmers created more and more demand for new farm equipment, the prospects of doing well in the farm equipment business appealed to many an ambitious young man. Two such young men were Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer from Jordan, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,106). Jordan, a flourishing German-American village, was the economic hub for west-central Sand Hill Township and for the area immediately across the Minnesota River in southeastern Carver County. Sand Hill Township and neighboring Carver County were part of the rich black soil area of the lower Minnesota River Valley, with small, diversified farms. Year after year, the soil consistently produced good harvests. In other areas of the state, the insecurity of growing crops on poorer soil compelled farmers to expand their landholdings and forced them to take on large amounts of debt to pay for additional land and any modern farm machinery they might need to farm these larger tracts of land. Here in the lower Minnesota River Valley, however, farms could remain small and still provide a good living.
Farmers in this area were conservative in nature. Recognizing that the black soil could yield a family a good living if the farmer did not overextend himself financially, modern farm machinery was slow to be accepted by the farmers in townships like Helena Township and Sand Creek Township in Scott County. However, in the mid-1920s, it was hard to resist the temptation to borrow money so as to buy more land and grow more crops. Still, older farmers remembered that just after the Great War of 1914 to 1918, there had been a sharp depression which caused many farmers to go into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, by 1923, the worst of the post-war depression was over and the farm economy had once again started to rise. By 1928, optimism was in the air and it was infectious. Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer were among those people who looked hopefully to the future. It was in this spirit and time of optimism that Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer decided to go into business for themselves.
Jordan, by this time, was large enough to be served by two hardware stores–Meyer Hardware, Plumbing & Heating, and Beckius Hardware. The Meyer Hardware business began in the old Engler Block building at 106 First Street East, built by Henry Engler in 1897. Later, C.H. Casey and Meyer established their hardware business there. When C.H. Casey retired, he sold his share of the business to his partner and the business became Meyer Hardware, Plumbing & Heating. In 1928, when Meyer Hardware was put on the market for sale, it was purchased by Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer. Both men were from Jordan. Joe and his wife, Clara, were to have one daughter Kathleen. Herman had married Marguerite (Schaefer) and together they had four children–John, Phillip, Lee and Gretchen.
Part of their plans for the new Grams and Krautkremer Hardware store was an expansion into the farm equipment business. Thus, they entered into an agreement with the State of Minnesota Prison Industries to sell the line of Minnesota grain binders, manure spreaders, side rakes, dump rakes, wagons and binder twine that was being made by the prisoners in the State Penitentiary in Stillwater, Minnesota. (The Minnesota line of farm equipment, which is still being manufactured at the Minnesota State Prison, is quite well-known within the State of Minnesota, but the market for their farm equipment products appears to not extend very far beyond its borders.)
Grams and Krautkremer Hardware found that the Minnesota hay rakes sold very well. Also, Minnesota manure spreaders were selling well. However, nothing travels faster than news of success, and within a year John Deere agents were seeking to interest Joe and Herman into signing an exclusive franchise to sell their farm equipment. At first, Joe and Herman were reluctant to sign if it meant surrendering the agreement they had with Minnesota Prison Industries. They knew John Deere had bought the Dain Manufacturing Company of Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1910 and now sold Dain’s large line of haymaking equipment as John Deere-Dain equipment which would directly compete with the Minnesota line of hay rakes, mowers and hayloaders. Furthermore, since 1910, John Deere had also owned the Kemp and Burpee Manufacturing Company of Syracuse, New York, whose line of manure spreaders now sold by John Deere would compete directly with the very fine Minnesota spreader. Thus, the John Deere agents realized that in order to sign Grams and Krautkremer as a dealer of John Deere equipment they had to be flexible. Consequently, they agreed to allow Grams and Krautkremer to keep their arrangement with Minnesota Prison Industries while still signing the John Deere franchise agreement. The agents knew that the franchise agreement with Grams and Krautkremer was valuable for two reasons: first, the geographic location of Jordan with access to both sides of the Minnesota River was too good a market to pass up; secondly, the main sales emphasis for the John Deere Company in 1928 and early 1929 was to sell its tractors. In the tractor market, Minnesota Prison Industries offered no competition. The agents’ reasoning proved correct. The John Deere Model D dominated the 26 to 30 hp. standard tractor class with up to 80% of the market share, and the GP immediately captured up to 20% of the 15 to 20 hp. tractor class. This was sufficient to push John Deere into second place in overall tractor sales in the United States in 1928. (See the article “Two Cylinder Engines Helped JD Succeed: JD Tractor Production, Part II of 6 Parts,” by John G. Ruff in the October 1997 issue of Green Magazine, p. 12.)
As sons of the same conservative German Catholic community they sought to serve, both Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer were ever mindful of over-extending their business. Both Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer intimately knew their business customers. They knew that just because the Grams and Krautkremer hardware store had found a ready market for horse-drawn manure spreaders, corn and grain binders, and other horse-drawn agricultural equipment of both the John Deere and Minnesota lines did not mean their constituency was ready to replace horses with farm tractors. Therefore, when John Deere began to encourage its franchisees to expand into the service and repair parts markets, Grams and Krautkremer resisted. Because of their special circumstances and the limited nature of the local market, the little hardware store in Jordan, Minnesota begged off on the suggestion by John Deere to expand. They just did not sell that many tractors. Likewise, Grams and Krautkremer did not participate in the advertising campaign that John Deere was beginning to encourage in the late 1930s of holding open houses (John Deere Days) and showing advertising movies. (A 1941 John Deere movie “The Renovation of Jim Knox” was used by John Deere in its campaign to encourage dealerships to modernize and expand their businesses into the parts and service/repair markets. This movie was very clearly not intended to be shown to farmers, but rather was intended for John Deere dealers only.)
Whatever market there was for tractors in the Jordan area was shared by Grams and Krautkremer with the Stang Brothers International Harvester dealership. Stang Bros. knew their constituency as well as Grams and Krautkremer, and they both knew the demographics of the potential purchaser. They knew that in Scott County, as elsewhere in rural North America, horses on a well-managed farm answered to their own names, and after a hard days’ work, they would be groomed and fed immediately after coming in from the field. They would be watered only after grooming, and then limited in the amount of water they could drink so as to avoid becoming waterlogged. Typically, horses would be fed and groomed before the farmer ever went into the house for his own meal. By 1939 and 1940, however, the potential purchaser of a tractor in Scott County was a forward-looking farmer who, although he had developed a love with his old work horses, could see that the future belonged to mechanization of the farm.
As noted previously, throughout the 1920s, the John Deere Model D standard tractor had been a successful product for the John Deere Company. (See “Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota,” in the March/April 2000 issue of Belt Pulley) By 1928, however, farmers were beginning to require that tractors not only do the plowing and heavy work on their farms, but also perform cultivation of row crops. International Harvester had introduced its very successful Farmall Regular tractor which could cultivate 2 or 4 rows in a single pass. John Deere tried a 3-row design for its planters and cultivators with the introduction of the Model C (later called the General Purpose, or GP). However, the 2- and 4-row tricycle design was becoming universalized. Accordingly, the following year, in 1929, John Deere introduced its first tricycle tractor–the GP Wide Tread. Both the GP and the GP Wide Tread developed a maximum of 17.24 hp. at the drawbar and 24.97 hp. on the belt, with kerosene as the fuel. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Publishing Company: Oseola, Wisconsin, 1985] p. 63.) In 1931, improvements were made to the GP and the GP Wide Tread, including a three-speed transmission and a boost in horsepower to 18.86 on the drawbar and 25.36 on the belt, with distillate as the fuel. (Ibid. p. 74.) In the spring of 1933, the GP Wide Tread tricycle design tractor was renamed the Model A, with various improvements made to the tractor, including a four-speed transmission.
Unfortunately, however, this metamorphosis of the John Deere GP Wide Tread into the Model A arrived during the worst part of the Great Depression. Farmers had little enough money to meet their daily needs, let alone money to invest in a new tractor. If tractor manufacturers were to sell any tractors at all during this time, the tractors would have to be inexpensive models. Thus, International Harvester introduced the highly successful F-12 (a smaller version of the famous Farmall Regular which was now improved and became the F-20). Spurred by the success of the F-12, John Deere began production of its own smaller tractor, the Model B, in September 1934.
The Model B was a great success from the very start. It had 2/3 the horsepower of the Model A with 11.84 hp. on the drawbar and 15.07 hp. on the belt. However, the tractor still had a four-speed transmission with speeds of 2-1/4 mph in first gear, 3-1/3 mph in second gear, 4-3/4 mph in third gear, and 6-3/4 mph in fourth gear. (Ibid. p. 88.) From the very first, the Model B outsold the Model A–with 11,012 Model B’s made in 1935 as opposed to 2,866 Model A’s. In 1936, 15,377 Model B’s were produced as opposed to 11,159 Model A’s. In 1937, however, production figures were almost equal, with 18,786 Model B’s and 18,127 Model A’s.
In the summer of 1938, John Deere replaced its “unstyled” Model B and Model A tractors with the “styled” version. Although the Model A remained basically the same with merely a new covering of sheet metal, the Model B was given an increase in cylinder bore (from 43″ to 42″) and an increased cylinder stroke (from 53″ to 52″), thus raising the horsepower from 9.28 hp. to 10.84 hp on the drawbar and from 15.07 hp. to 16.94 hp. on the belt. This improvement moved the Model B more securely into the 2-plow end of the 1- to 2-plow class of tractors.
In many areas of the United States, the Model B earned its living on the farm by pulling a 2-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms across many a farm field. The new John Deere Model A’s and Model B’s were offered with optional rubber tires for the front and back and also optional electric starting and lighting. The battery for the electrical system was stored under the sheet metal hood between the gas tank and the operator’s dash board. Thus, the sheet metal hood on the electric starting models was longer than the hood on the hand-starting, non-electrified models. ( John Deere collectors refer to the “long hood” or “short hood” to differentiate between these two models of tractor.)
The new, more powerful styled John Deere Model B tractor was offered to the public on steel wheels front and back with no optional equipment for the suggested retail price of $642.75. Electric starting and lighting could be added to the Model B for an additional $60.50 added to the base price of the new styled John Deere Model B. The optional Power-Lift Attachment cost an additional $50.00. Optional 5.00 x 15″ 4-ply rubber-tires in the front only, with rear steel wheels fitted with 4″ steel spade lugs, would add $4.00 to the price of the tractor. Cast iron lugs on the steel rear wheels with rubber tires in the front would add a further $8.25. Pressed steel rims with 9.00 x 38″ 6-ply rear rubber tires and rubber tires in the front would add $156.50 to the suggested retail price of the Model B. For the additional weight that could be provided by cast-iron rims with rubber tires for the rear wheels, a customer would have to add another $20.00. (Two-Cylinder Magazine [July/August 1996] p. 28.)
The new, more powerful “styled” Model B proved popular from the start. John Deere made 18,470 of the new styled Model B’s in its very first year of production–1939. Once again, the Model B outsold the Model A, with John Deere producing only 9,299 Model A’s that same year.
One evening after supper, as one typical Sand Hill Township farmer relaxed and unwound in his chair in the living room on his farm located in Sand Creek Township, he picked up his newspaper for a quick perusal by lantern light before going to bed, reading the daily both the Minneapolis Star-Journal, the local Jordan Independent. The independent political orientation of both these newspapers fit his own political views. From the news and information received through the radio and through the newspapers, which were delivered to his farm in the mail, our farmer obtained the news of the world and the nation.
This evening in the fall of 1939, he would read about the war in Europe. Britain and France had both recently declared war against Germany. Although Minnesota was “among the ten strongest anti-war states” (Barbara Stuhler, Ten Men of Minnesota and American Foreign Policy [Minnesota Historical Society: St. Paul, 1973] p. 127), and despite the fact that the German community around Jordan feared war with Germany would mean a return to the anti-German/American hysteria of the First World War, our Sand Hill Township farmer recognized that the United States would once again be supplying the combating nations with food. Indeed, on November 4, 1939, he read in the Minneapolis Star-Journal that Congress had repealed the 1935 Neutrality Act to allow food stuffs and arms to be sold to the combating nations on a cash-and-carry basis. (Foster Rhea Dulles, The United States Since 1865 [University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1959] p. 422.) This meant that the price of farm commodities would rise. Despite his clear memories of the poor return on farm operations suffered during the early part of the 1930s, he had faith, based on his study of recent events, that the “bad old days” of the first part of the 1930s need not extend into the future indefinitely. Times were changing, and the farmer needed to change with them or go out of business. This would be true even in the rich, lower Minnesota River Valley where the goal had always been to simply not screw up and let the land provide you with a good living.
Much as he liked his horses and was determined to keep his horses, our Sand Hill Township farmer would not buy any more horses and would refuse to invest any more money, time and effort in raising colts from his mares. Instead, our Sand Hill Township farmer vowed in late 1939 that he would visit Grams and Krautkremer and negotiate a price on a new mechanical tractor which would perform the heavy work, but he would keep his horses for the light duty tasks.
When our Sand Hill Township farmer walked into Grams and Krautkremer, both Joe and Herman knew they would have to negotiate a good deal on an inexpensive tractor, able to perform many tasks on the farm, in order to successfully conclude the sale. Luckily, the sales literature which they had on hand provided Joe and Herman with the information they needed. The literature reported that the tricycle designed tractors had the power to not only handle two 14″ plow bottoms and all the heavier work on the farm, but would also be able to perform the lighter tasks of the farmer’s row-crop operation, such as cultivation. The John Deere Model B offered power from four different sources–drawbar, belt pulley, power take-off shaft, and power lift.
Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer generally knew that it would not be worthwhile to point out the options that were available on the John Deere Model B, such as electric lights and starting, and rubber tires. They knew that their customers usually wanted a bare-bones, basic tractor that could hurriedly pay for itself with his extra profits. Accordingly, Grams and Krautkremer came to an accord with our Sand Hill Township farmer for a new 1940 John Deere Model B.
Because Grams and Krautkremer was basically a hardware store, they did not keep a large inventory of farm machinery on hand because the machinery would have to be kept outdoors, out in the elements, where it would be difficult to keep it looking new. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Grams and Krautkremer had to wire an order for the new John Deere tractor to the John Deere blockhouse serving their franchise–Deere and Webber, at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis–to arrange for delivery to their hardware store in Jordan. The order was probably transferred by Deere and Webber to Waterloo, Iowa, where No. 83894 rolled off the assembly line on December 12, 1939. No. 83,894 was a basic, tricycle-style Model B tractor, fitted with the “short hood,” which characterized No. 83894 as a hand-start model without the optional battery and electrical system. However, No. 83894 was fitted with the optional power lift and was fitted with 5.00 x 15″, 4-ply rubber tires in the front and 8.00 x 38″ rubber tires in the rear mounted on rims with cast iron centers. The combined price of the tractor with all these options was $877.50. This was much more than our Sand Hill Township farmer was willing to spend for a tractor. Accordingly, he sought to reduce the price he would have to pay by requesting that No. 83894 be fitted with steel wheels with cast iron spades on the steel wheels. Fitting No. 83894 with steel wheels at the hardware/dealership in Jordan, Grams and Krautkremer felt they could complete the sale at a price that would be agreeable to ourSand Hill Township farmer. Even with the optional power lift and the rubber tires in the front the listed price of No. 83894. felt that rubber tires on the front end of his new tractor would be worth the additional $8.75 added to the price of the basic price of the John Deere Model B. in the front would be worthwhile option when making sharp turns in the corn field while cultivating corn. Additionally, the optional power lift on No. 83894 would also be helpful when cultivating corn. The listed price of 83894 as fitted with all these options was $701.00. However, there was additional machinery that our Sand Hill Township farmer needed to purchase together with No. 83894.
One of the main reasons that our Sand Hill Township farmer was buying a tractor was to replace the horses on his farm, especially for the difficult and tiring task of plowing the fields. Thus, our Sand Hill Township farmer would need to include a new plow as part of his purchase of No. 83894 . Furthermore, since the main reason for purchasing a tricycle-style tractor like the John Deere Model B was that our Sand Hill Township farmer wanted to use his new tractor to cultivate his corn and, thus, do away with his need for horses for all field work on his farm. Thus, he knew that he would also need to purchase a tractor cultivator as a package deal with No. 83894.
Grams and Krautkremer presented our Sand Hill Township farmer with a package deal which included a new tractor plow and a new tractor cultivator in addition to No. 83894. The plow was a John Deere Model 4A, two-bottom plow, like the one pictured twice on page 220 of John Deere Tractors and Equipment by Don Macmillan and Russell Jones (American Society of Agricultural Engineers Press: St. Joseph, Michigan, 1988). (A 1941 Model B tractor can be seen pulling a Model 4A two-bottom plow in the fields in the movie, What’s New in Farm Machinery for 1941, available on VHS Tape #90-2 from Two Cylinder Club, P.O. Box 10, Grundy Center, Iowa 50638-0010, Tel. 1-888-782-2582.) The tractor cultivator that Grams and Krautkremer included in the package deal was a two-row cultivator matched to the Model B tractor.
Although our Sand Hill Township farmer was enthused about the option. The optional power lift was to allow the farmer to use the tractor for cultivation of row crops, the purchase of No. 83,894 was most likely part of a package which included a two-row cultivator.
Besides a lack of showroom space, another shortcoming of locating in a hardware store was that the dealership was not likely to have a farm implement delivery truck for delivering tractors and farm machinery to the customer’s farm. Any delivery of a rake, mower or other farm machine from Grams and Krautkremer would have to be handled by a private arrangement with a local truck owner to deliver the farm implement for a small fee. In this case, even though it was shortly before Christmas in 1939, we can picture our farmer as being anxious to have the new tractor at home and working for him as soon as possible. Furthermore, we can see that he may have decided to take advantage of one of the milder days in the week before Christmas to drive the tractor and plow home himself to save the transport fee. Thus, most likely the farmer and his wife drove into Jordan. His wife would drop him off at Grams and Krautkremer and then she would head off in the car to do some last minute Christmas shopping and make other stops in Jordan before she started for home. She would have plenty of time to do all she wanted to do uptown and still be able to beat her husband home, since the new four-speed John Deere B would have a top speed of only 6-3/4 mph. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests p. 88.)
Once the tractor was safely at home on his farm and parked in the shed, the farmer could look forward to spring, when he would finish all the plowing of his fields that he had not completed in the fall with his horses. He would put the John Deere B in the field in the spring with new confidence that the fall harvest of 1940 would bring better prices for his crops. He was not to be disappointed.
Just as he had suspected, the outbreak of war in Europe had caused an increase in exports of food and munitions to Europe–mainly Great Britain. In 1940, 41% of all exports from the United States were headed to Europe. (Harold Underwood Faulkner, American Economic History [Harper & Row: New York, 1954] p. 692.) The new tractor performed well all year–from the spring, when it was dry enough for our Sand Hill Township farmer to get into the fields to finish the plowing, until the fall harvest. As time went on, our Sand Hill Township farmer began to modify more and more of his horse-drawn farm equipment for use behind his tractor. He found that the farm operations which were taking the most time were those operations for which he still used his horses. Clearly, the new tractor was paying for itself.
Over the next few years, the war in Europe expanded and the United States became involved. Now, with the additional need of supplying our United States Armed Forces overseas, the agricultural community was called on to produce as never before. Needless to say, our Scott County farmer was glad that he had invested in a tractor prior to the war, because now with the United States’ involvement in the war, all purchases of farm machinery were rationed. But old No. 83894 performed well throughout the war, and paid for itself in a relatively short period of time, given the better prices for farm commodities during the war.
Soon after our Sand Hill Township farmer started using his tractor, he became aware that the factory-installed operator’s seat on No. 83894 was very uncomfortable, especially with the steel wheels and lugs on the rear tires. Therefore, like so many other owners of John Deere Model B tractors, he replaced the factory-installed seat with a new, large coil-spring Monroe seat. (It is surprising how many restored pre-war John Deere Model B tractors still retain the Monroe seat. One example is the 1940 Model B owned by Ed Adkins of Lesage, West Virginia, Serial No. 83170, which is displayed and operated at the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival held annually on the first weekend in October in Milton, West Virginia. John Deere records indicate that this Model B was manufactured on December 1, 1939, and shipped out to Swanton, Ohio the next day.)
Following the war, John Deere re-instated their pre-war campaign to persuade its dealers to sign exclusive franchises. Furthermore, they began to try to persuade their dealers to build new, modern dealership buildings on the edge of town, rather than in the middle of town, where it was thought they would have room to expand and room for a used tractor lot that could be easily accessible by the rural community. Grams and Krautkremer, however, continued to resist, and by the end of the war they dropped the John Deere franchise to concentrate on the hardware end of their business. They did, however, hold on to the Minnesota Prison Industries farm machinery franchise. In 1948 or 1949, Joe Grams retired and sold his share of the business to Herman. In 1956, Herman Krautkremer died and the hardware business closed its doors permanently.
By the end of the Second World War, changes were afoot all across rural North America. Any remaining horses on United States farms were now sold to make room for tractors, as the overwhelming majority of farms moved quickly to total dependence on mechanical power. Even tractor power itself was undergoing rapid and significant changes. Farmers were now demanding rubber tires on all their farm equipment, electric lights and starting on their tractors, and faster speeds and more power in their tractors. Even in the Minnesota Valley, where the rich soil insulated and protected small farm life, and where, as a result, change was slow, our Sand Hill Township farmer saw that the world was a different place. So, rather than take on the debt that a new tractor would entail, he sought to upgrade his current tractor. His first improvement would be the tires.
Although, No. 83894 had come from the factory with rubber tires in the front, it still had the John Deere-made, flat-spoke steel wheels in the rear. Now, with the war restrictions on rubber tires lifted, our Sand Hill Township farmer took the rear wheels off No. 83894, put them in the back of his 1940 Ford pickup and took them uptown to Louis (Louie) Stifter who owned and operated the blacksmith shop. Louie cut the steel rims off the wheels and then welded the flat-spoke center of each wheel to 38″ rims for rubber tires. Then, our Sand Hill Townshipfarmer purchased a couple of new 11″ x 38″ rubber tires and had them mounted on the rims. Next, he took the rims with the new rubber tires home and put them on No. 83894. The tractor now provided a much smoother ride and could be taken out on the road without tearing up the road surface.
Additionally, our Sand Hill Township farmer sought to add electric starting as a way of further modernizing No. 83894. The addition of the generator for the electrical system was a relatively easy and inexpensive task. Besides the generator, regulator and wiring, the farmer needed only the proper mounting bracket and a fan belt. However, adding the electric starting motor and battery was another problem. The crank case cover on the tractor needed to be replaced with one that had the proper bracket for the starting motor molded into it. Furthermore, a new flywheel with a starting ring needed to be purchased and installed along with the sheet metal flywheel guard that bolted onto the tractor frame around the flywheel to protect the teeth of the starting ring. With Grams and Krautkremer no longer selling John Deere equipment, our Sand Hill Townshipfarmer had to journey an extra seven miles to Belle Plaine to obtain these new parts for his tractor from the O’Brien John Deere dealership.
Next, there was the battery. If the tractor had been ordered in 1939 with a battery operated electrical system, No. 83894 would have come from the factory with the characteristic “long hood” that had a battery compartment under the hood, behind the “dash board” containing the water temperature gage and the oil pressure gage. However, No. 83894 was a “short hood” model, and therefore a location for the battery had to be improvised.
In addition, No. 83894 was an all-fuel tractor, with a 132 gallon tank for kerosene and a one-gallon tank for gasoline. There was a fuel control lever on the “dash board,” allowing the operator to start the tractor on the cleaner burning gasoline. Then, when the tractor engine was warm, the operator could easily switch to the cheaper kerosene fuel. Now, however, in the post-war era, the price range for gasoline, kerosene, distillate, and all the heavier tractor fuels narrowed to the degree that many farmers preferred burning gasoline all the time. Usually, another 6% to 7% more horsepower could be gained from a tractor merely by switching to gasoline as the full-time fuel. Thus, like so many farmers in the early 1950s, our Sand Hill Townshipfarmer made some minor adjustments to the carburetor on No. 83894 and began using gasoline full-time. Nonetheless, he retained the fuel control lever on the tractor and all the pipe connections with the smaller tank so that he might switch back to the heavier fuels if the price differential between gasoline and the heavier fuels should ever widen again. As a further attempt to improve the tractor, the pistons were replaced with third-party, aftermarket, high compression pistons.
Once improved with gasoline power, electric starting, and rubber tires, along with the Monroe seat, No. 83894 served our Sand Hill Township farmer well into the 1950s. However, as the 1950s became the 1960s, it became apparent that No. 83894 was under-powered to serve as the main tractor on a farm where 4- and 6-row crop machinery was now the norm. The two-speed transmission, even with the high/low ranges, made the tractor drastically out of date. Eventually, our Sand Hill Township farmer had to part with No. 83894.
Sometime in the 1980s, No. 83894 ended up on the used tractor lot of Beske Implement in Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. On December 18, 1991, as noted previously, Beske Implement went out of business and auctioned off all their remaining machinery, including No. 83894 which was purchased by Gerald Brocker of Ellendale, Minnesota. (See the March/April 2000 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, page 50). Gerald Brocker did not own the tractor long, however, as in 1992 he sold it to Floyd Davidson, also of Ellendale. Floyd Davison, in turn, sold the tractor to Jim Ellis, also of Ellendale, in 1993. In April of 1994, No. 83894 came to the attention of the author and Bill Radil. In the spring of 1995, the Wells family purchased No. 83894 and began to overhaul and restore the tractor to have it added to the permanent collection of farm machinery exhibits at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power grounds. Restoration of No. 83894 is aimed at restoring the tractor back to the way it looked when the tractor was delivered to the Grams and Krautkremer hardware/dealership, prior to the installation of steel wheels on the rear of tractor. Consequently, the cut-down steel wheels that were mounted on the tractor were removed and a set of cast-iron centers were purchased from Charles Ray Dugan, proprietor of the “Green Ghost” tractor parts in Leonardsville, Kansas, and installed on the tractor. The proper sized–36” rims–for these cast-iron centers were purchased. Then new 10.00 x 36” (or “new style” 11.4 x 36”) rubber tires—complete with the historically accurate 45 degree lugs–were mounted on these rims and then attached to the cast-iron centers on the rear axle of No. 83894.
When the new rubber tires were added to the rear of the tractor the calcium chloride fluid which was in the old tires was not transferred to the new tires. This fluid is a bane to tractor collectors because of the corrosion that the fluid causes to the metal rims of the wheels. However, the removal of the fluid makes the rear end of the tractor much lighter. Refitting No. 83894 with the cast iron centers and rims added some weight to the rear end of No. 83894. To further offset the weight lost to the rear of the tractor by removal of the fluid in the tires, a pair of John Deere cast-iron wheel weights purchased from Kyle Lieske of Henderson, Minnesota, were added to the rear wheels of No. 83894.
In September of 2006, No. 83894 was hauled to Winfield, West Virginia, the county seat of Putnam County, West Virginia, where the current author lives. During the late fall and early winter of 2006, No. 83894 was painted and decaled by Norman “Jake” Lovejoy and Shelton Bailey of rural Red House, West Virginia. While in West Virginia, No. 83894 was entered in a number of parades including the 4th of July parades in Buffalo and Hurricane West Virginia, the Black Walnut Festival parade in Webster Springs, West Virginia, the Golden Delicious apple Festival parade in Clay, West Virginia and the homecoming parades of Granville State College in Granville, West Virginia and of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. No. 83894 won best tractor trophies at the Pumpkin Festival parade in Milton, West Virginia in 2009 and at the Mason County Fair parade at Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 2009. During the five years that No. 83894 was in West Virginia, No. 83894 was started and run on a regular basis especially in the summer for use in the parades. The author found that the engine on the little tractor ran better as long as consistent use of the tractor was maintained. When the tractor was allowed to languish in non-use, the engine would not start readily nor run smoothly.
No. 83894 was returned to LeSueur, Minnesota in May of 2011 and has once again become part of the permanent displays on the LeSueur Pioneer Power grounds. It is hoped that the little pre-war John Deere Model B will be a living monument to the Grams and Krautkremer hardware store, to all the people who have owned it, and, in particular, to the memory of the late Jim Ellis who did so much for the collection and preservation of old farm machinery.