The Mankato Implement Company (Part 1 of 2 Parts):
Wilmer Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the March/April 2002 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As has been noted on previous occasions most farm equipment dealorships grew out of the traditional small-town general store or hardware store. (See the article “The Grams & Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealor in Jordan Minnesota” in the July/August issue of Belt Pulley Vo. 13, No. 4, p. 16 and the article “Ray Christian/Easterlund Impliment of LeSueur, Minnesotaand the Wagner/Wacker 1947 John Deere A” in the September/October 2000 issue of the Belt Pulley Vol. 13, No. 5, p. 18.) These early “dealorships” sometimes held the franchises to multiple competing farm equipment companies. (Regular readers will remember the fact that the Miles Supply in the small settlement in Clear Creek Township in Eau Claire, Wisconsin had both a John Deere franchise and an International Harvester franchise. (See the article “The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company of Millwaukee, Wisconsin [Part IV]: the Cornbine” in the November/December 2001 issue of is Belt Pulley Vol 14, No. 6.) Indeed, some small towns would have two franchises from the same company. Two John Deere dealors in the same town would create as much competition between John Deere and John Deere as it would between John Deere and International Harvester within that town. Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester (Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1985) p. 99.) This situation was not conducive to the efficient sales network that the farm equipment companies wished to establish.
Both International Harvester and the John Deere Company began to change this situation. John Deere initiated a plan for “key dealorships” program. Realizing that farmers in the 1920s were willing to drive further (over the increasing number of newly paved roads) to find large dealerships which would serve their entire farm machinery needs, John Deere sought to establish larger dealorships in larger towns–especially county seats of the various counties across rural America. Ibid.
One such county seat was Mankato, Minnesota (1920 pop. 12,469), located on the Minnesota River on the northern edge of Blue Earth County. Because John Deere had no franchise holder in Mankato, the Company decided to establish a Company-owned dealership in Mankato–Mankato Implement Company. (This was not Mankato’s first experience with a company-owned dealership. International Harvester had established a company-owned dealership at 301 So. Second Street in Mankato in 1905. Later this company-owned dealership was moved to 426 No. Front Street where it stayed for nearly 60 years. Long-time readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that in the article “Deering and McCormick Grain Binders” in the May/June 1995 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 21, was accompanied by a small reproduction of a poster from the International Harvester Company dealership located at 426 No. Front Street in Mankato, Minnesota. It was implied in that article the John and Mary Depuydt 10 foot McCormick-Deering grain binder had been purchased from that dealership in the 1940s. Additionally, readers may remember that in the article “The Wartime Farmall H” contained in the July/August 1994 issue of Belt Pulley Vo. 7, No. 4 p. 14, it was noted that Fred and Bruce Hanks had made their way to Mankato for some shopping in the winter of 1944-1945. There they purchased a pair of new drop center cast iron wheels and matching rims for the 1942 Farmall H they had just purchased. Although the name of the dealership was not mentioned in that article, the wheels and rims for the Farmall H were purchased at the International Harvester company-owned dealership in Mankato.)
In 1930, John Deere also decided to establish a company-owned dealership in Mankato, Minnesota, originally it was planned that the dealership would also serve as a “branch house” or a distribution center for the other smaller John Deere dealerships around southern Minnesota. For the purposes of establishing this dealorship/block house, John Deere sent Joseph Rolstad to Mankato in the spring of 1930. He took a room at a boarding house located at 328 Center Street and served as the first general manager or “branch manager” of the new company owned dealership which became known as the Mankato Implement Comany. A building was purchased at 212 North Front Street and the new dealership was initiated. Later the premises next door, at 210 North Front Street were also acquired and merged with the dealership and the address of the Mankato Implement Company dealership was officially changes to 210 No. Front Street. Later it was decided that the branch house for the entire state of Minnesota would be the Deere and Webber Company distributorship located at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thus, the Mankato Implement Company lost its destination as a branch house and became a straight dealership.
It had never been the intent of Joseph Rolstad to serve as the permanent manager of the new dealership. He was merely assigned the duty of coming to Mankato to get the dealership up and running and then move on to another assignment as soon as a permanent manager had been hired. A couple of permanent managers were tried but eventually, in the spring of 1934, Lore E. Smith was hired as permanent manager of the Mankato Implement Company. Lore and his wife, Marie, moved into a house at 918 No. Second Street in Mankato. In addition to the new dealership at 210 North Front Street, John Deere had purchased a building at 1101 North Broad Street in Mankato to serve as their warehouse.
Mankato, Minnesota is located at the bend in the Minnesota River where the river flowing down to the southeast from the Red River Valley bends in its course and flow almost directly straight north to the Twin Cities where it empties into the Mississippi River. Thus in the “River Bend” city of Mankato the streets bent to conform to the river or really to the hills of the valley along the river. The streets are like terraces or steps up out of the Minnesota River Valley. Front Street which is closest to the river and is the street in Mankato where most of the store front businesses are located. Streets parallel to Front Street are located in progressive steps up the side of the valley. First is 2nd Street and then Broad Street which are “parallel” to Front Street. Next are Fourth Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street and Seventh Street until the top of the river valley is reached.
Thus, from Lore and Marie’s house in the 900 block of No. Second Street, it was a short walk to cross over one block to Broad Street and then go two blocks down Broad Street to reach the new John Deere warehouse facilities at 1101 No. Broad. Walking to the dealership, however, would require Lore to walk the opposite way one block over to Front Street and then seven blocks down toward the center of town. A few years earlier, Lore might have walked down North Second Street, a block and a half, to where Second Street crossed Vine Street between the 700 and 800 block of No. Second. There he would have been able to pick up one of the Mankato Electric Traction Company’s trolley cars that plied the tracks of North Broad Street, from as far north as May Street down to Vine Street where the tracks turned to follow Vine Street for two blocks to Front Street and then followed Front Street through the business district and on down to Sibley Part where the Blue Earth river emptied in to the Minnesota River. (Vernard Lundin and Ken Berg, At the Bend in the River [Windsor Publications: Chatsworth, Calif., 1990], p. 49.)
Lore might have ridden this trolley, had he arrived in town a few years earlier. However, by the early 1930s the trolley was gone. Feeling the devastating effects of the Great Depression, the Mankato Electric Traction Company had succumbed to economic hardship and closed its doors in 1930. (Ibid. p. 38.) Now in 1934, the trolleys were all gone and all that remained were the tracks in the streets. Rather than walk the entire seven blocks to the dealership, Lore would take the family car. He had much on his mind and could ill-afford to spare the time walking.
Being a company-owned dealership the Mankato Implement Company was given all the benefits of the latest ideas in advertisement and organizational planning which John Deere was encouraging on all its franchise dealership holders. Thus, the Mankato Implement Company started hosting area farmers for open houses in February of each year starting in 1934. These open houses were somewhat of a mixed blessing. They required a lot o work from Lore and the whole staff at the dealsorship. The whole building, even the shop area, had to be cleaned up and decorated. Food, usually ham and cheese sandwiches, hot dogs and beans, coffe and milk had to be obtained and prepared for the expected crowd of farmers and their entire families during the one-day affair. Marie and the wives of the other employees were pressed into service during preparation for the open house. It was a lot of work, but the large crowd and the excitement created by the open house usually resulted in a nice boost in spring sales of farm equipment.
Even though by 1934 the worst effects of the Great Depression were starting to abate, Lore still worried about the dealership. There was a reasonable expectation that the farmers were starting to purchase farm machinery again, but would they continue the trend that had started prior to the onset of the Great Depression of purchasing tractors and tractor powered farm machinery to further mechanize there farming operations or would they play it safe and purchase horse-drawn equipment to keep their costs down. Even though the dealership was owned by the John Deere Company, Lore worried over the business as though it were his own business. John Deere expected him to get to know his customers and the farmers in his sales area and be a source of information on what they might buy in the next year. It was Lore’s early impression in the fall of 1934 that the farmers in his area would be purchasing tractors, but this would be small inexpensive tractors. Once a person was up out of the immediate valley of the Minnesota River, the land of Blue Earth County, (the primary sales district of the Mankato Implement Company) was very flat land. It was an excellent land for row crop style farming. It was obvious, then, that “row crop” style tractors with a tricycle design would be popular sales items. The tricycle design with the front wheels of the located close together such that both front wheels would fit within the 40 inch path between rows of corn, had originally been popularized by the introduction of the Farmall tractor by International Harvester in 1924. In answer to the Farmall, John Deere had introduced its row crop–the Model GP Wide Tread–in 1929. Lore had been hearing from company officials about the new design changes that John Deere was undertaking with design of the the Model GP Wide Tread tractor which caused the General Purpose Wide Tread to be reintroduced as the two-plow Model A tractor with 16.22 hp at the drawbar and 23.52 hp on the belt. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] p. 85.) The Model A had just been introduced in the spring of 1934 before Lore and Marie had moved to town to take up the new job. Lore had yet to see the Model A in person, only 2,866 Model A tractors were built in 1934. (Kurt Aauman, Ed., Antique Tractor Serial Number Index [Belt Pulley Publishing Co.: Nokomis, Ill., 1993] p. 20.)
The Model A was a nice tractor, but it was the suggestion from the company that there was a new smaller John Deere tractor in the works that really excited Lore. This tractor was to a 2/3 version of the Model A tractor. In July of 1934 this new tractor was designated the Model B John Deere tractor. Production of the new Model B was commenced at the Tractor Works in Waterloo, Iowa in September of 1934, even as Lore was in the initial stages of establishing the Mankato Impliment dealorship. (J.R. Hobbs, “The Unstyled Model B” in the July 1995 issue of Green Magazine pp. 21-22.) Testing of the Model B was begun in the Tractor Test Laboratory at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 15, 1934. However, cold weather delayed the final results of the testing until April 19, 1935. Final results showed that the new Model B would deliver up to 14.3 hp at the belt pulley and 10.28 hp at the drawbar. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests p. 88.)
It was the new Model B, that Lore thought was just the inexpensive row-crop tractor that would sell well in the area around Mankato. He relayed his feeling to John Deere management. Consequently, shortly after Lore had gotten the business established and running, Mankato Implement Company took delivery of the first order of Model B tractors between Christmas of 1934 and New Years Day of 1935. John Deere Model B tractors (Serial Nos. 1775, 1805, 1830 and 1852) had all been built at Waterloo on Thursday, December 27, 1934 and shipped out to Mankato, the next day, on Friday, December 28, 1934. The tractors were all configured with steel wheels–front and rear. (Production Register: The John Deere Model “B” Tractor [Two Cylinder Pub.: Grundy, Iowa, 1998] p. 15-16.) The tractors traveled over the weekend and arrived in Mankato’s picturesque Chicago and North Western Railway depot located at Main Street and the south bank of the Minnesota River near the Main Street bridge leading over to North Mankato, Minnesota (1930 pop. 2,822) on Monday December 31, 1934. Lore and a couple of employees of Mankato Implement dealership picked up the tractors and transported them the 32 blocks back to the dealership on that Monday.
It was with satisfaction that Lore Smith noted that none of the four tractors remain long at the dealership before they were sold to area farmers. By April of 1935, Mankato Implement was taking delivery of another five Model B tractors (Serial Nos.4817, 4825, 4835, 4839, and 4866. These tractors had all been built on April 19, 1935 and had been shipped to Mankato the same day. Although, Nos. 4825, 4835, 4539 and 4852 were all shipped with steel wheels front and rear, No. 4817 was shipped with 5.00 x 15″ rubber 4-ply tires in front and round spoke 9.00 x 36″ 6-ply rubber tires in the rear. (Ibid. pp. 46-47.)
Just as Lore had suspected and as he had related to the John Deere officials, the small John Deere Model B proved to be a very popular seller. Mankato Implement found that the Model B was consistently outselling the larger Model A tractor. Mankato Implement was not alone in making this discovery. As has been noted previously, the John Deere Model B outsold the Model A in 1935 and 1936. (See the production comparisons between the Model A and Model B tractors for these years listed in the article “The Grams & Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealer in Jordan, Minnesota” in the July/August 2000 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 13, No. 4. p. 19.)
John Deere Model B tractor sales were so strong, that early in 1937, as the dealership was once again preparing for the annual open house, the dealership took delivery of six more little Model B tractors. Serial Nos. 34019 (built on February 19, 1937), 34053, (built on February 18, 1937), 34081, 34130, 34133 and 34137 (all built on February 22, 1937 were all loaded onto a railroad car and shipped out of the Waterloo Tractor Works headed for Mankato Implement on Tuesday February 23, 1937. (Production Register: The John Deere Model “B” Tractor p. 345-347.) The tractors arrived in Mankato on Thursday just prior to the scheduled open house planned for the following Saturday. No. 34019 arrived in Mankato without any wheels. Lore had ordered this tractor for a farmer who already had a set of wheels taken from a tractor that had been involved in a fire in a machine shed. The farmer had brought the burnt steel wheels into Mankato Implement to have the mechanics there clean and repaint the wheels in anticipation of the arrival of the John Deere B tractor he had ordered.
No. 34019 arrived at the depot and was loaded onto the Mankato Implement’s 2-ton Dodge truck for transport back to the dealership warehouse located at 1101 North Broad. Because all staff at Mankato Implement were now busy in preparations for the open house on Saturday, “prepping” of this tractor would have wait until next week. With the exception of No. 34130 which arrived with 5.00 x 15″ rubber tires on the front and steel wheels in the rear, all of the new Model Bs were configured with steel-wheels front and rear. Ibid. Lore noticed that the rubber tires on the front wheels of No. 34130 were mounted on the new “pressed-steel” wheel rims.
Ever since, Serial No. 29631, John Deere had gone to these pressed-steel wheel rims as standard equipment for all those tractors which required rubber tires in front. These “disc type” wheel rims replaced the round-spoke wheel rims which had been standard equipment for tractors with front rubber tires, previously. (J.R. Hobbs, John Deere Unstyled Letter Series [Green Magazine: Bee, Nebaska, 2000] p. 134.) Rubber tires in front would allow the tractor to steer easily. Many farmers knew that the tractor steered much more easily with the rubber tires in the front. Thus, they would tend to pay the $20.00 of additional cost for rubber tires in the front. However, they tended to decline the additional $110.00 for the optional rubber tires on the rear of the tractor.
Lore was starting to notice that many new John Deere Model A tractors were sold with the configuration of rubber tires in the front and steel wheels in the rear. Lore thought he might apply the same theory to the John Deere Model B tractor. Thus, he had the shop mechanics “prep” No. 34130, with its rubber tires in the front, “prepped” for display during the open house. No. 34130 would show the guests at the open house on Saturday, the popular option of rubber tires in the front. For diversity in the open house display, Lore also had the steel-wheeled No. 34137 prepped for display on Saturday. The other tractors were kept up at the warehouse on No. Broad Street, to be prepped for sale at a later date when the Mankato Implement staff was not so busy handling the last minute details of the open house. Much as Lore Smith and the staff at the Mankato Implement Company looking forward to the open house on Saturday, there were many other people looking forward to the open house also. The open house had been well advertised in the Furrow magazine and local daily newspaper–the Mankato Free Press as well as the weekly newspapers of Blue Earth County. Accordingly, it is perfectly natural that in February of 1937, one particular farmer and his family journeyed from their farm located in Rapidan Township to Mankato, to participate in the open house at the Mankato Implement Company.
Rapidan Township is located up out of the immediate river valley in which the city of Mankato is located. As one travels up out of the immediate valley of the Minnesota River from Mankato on State Route No. 66 toward Good Thunder, Minnesota (1930 pop. 452), one would cross over the line into Rapidan Township. Rapidan Township was located on the rim of the valley. With shocking suddenness the land at the rim of the valley changes from the valley which is heavily populated with hardwood trees and flattens out into the treeless prairie that makes up a great deal of southwestern Minnesota. As noted elsewhere the rich black gumbo soil of this prairie is reputed to be the richest soil in the world. (See the article “Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota” in the March/April 2000 issue of Belt Pulley Vol 13, No. 2, p. 20.) This rich soil was very good for growing corn. As a consequence, intensive row crop raising on larger farms is the was the rule. This trend became more prevalent as one moved south into Iowa.
Located on the stark dividing line between valley and prairie Rapidan Township is itself divided. While the southern part of the township is clearly prairie, the northern part of the township remains wooded with uneven ground and is, therefore, home to small farms.
In the center of Rapidan Township is the un-incorporated settlement of Rapidan. Although the settlement had its own general store and had its own K through 12 public school, the settlement had never become incorporated. A dam built across the LeSueur River at a location to the west of the settlement become the cite of a second unincorporated settlement in the township, called “Rapidan Dam.” Located too near the city of Mankato, the settlements of Rapidan and Rapidan Dam never really had a chance to grow into independent economic entities. Even in horse and buggy days, it was too easy for farmers to travel to Mankato to do their shopping. As the automobile became more popular, Rapidan seemed to fall even more under the shadow of Mankato.
Thus, on this last Saturday in February of 1937, our Rapidan Township farmer and his wife was making another of their regular trips into Mankato to do some shopping. The special event of this particular Saturday was the open house at the Mankato Implement Company which they planned to attend. It would be a chance to get off the farm for a day and look at the new farm equipment that had arrived at the dealership, eat some of the food that would be provided and enjoy the movies that might be shown. The open house was becoming a traditional annual event for the family and their two young sons looked forward to the open house at the dealorship almost as much as they looked forward to Christmas. The family had attended every open house since the very first year in 1934. Last year in February 1936, not only had they seen the Sheppard family film called Sheppard and Son, but for the first they had also been treated to a second movie. This movie was called Murphy Delivers the Goods. The boys were looking forward to another adventure in the Sheppard family series of movies. They also expected, based on the previous year’s experience, that there would another additional motion picture feature. They were not to be disappointed.
Although there was no Sheppard family feature that year, there was a total of three films shown at the open house in 1937. Nineteen-thirty-seven was the centennial celebration of the first development of the steel plow by John Deere. Thus, a dramatized version of the story of John Deere’s building of the first steel plow at Grand Detour, Illinois was shown in The Blacksmith’s Gift. Another film called School Days showed how John Deere mechanics from local dealership were received training from company sponsored seminars. Additionally, a new feature called What’s New for 1937 was shown. Long after these open houses would be designated “John Deere Day,” the What’s New movies would continue to be regular annual feature at every subsequent John Deere Day open house. The boys found the scenes involving the large machinery in the 1937 What’s New movie to be enthralling. However, for our Rapidan Township farmer, it was the scenes involving the small John Deere tractor–the Model B–that he found most interesting
In the past year many farmers across the nation had purchased tractors as a means of reducing the farm dependence on horses. Many of his own, neighbors right in Rapidan Township had obtained tractors. Because of his attendance at past open houses, and because of his past purchases of John Deere horse-drawn equipment, our Rapidan Township farmer had been receiving the Furrow magazine in the mail. This John Deere Company publication had kept him up to date on the latest information on the latest farm equipment offered by John Deere. He had followed development of the tricycle design by John Deere as reported in the Furrow magazine. To be sure , John Deere had experimented with a non-tricycle, four-wheel cultivating system—the Model GP tractor, which would cultivate three rows at a time. However, our Rapidan Township farmer knew that this cultivating system would require him to also purchase a new three-row corn planter. He felt that the money invested in this new corn planting system could not be supported by his 80-acre dairy farm and so he never seriously considered the Model GP tractor. In 1931, however, the Furrow magazine announced that John Deere was introducing a new tricycle style tractor—the Model GP Wide-Tread. The GP Wide-Tread (or GPWT) was based on the two-row cultivating design. Since this two-row design would allow him to continue using the same two-row horse-drawn corn planter that he had used in the past, he became quite interested.
The Model GPWT tractor was improved by John Deere and in April of 1934 was re-introduced as the John Deere Model A. However, the price of the John Deere Model A tractor was $1,175.00. The following year, 1935, John Deere announced the introduction of a new smaller tractor—this was the new Model B tractor that was 2/3 the size of a Model A. The price of a new John Deere Model B was $682.00.
Accordingly, at the open house in Mankato, our Rapidan Township farmer passed by the John Deere Model D that was being displayed and also by-passed the John Deere Model A tricycle designed tractors. He knew that his 80-acre farm was not big enough to require a “big tractor.” He even strolled past the Model B bearing Serial No. 34130. No. 34130 had rubber tires on the front wheels. Any small tractor would be easy enough to steer, even if it were mounted on steel wheels in the front. There would be no need to engage in the additional luxury and expense of rubber tires. Our Rapidan Township farmer knew that rubber tires in the front would add $20.00 to the price of the John Deere Model B. He also felt there was no need for the optional power lift on the tractor. The power lift provided a mechanical method for lifting the cultivator rather than using the standard equipment hand levers. However the optional power lift would add $50.00 to the total price of the tractor. He knew that he would have to keep the price of the tractor as low as possible if he were to buy a tractor at all. Thus, his eyes fell on the next John Deere B, No. 34137 which was mounted on steel wheels front and rear. One of the sales staff of Mankato Implement came up to talk to him.
As noted above, the list price of No. 34137 was $682.00. However, as with most tractor sales, the negotiation over the price of the deal included other equipment—in this case a new John Deere Model B-124 mounted two-row cultivator and a pull-type Model 52 Jiohn Deere two-bottom plow. After some negotiation on the whole package, our Rapidan Township farmer agreed on the purchase of a John Deere B. (He would not actually purchase No. 34137, but rather he would purchase 34081, one of the other Model Bs that had arrived on Thursday before the open house which was still up at the warehouse.) In the week following the open house, the staff at the warehouse prepped No. 34081 and had it ready for delivery to our Rapidan Township farmer’s farm.
As a “short frame” Model B, No. 34081 had the “closed loop” or “tear drop hole” style of drwawbar. This closed loop drawbar was designed for use with a John Deere plow with the appropriate mating coupler—such as the Model 52 plow. This type of hitch was intended by John Deere engineers to automatically detach when the plow hit an immovable obstruction while working in the field. Some sort of automatic detaching mechanism in the hitch, was a safety feature that was being incorporated into all plows by the 1930s. There had been a number of deadly accidents that had occurred in the 1920s with plows, without any safety release mechanism. Without the safety release mechanism, when a plow hit an obstacle, the front end of the tractor would tend to leave the ground. If the obstacle was immoveable, the front end of the tractor could come up over the operator and land upside down on top of the plow. Too often the operator would be crushed between the tractor and the plow.
A great number of these accidents in the 1920’s involved the Fordson tractor. With the operator’s position, low to the ground on the Fordson and with the hitch being positioned relatively high on the tractors, the “center of draft” on the tractor located well behind the rear axle. This meant that the Fordson was highly susceptible to this type of accident. An earlier attempt to deal with thjis same problem led to the introduction of the “swinging drawbar” which would attach to the “belly” of the tractor some where ahead of the rear axle. This design would move the center of draft on the tractor to a location ahead of the rear axle. This design would tend to pull the front end of the tractor down in hard going. However, the current author experienced a common problem which must have afflicted many farmers, when he found that the Clark-Christianson 1953 Super M was almost impossible to control when plowing with the plow hitched swinging drawbar because of a lack of a straight “longitudinal” line of draft between the tractor and the plow./ Eventually, the current author was forced to connect the plow directly to the cross drawbar in order have a straight line of horizontal line of draft. The current author was not the only person to have this problem, because he remembered that his father, the late Wayne A. Wells also hitched his McCormick-Deering 3-bttom plow directly to the cross drawbar of his 1950 Farmall M when plowing rather than using the swinging drawbar. Precisely because the plow manufacturers could not be sure that farmers would use the swinging drawbar, the plow manufacturers had felt compelled to develop some sort of automatic safty un-hitching coupler to avoid liability for the dadly accidents that had been occurring.
It was with this safety concept in mind, that Deere and Company developed the coupler hitch and the tear drop drawbar. It was anticipated that when the tractor and plow became detached in the field, that the operator would need only to back the tractor up in order to slide the tear drop swinging drawbar into the coupler hitch on the plow until the coupler snapped and locked again. Then the operator would be able drive off the plow securely hitched to the tractor. The whole procedure could be accomplished without the operator even leaving his seat on the tractor. The Model 52 plow with 12” bottoms that our Rapidan Township farmer had purchased with No. 34081 was fitted with the coupler hitch that was matched to the closed loop drawbar. Of course, John Deere sold the Model 52 with a clevis that was to be used when a non-John Deere Tractor without a teardrop swinging drawbar was top be used with the plow. Indeed in the movie called Murphy Deliverfs the Goods which had been shown last year at the 1936 open house, a salesman is seen delivering a John Deere Model A tractor and a Model 52 plow with 14 inch bottoms. In the movie, the salesman named “Bill” shows the customer “Joe Brown” the optional clevis relates that the clevis is not needed because the John Deere Model A tractor has the closed loop drawbar. John Deere would abandon the closed loop swinging drawbar on the Model B tractor in June of 1937 with Serial No. 42200. This change would coincide with the introduction of the new “stretched frame” Model B tractors. Thus, the “tear drop” or “closed loop” drawbar became a unique feature of the “short-frame” Model B tractors like 34081. Our Rapidan Township farmer hung the optional clevis up on a nail pounded into a roof beam over his work bench in his machine shed. He would have the clevis if it were ever needed.
Our Rapidan Township farmer put No. 34081 to work on the farm with the John Deere Model 52 plow as soon as the fields dried up sufficiently to allow the ground to be worked up. Later in June, however, when the corn on the farm began to sprout our Rapidan Township farmer found that he could enjoy one of the major benefits of the tricycle design of the Model B. Attaching the Model B-124 two-row cultivator to No. 34081, he found that he could cultivate his whole 30 acres of corn in a single day. This was a real savings in time over the single-row horse-drawn cultivator which might take four days to cover the same 30 acres. Furthermore, the corn was wire-checked which meant that the corn had to be cultivated length-wise, then cross-cultivated and cultivated lengthwise again. Thus, the cultivation of the crop with the Model B was saving more than a week’s worth of time during the busy growing season.
No. 34081 was put to work over the years on a number of tasks around the farm. Our Rapidan Township farmer found that No. 34081 started easily even in the winter. However, improvements were needed to the tractor as time went by. One of the first improvements was to install a much more comfortable Monroe coil spring seat to replace the original John Deere seat. The original John Deere seat was so rigid that it provided very little comfort to the operator. Especially on a tractor with steel wheels and 3″ high lugs. The Monroe seat with its large coil spring and Monroe shock absorber was a vast improvement. In 1939, International Harvester began installing this same Monroe seat on its new styled lettered series Farmall tractors–the Model M and Model H. It was optional equipment on the Farmalls but it was such a popular option that it might as well been standard equipment. A surprising number of un-styled and early styled John Deere B’s were also fitted with the Monroe seat. Regular readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will note that the 1940 Model B Serial No. 83894 which was sold through the Grams and Krautkremer Hardware store in Jordan, Minnesota as well as Serial No. 83170 which was sold through a dealership in Swanton, Ohio, and is, currently owned by Edward Atkins and is displayed regularly at the annual Pumpkin Festival in Milton, West Virginia, were both fitted with the Monroe seat. (See “The Grams and Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealer for Jordan, Minnesota,” in the July/August 2000 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol 13, No. 4, p. 22.)
In the black gumbo soil of Blue Earth County, our Rapidan Township farmer found another shortcoming in the tractor. Even in relatively dry conditions the soil would stick to the steel wheels. Thus the front wheels of the No. 52 plow tended to become a balled up mass mud and weeds—especially the furrow wheel on the right side of the plow. He knew that mud did not stick to rubber as much as to steel. Accordingly, our Rapidan Township farmer copied a trick employed by other farmers in his neighborhood. He cut two or three slits in the sidewall of an old blown-out tire, in order to slip the tire over the furrow wheel of his plow. This helped prevent mud buildup on the furrow wheel.
Eventually, he came to see the advantage of rubber tires on the front end of number 34081 would prevent the tractor from gathering dirt and balling up with mud in wet conditions. He found a convenient opportunity to fit rubber tires on the front wheels of the tractor. As indicated above, had No. 34081 come from the factory with rubber tires on the front, the tires would have been mounted on 3′ x 15″ pressed-steel disc type rims, just as No. 34130 had been mounted with rubber tires in the front on pressed-steel disc type rims. Ever since Serial No. 29631, this was the disc-type rim that was used for rubber tires in the front Model B tractors. For Model B tractors made prior to No. 29630, Deere & Company had relied on their contract with the French and Hecht Company to supply 3″ x 15″ round spoke rims for rubber tires on the front of their Model Bs. (J. R. Hobbs, The John Deere Unstyled Letter Series [Green Magazine Pub.: Bee, Nebraska, 2000] p. 134.) The round spoke wheel were being phased out at all the dealerships.
Indeed, the Mankato Impliment was beginning to get an extra supply of these new pressed steel rim in to sell to farmers who were seeking to retrofit their tractors with rubber in the front. However, the Mankato dealership had a remaining pair of round-spoke French and Hecht rims left over in their inventory which they now offered at a reduced price. Our Rapidan Township farmer happened to be at the dealership one day in 1938 buying some new parts for his corn planter, when he was told by the parts man about the round spoke wheel rims. He felt the price was such a good deal that now would be the time to ungrade his tractor with rubber tires on the front.
Over the years, our Rapidan Township farmer put No. 34081 to work on a number of tasks around the farm in all seasons. The little John Deere short-frame worked very well for our Rapidan Township farmer. With his manure spreader fitted with a shortened tongue he began to use the tractor to haul the manure to the field. He had not simply cut the long tongue of his horse drawn manure spreader to convert it to tractor use, rather he had made a new shortened tongue. Then he, carefully, hung the old long tongue up on the wall in his machine shed—for use in case the tractor broke down.
Old habits die hard. He could not part absolutely from his favorite horses. Still, not having to hitch up the horses to do even small jobs like hauling the manure from the barn to the field each day was a blessing. Indeed in the past, during the busy summer season he had to let the manure pile up outside his barn at the end of the track of his barn cleaner. He did this to save time and to save his horses’ energy for the field work. Now with the tractor, after he let out the cows, he could pull the manure spreader right up under the end of the track for the barn cleaner. Then after loading up the carriage of the barn cleaner, he would wheel the carriage along the over-head track down the center of the alley way of his barn and out the door to where the manure spreader sat. There he would dump the contents of the carriage into the manure spreader. Then after sweeping the alleyway and spreading some lime on the gutters and alleyway, he was off to the field with the manure. He always wanted to get to the field very day with the manure so that manure spreader did not sit any length of time with the corrosive manure eating away at the wood and metal parts of the manure spreader. More importantly, however, the manure could be delivered to the field while it was still fresh and before it had lost any of nutritive value for the plants.
This was the early life’s work of No. 34081. The life’s work of No. 34081 and other John Deere equipment will be featured at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show on August 23-25, 2002 as the Minnesota Chapter of the Two-Cylinder Club holds its annual convention on the Pioneer Power grounds.