A 720 Story

From  the March 1997 Issue of Green Magazine

I had been farming with a 1936 model “D” tractor for about five years. I quit my factory job and, except for about two hours a day, I had become a full-time farmer. I purchased an additional 50 acre farm and was sharecropping another with a neighbor, plus doing some custom work. The old “D” was still doing a good job—it was the biggest tractor in the neighborhood, but times were changing fast and I could see that I was going to need a newer tractor.

It was 1962 and Deere & Company had introduced the New Generation of tractors the previous year, but they were still far beyond my reach. I looked around at a model “G” and an “R,” but decided that something with a three-point hitch and power steering would be better. It was a 720 or 730 diesel standard that I wanted. I went to several farm auctions, but was disappointed to find that they had no three-point hitch.

In the spring of 1962, I advertised in a farm paper and a farmer from Mitchell by the name of Morley H. Lennen called. He said that he had a 720 diesel standard that he would sell. The tractor, serial number 7201403, had low hours and was in very good condition. I went to look at the tractor and found it to be a sharp looking 720 standard with three-point hitch and power steering. Mr. Lennen belted it up to the hammermill and ground some feed and it performed very well. Then we talked about the price; we were about $500 away from making a deal, so I returned home empty-handed. Nothing happened until later in the fall when Mr. Lennen called me again and informed me that since he had finished his fall work, he could now accept my offer of $2,500 for the 720 tractor. I was able to borrow the same 1947 Ford stake truck that five years before I had used to bring home the model “D” (I wrote of this tractor in an earlier article). I invited a neighbor to go with me and we started the next morning on the 100 mile trip.

It started out very foggy, but cleared up and was a very nice fall day. We arrived home in good time.

The next day, I went to my local JD dealer to buy a new plow. This dealer had been in business for 25 years or more and had sold a lot of two-cylinder tractors and equipment. He was near to retiring and was in failing health. He did not like the newer two-cylinder tractors because he believed that farmers didn’t need hydraulics, power steering, diesel engines and Float-Ride seats. All of those things were just a waste of money. He flatly refused to have anything to do with the New Generation tractors.

The day I arrived to buy a new four furrow plow must have been one of his bad days, because upon hearing that I had bought a 720 diesel, he found all kinds of fault with it. He told me to come back some other time if I wanted a plow because he was too busy that day. I had experienced other confrontations with him before and was not surprised by his insults, but this time he had gone a little too far—or so I thought. I went directly over to the J.I. Case dealer and bought a new four furrow semi-mount plow. This was the first new piece of machinery that I had ever owned and I was quite proud of my tractor and plow. The first field I plowed was sod and it did a good job, so I took it to the local plowing match where it performed very well.

Harvest time was nearly over and it was time to start fall plowing the corn stalks. This was always the hardest plowing job and there were very few plows at that time that would plow without a lot of plugging. I knew that the JD plow could do it, but I was assured that the Case would, too, and I believed the dealer. The first time I tried it in corn stalks, it would plug about every 20 feet. I called the dealer, who suggested making some adjustments or chopping the stalks first, which I did and it just seemed to make it plug worse. The dealer exchanged plows for one that was supposed to do better, but to no avail.

The only way that it would do anything at all was if I rode on the plow and tramped the stalks down with my feet while the 720 crawled along in first gear with the front wheel staying in the furrow by itself. It was a 25 acre field and if I worked hard, I could make two rounds in the morning, two in the afternoon and two more after supper. This was a very dangerous method and I would not recommend anyone trying it. It was especially dangerous at night because you couldn’t tell when you reached the end of the field. More than once, I had to scramble up over the back of the seat, grab the clutch and stop the tractor just before it plunged into a deep ditch at the end of the field. I had several close calls and still have the scars on my shins to prove it. I finally finished the corn stalks and then started the soybean stubble, which was almost as bad even after going through the chopper on the combine. I loosened the clutch on the 720 so it would release easy and let my four year-old boy steer the tractor in the furrow while I rode the plow. David and I got along much better this way, but I had plenty of time to regret my snap decision to buy a Case plow that I really didn’t want, but had bought just to spite the JD dealer.

It reminded me of an old saying, “He who marries in haste repents at his leisure.” I believed it more everyday. It was about this time that I noticed the 720 was starting to leak oil at the flywheel and also build up pressure in the pup engine crank case so that when you would check the oil, it would squirt out over your shoulder. I took the tractor back to my friendly JD dealer and he fixed the leak on the flywheel, but said there was nothing that could be done about the other problem. Nobody else could fix it either, so I was just stuck with it and I should never have bought it in the first place, he added. That was the last straw, so I wrote a letter to John Deere’s sales promotion manager at Hamilton and explained my situation. He contacted the dealer first and was not very understanding with the way that my dealer had handled my problem. Then he phoned me and said that he would send the blockman for my area and a dealer of my choice to see my 720 the next day. He arrived with another dealer and after looking over the tractor, he said that there was nothing wrong with my 720 that couldn’t be fixed at my earliest convenience.

I took it to this dealer after I had finished fall plowing. He overhauled the main engine with new piston rings and valves, etcetera, that winter. The bill came to about $350 and the dealer said that maybe the man I bought it from might be willing to pay part of it since I had run it such a short time. I went to visit Mr. Lennen; he invited me in and we sat down for a talk. He said I must have had some trouble with the 720 or I wouldn’t have come back. And so I presented the receipts for the overhaul and repairs. He looked them over very closely and said that as far as he knew, the tractor was all right when he sold it to me but he was willing to pay half the cost of the overhaul, although he knew that he was not legally compelled to do so. I thanked him kindly and I remember him today as one of the finest gentlemen I ever dealt with.

I thought that now maybe my luck had changed, but it wasn’t to be. The 720 ran good all summer until one day in the fall when I was disking corn stalks. I heard a loud bang so I stopped and looked everything over, but couldn’t see anything wrong and the tractor was still running perfectly. I continued on for the rest of the day and the next day. I changed the engine oil and when the drain plug came out, something fell out into the pail. It was a small piece of cast. I hauled it back to the dealer who overhauled it and he found that the skirt had fallen off one of the pistons and smashed up in the crankcase. John Deere replaced them free of charge this time. While the 720 was being repaired, I had to get the old model “D” out to do the plowing. The next spring, everything went real well and after spring planting was over, I widened out the wheels on the 720 so that it could be used to side dress my corn. After finishing that, the haying time was beginning so I parked the 720 under a large shade tree until after haying was done because with the wheels set out, it was too wide to go in the shed. One morning shortly after, when I went out, I found a large tree lying across the hood due to a sudden storm the night before. The tree was about three feet on the stump and I had to cut it off block by block with the chainsaw. It had landed directly on top of the place where the steering shaft goes through the hole in the dash. The dash and gauges were all smashed to pieces and the steering wheel was bent down to the platform. The hood was all flattened down and the breather on the pup motor was broken, but that was about all the damage. The only insurance that was available at that time was for fire, but it didn’t burn so that didn’t help.

A new John Deere dealership had just started up nearby, so we towed the 720 over there and started to repair it again. The hood was taken to a body shop where it was straightened out and painted and a new dash, gauges and breather were ordered. All the new parts came except the cast iron dash; it was back ordered, so we waited a week or two but it still didn’t come, so I gathered up all the broken pieces of the old one and put them in a pail and took them to a friend who had the reputation of being able to fix anything from the crack of dawn to a broken heart. He welded them all back together again for me and it was put back on the tractor and it fit perfect. The next day, the new dash arrived from John Deere. I sent the new dash back and paid the dealer for the repairs, which came to about $200.

At this time, there were 2,389 hours on the tachometer. The 720 was going again and it was corn stalk plowing time. I didn’t know what I was going to do until one evening while we were eating supper. My wife saw through our kitchen window the JD dealer demonstrating a new 3020 tractor and 145H four furrow plow at the next door neighbor’s. The farmer had chopped his corn stalks, so I expected they would have plenty of trouble. The field was about 2,000 feet long and I could hear that little 3020 getting louder and louder as it moved across the field. Maxine was still watching through the window and I asked, “Did they have to stop for a plug yet?”

“No, they just kept on coming,” she replied.

I could hear the tractor’s governor slow up on the headland as the plow was lifting, then open up again when the plow was dropped for the return pass. When I was through eating, I walked over to the window and I could see just one black strip across that field with no bunches or plugs. He had made one whole round and never stopped once. This was unheard of before, so I got in my pickup, drove over and asked the dealer if he had sold the new outfit. He said no, that this was the first one he had received and he was doing a little demonstrating. I told him that when he was done there, he could just leave that plow at my place—and that is what he did. The dealer took the Case plow on trade; that was the first and last piece of Case equipment I have ever owned.

I now had a good outfit and the news soon spread so I had all the custom plowing I could do until the ground froze up hard that fall. The next spring, the 720 blew a head gasket and I had taken on more land and still more custom work. While it was at the new dealer’s being repaired, I traded it in on a new 4020 with Power Shift and my brother-in-laws bought the 720. They got along pretty good for a little while until one day, while driving down the lane, something broke in the transmission and took out all the gears. They replaced all the gears in the transmission and soon after traded it in on a new JD 4000. The 720 was sold again to a man by the name of Sterling, who lived some distance away. He had it for quite a long time. I saw it once in a while when passing by. Eventually the Sterlings sold that farm and moved away, so I never saw the 720 again.

Recently while attending our local threshers show at Brigden, a young man approached me and inquired about some parts for a 720 that he was restoring. I said that I didn’t have any, although we did own a 720 at one time and I still had some very vivid memories of that tractor. I asked him his name and where he was from; he said his name was Sterling and he lived in Mitchell. Wow, could this be the same old 720? Yep, it was! He said that his father had restored that tractor like new, had painted it and put it away in the drive shed. When winter came, he had forgotten to drain the water out of it so it froze up solid. He was looking for a new head, block, radiator and pup engine. That is the last I ever heard of the 720, but if anyone knows of one with the dash casting all welded together like a jigsaw puzzle, I would like to hear about it. Yes, I would like my old 720 standard back again.

It was a good tractor—when it was running!

Submitted by,

Alex N. MacKellar

Alvinston, Ontario