Bad Things Happen to an “A” John Deere

January 1992

Farming was a part-time job for every member of our family except my wife. I worked full time for the old Pennsylvania Railroad. One son worked full time at Chrysler Corporation and another son worked full time for Lukens Steel Company. We all pitched in to get the work done. My wife had a full-time job grading the egg production from our 2,000 laying hens. The eggs were all retailed.

Our oldest son was drafted during the Vietnam War. He spent 2-1/2 years overseas, returned and transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, where he is a career man with present rank of chief warrant officer.

When our son was drafted, that created a real shortage of farm workers. That was when our oldest daughter was drafted into running a tractor. But heavier power was then needed. This power was in the form of a 1955 model 70 tractor with a four bottom plow, a 1951 model “A“ tractor and a four-row corn planter and cultivator. These model “A“ tractors are known in some areas as “cyclone” tractors. This story is about that 1951 “A,” serial number 674,446, built on April 5, 1951, and shipped to the Baltimore, Maryland area.

I bought the tractor at a neighbor’s auction sale for $500. I drove it home and noticed a knock in the engine. I removed the little pry-off cover and tightened the flywheel.

Soon it was hammering again. Our local John Deere dealer, Edwards & Cox, tightened it. It held for a short time. But it came loose again. A local man told me he could tighten it so it would never come loose again. He got the job. This time it held for several years, but it eventually came loose again. And this time, I just kept running it.

We were now living in Indiana. Our local John Deere dealer, Farmers Service and Equipment Company, told me that the flywheel had been welded to the crankshaft by the last man to repair it.

Finally, it got so bad that I was afraid the flywheel would split in two and cause a bad injury or worse. I still remember one time a farmer’s “D” could not be smoothed out. A factory man came out. While he was adjusting the carburetor, the old “D” gave a big cough. The flywheel split in two. One half flew up and cut off the factory man’s arm.

I ordered a new crankshaft, flywheel and rings from the dealer. I was very busy so I got him to install these. I also knew the tractor used oil like it was going out of style. When he tore it down, he found the block badly worn. It was either a new block or rebore with new pistons. The difference in price was so close I elected the new block route.

That was some 15 years ago. That tractor has never been retired—just a touch on the starter on the coldest day and it was running. Right now I have the three-point hookup on it with a six-foot blade on for moderate snow removal. For heavy snows, I have a New Idea 92 inch blower on our 1978 model 2440.

We have a quarter section (160 acres) here at home plus an eighth section a mile north and across the road. I was planting corn on the upper farm in 1974 when, for no apparent reason, one rear axle broke. I was pulling a 494A four-row planter with no fertilizer. The tractor went down. The rear wheel came in and pinned my leg to the steering wheel.

The family in the house raised hogs for their own use. And about that time of day, the man’s pretty blonde wife usually came out to feed those hogs. I waited. She didn’t show up. All the time I was wiggling around to get myself out from under that heavy cast wheel. She had gone away earlier.

I walked home. I got my 1945 “A” and went up. I jacked up the planter tongue, pulled the planter back and coupled the 1945 “A” to the planter. That old tractor looked odd cocked over in the middle of a 40-acre corn field.

I finished planting the corn, about 150 acres, and the beans, about 75 acres. We had 240 acres, of which about 225 were cropland.

It came the fourth of July. How did I get it home? I took the 1945 “A” with the platform lift on, a lot of blocks, a jack, and chains. All the time I was trying to figure out how to get a three-wheeled tractor home. Then I loaded the rear wheel on the platform. I jacked the tractor up level. Then the solution hit me.

One day at the railroad shop in Paoli, Pennsylvania, we were cleaning up. There was an old station wagon to dispose of. Being in charge of the clean-up crew, I had the men set aside the four wheels and axles plus the swiveling fifth wheel. I had put two by six sills on it and an old oak double thickness homemade door. This homemade wagon still didn’t have a tongue on it, but it had two strap iron braces that I used for a tongue. I towed it up the road and put it under the axle housing where the rear axle had broke. I put a four by eight inch block of wood on the wagon and set the axle on that for flexibility. Then I chained the front of the wagon to the front of the tractor.

During that time, the batteries in the tractor had run down so I put a belt between the 1945 “A” and the 1951 “A” and got it started. Then I locked the left brake on. It was the left axle which had broken. I put the tractor in first gear. That should have given me 1-1/2 miles per hour, but with one side of the tractor “dead,” that would figure out to three miles per hour in first gear.

I came down across the field, straddling the corn rows. By this time, the corn was a couple of feet high. I had to turn right onto the road. I had to make a wide turn or the front tractor wheels would skid sideways. Our oldest daughter brought the 1945 “A” home.

Once on the road, the tractor ran quite easily and I put it in a higher gear. At the crossroads, which dissect this 80-acre farm, it was a left turn. That was very easy. During that one mile down that road, I think everybody who lives west of the Appalachians must have passed me. And you should have seen the looks on the peoples’ faces to see a three-wheeled tractor running down the road. But I had to make another long sweeping right turn into our own lane.

A neighbor, Glenn Harshman, had an extra axle in his shed that he sold to me for $25. He had broken one with a corn picker on it and bought a pair of axles. Since he didn’t have his “A” anymore, he had no use for an extra axle. I put the axle in myself and installed the wheel on it.

A few years later, one of our sons was bringing a pair of wagons down from that farm one night when it caught fire. He kept on going until he got home. He uncoupled from the wagons and parked the tractor. The damage was limited to the battery cables, rear lights, and the cushion and seat. Our insurance covered these repairs.

I had this tractor out scraping snow just before Christmas so the children could get in for Christmas dinner. Some of their cars can’t wade snow like my 1985 Ford pickup.

Submitted by,

John F. Harris

Franktown, Indiana