Aussie Ken

John Deere “R”

G’day Mates!!!

I originally wrote an article for Green Magazine in the September 2015 issue about a John Deere “R” that I restored for a family in Australia. I would like to share some background of how the John Deere bug all started for me and how I ended up “Down Under” in Australia.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario, Canada. I was hooked on two-cylinder tractors from an early age. My uncle farmed on the edge of a small hamlet in Ontario called Cassel. In this hamlet there were seven houses, a corner store, and a sawmill. The sawmill was owned by a man named George. George and his brother Ed were custom operators in the area in the 1950’s starting with a John Deere “R” and later traded it for a brand new 820, one of only a handful that were sold new in Ontario. Farms in Ontario at that time were smaller in scale which meant the largest power was usually a 620 or 720. My Father was a Ford man until 1974 when he bought a JD 1120 tractor with a loader. My uncle liked John Deere and bought a 40-standard tractor and a 1959, 45 combine new. We bought the 45 combine at my uncle’s clearing sale in 1978. I will save the combine story for a future article.

George operated the sawmill until 1980. The 820 was the sawmill’s power and a 420 crawler was used around the mill yard. As a kid in the 1970’s, I would frequently visit the sawmill with my father and I vividly remember sitting on George’s lap and pressing the button to start the cranking engine. When the sawmill closed due to George’s declining health, we attended the clearing sale. I desperately wanted my dad to purchase the 820 at the sale, but the selling price was out of reach for him. In 1997, I was attending the John Deere Heritage Days in Ontario, and George’s 820 was there on display. The identification card with the tractor verified it was George’s 820. I lost track of it after that. Hopefully its condition is as good now, as it was at the show when I took the picture!
In 1993, my wife Janis and I attended the first New York State Two Cylinder Expo, and the 1st Michigan Two Cylinder Expo. It was at the show in Michigan, where I saw an 820 for sale. This tractor was owned by a fellow Canadian. He had travelled across the border with the tractor to sell it at the show. He was purchasing tractors from Western Canada and bringing them back to Ontario to sell. We went for a test drive around the show grounds, and discussed the 820. This tractor was an early “green dash” model with single Powr-Trol hydraulics and no PTO. He had another 820 for sale at his farm in Ontario that had PTO and dual Powr-Trol hydraulics. We stopped in on our way home from Michigan. This 820, was a later “black dash” model # 8206506. It had been repainted once, but was in excellent condition. Within two weeks this 820 was at our farm. I didn’t tell my dad that I had bought the tractor. He was very excited when it arrived, with all the memories of George’s 820 flooding back. I used the tractor over the next year pulling various implements around the farm. I did a full service on the tractor after receiving the owners, parts and service manuals. I was confused that there was almost double the correct amount of oil in the differential housing. Not understanding this design of tractor, I just figured someone put too much oil in. One day, while driving the 820 down the road, I could tell the engine was working harder than it should. I looked down at the gauges and there was zero oil pressure!! I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the tractor. I checked the oil level on the dipstick – no oil.

We towed it home and I took it apart in my spare time. I learned the hard way that if your engine has an internal oil leak, there is no way to know, unless you monitor the engine oil level daily. The PTO drive seal behind and to the rear of the flywheel had come out of its bore and failed, allowing engine oil to go into the transmission. This had failed some time before, and the high level of the transmission oil kept the engine oil level at correct height. The lack of lubricating oil caused the left connecting rod bearing to spin on the crankshaft, destroying the crankshaft journal and the connecting rod. The tractor sat apart in the workshop for four years until time and money allowed the repairs to happen. A used crankshaft and connecting rod were sourced from Alberta, Canada. The connecting rod appeared to be correct, but I could tell by looking at it that something wasn’t right. A check of the casting numbers revealed that the newly acquired connecting rod was for an early “green dash” 820. Both connecting rods were placed on the scale and the newly acquired rod was one-pound lighter than the spun one. The correct one was sourced again. After new piston rings, a rebuilt cylinder head and everything was reassembled on the big engine, we belt started the tractor. My parents arrived at the farm shortly after we had the 820 running for the first time, with my mother replying, “I never thought I would ever see that tractor run again”!

I have owned that 820 since 1993 and it is still my favourite tractor! It is sitting in the shed in Ontario with a 1928 D, 1949 D, 620 rowcrop, two 720’s – both standard, one diesel, the other a gasoline model, two 110 round fender lawn tractors, 1966 and 1967 models, one with a Danco loader attached since new, and a 2155 MFWD loader tractor that we bought new in 1988.

Janis and I purchased my parents farm in 1995 and operated it until 2009. We sold the dairy herd in 2003 and built a barn for laying hens. Since the barn was fully automated, I went to the John Deere dealer looking for a job. I was told they didn’t have any part time work. I mentioned I saw a delivery truck driving job recently posted on their bulletin board. The man I was talking with said the current driver was not doing the best job and I was to bring in my resume and see what happens. Janis and I put together a resume the next day, I had never applied for a job since I always worked on the farm. I took the resume in the following day. They informed me that the driver quit the day before, the job was mine, when did I want to start?

I used that opportunity to get “my foot in the door”, to work towards getting into the workshop as a mechanic. After a year on the truck, a position opened in the shop and I was given the opportunity. In 2009, we sold our farm to a neighbour. I signed up as an apprentice mechanic at the age of 42. After three years of training which included going back to school with a bunch of guys young enough to be my kids, I finished my apprenticeship and was a licensed JD mechanic.

I worked in the shop for two years. One day I was checking out the main John Deere website and there were many jobs available in Australia. Always wanting to try working abroad, I applied to several dealerships and was offered a job with Chesterfield Australia, a 13 store, Australian owned dealership. We were granted a skilled labour visa and moved to Australia in September 2013. I originally worked 250 miles inland at Goondiwindi, Queensland which is a cropping area consisting of irrigated cotton, wheat, chick peas and grain sorghum(milo). It’s a lovely country town, but is like living in Western Canada or Northern USA, nothing like living in Southern Ontario Canada. The closest large town was 280-mile roundtrip. After 18 months, I decided that living out in the middle of nowhere was not for me. I put in for a transfer and moved to Chesterfield’s Beaudesert, Queensland workshop. This is a totally different area, 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This area consists of dairy, chickens, beef and horses – lots of horses, leisure and race horses. The main crops here are alfalfa, which is called Lucerne – pronounced Loosen -grass hay crops, corn -called maize, oats and barley. We purchased a home at Kooralbyn, Queensland, a community built in the mountain ranges in an area called The Scenic Rim.


We have our share of different native animals here. Kangaroo, wallaby, emu, wombat, cockatoo, and kookaburra to name a few. But, I would be wrong not to mention the snake population, specifically the poisonous Taipan, death adder, red belly black, Eastern brown snakes plus the non-poisonous carpet python snake. An eight-foot-long python was a resident at our house recently until Bryce the snake catcher came to the rescue and moved him to a new location! Janis has become a certified wildlife carer and we have taken in two orphaned red necked wallaby joeys. More on the animals in future articles.

I restored the previously mentioned “R” model while living in Goondiwindi. Aussies refer to models as “R model,” not “model R “— as for example a “Model T” Ford car is also called a “T model”. While living in Goondiwindi, I purchased a 1967 John Deere 5020 and a 1964 3020 row crop. Since relocating to Kooralbyn, I have bought two standard, all fuel, 420 tractors and an “all green”, all fuel, 420 crawler, 1937 D, 1968 400 tractor/ loader/ backhoe and a 1969 4020 diesel, side console, row crop model as per serial number plate, with wheatland rear wheels, fenders, dust shields and non-adjustable front axle. All will be featured in future articles as well as tractors I am restoring for Aussies.

That’s all for now
Cheers, Mates!!!!