Growing Up With a 1952 “A”

April 1997
I think everyone has had any experience with a two-cylinder that they would like to reminisce about and so I would like to share with you my 20-year experience with a 1952 model “A.” It was one that my father farmed with while I was growing up on our half-section; we also had some additional rented ground. He originally had a 1935 “B,” serial number 7570, that he eventually traded for a ’36 “A,” serial number 430262. He had this tractor along with a small “gray” one that he farmed with until Grandpa moved to Sioux Falls and Dad took over the family farm. It was in December of 1955 that he traded the ’36 “A” for the all-fuel 1952 “A,” serial number 697255, from Ellefson Implement in Flandreau, South Dakota. The “A” had been used very little and my uncle hauled the ’52 down from Flandreau in his ’47 Ford truck and made the switch. This obviously happened while my brothers and I were very young, but should show you that for the next 20-plus years, we grew up on that tractor.
It was the biggest tractor we had and was pretty evenly matched with the other tractors in the neighborhood. Some of my earliest recollections of the “A” included Dad letting me sit beside him while he plowed stubble and clover. Watching the No. 55 slat moldboard 3-14 plow turn the sod over was a sight I never got tired of. Once in a while, Dad would turn the lights off at night while we rode with him so we could see the exhaust stack and manifold turn red hot. To this day, I can still remember the smell of the soil and clover. It was also a way that Dad could get us kids to sleep because after watching the soil turn over for an hour or so and the oscillating of the tractor—well, it was just plain soothing to a country kid.
I can also remember when we kids first started doing fieldwork. The folks would get a call from a neighbor asking them if they knew that one of us kids was out in the field with the tractor doing fieldwork. Dad’s reply was generally, “I hope so ’cause I put them there.” Dad started us out young and there wasn’t anything wrong with that. It was real responsibility at an early age and that paid big dividends.
The “A” was a complete work of art and I couldn’t imagine anything bigger. Even going to the Fred Larson John Deere Days in Sioux Falls and watching the new equipment and tractors coming out, I still maintained my loyalty to the “A.” The “A” was versatile for so many things and once, when Dad wanted to put a loader on it, we kids put up such a fuss that Dad bought a 1944 “B” to help out with that farm chore. Ultimately that did help out some since we boys were getting older and we could get a lot more done, but it was always a fight to get to drive the “A.” It sure was a good “lugging” tractor, too. Many times we were asked by neighbors to help pull them out of the sloughs and low spots. One time, in particular, one of our neighbors had buried his IH 560 and mounted picker in my uncle’s low ground. I think everyone in the neighborhood, with their varied types of tractors, had tried to pull it out, but to no avail. When Dad volunteered his “A,” there was quite a chuckle. Of course, by that time the 560 was buried even worse from all the previous attempts so Dad found some semi-solid ground, put the “A” in second gear and promptly pulled the rig out! I think that episode settled a lot of future arguments right there!
One of my proudest moments came in 1965 when I was in the eighth grade and Dad had made a commitment to attend a church conference back east. The corn still hadn’t been laid by and it must have been by design, fate or whatever, but he took me to one side and convinced me that I was going to lay all the corn by while he was gone. After a few rounds with the “A” and the two-row cultivator with hillers, I was ready to go. When he got back a week later, the weather had cooperated and I had all the corn laid by and was as proud as could be. After that, the “A” and I were inseparable; even after he bought a 1960 model 630 gas from a neighbor with its 4-14 mounted plow, larger disk, and other implements, I still preferred the “A,” hands down. I didn’t get much argument from my brothers as the new 630 was quite a tractor and had a lot of comforts. I even got to do some custom windrowing with a brand X windrower and the “A,” which became one of my favorite jobs. I really thought I had something there! Watching the oats being divided by the reel bats and ending up in a straight windrow was real job satisfaction!

Nothing, however, could compare with my favorite job and that was picking corn with the model 200 picker. I never got tired of watching the corn run through the picker and fill the wagon. About that time, the neighbor that Dad farmed with bought a model 60 with live power. That was really nice in the thick corn, but I usually got my way when it came time for me to run the picker and the “A” was called back to duty. It was those cold mornings in South Dakota with the smell of the corn, corn stalks and frost in the air that made life great. (I even got to skip school now and then to help with the corn harvest and, even in later years, I would take a vacation from my business commitments to pick corn at the farm.) Eventually, the 200 wore out and Dad bought a 227 mounted picker for the 630. I would run that, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess it picked cleaner and didn’t shell the corn like the 200 had a tendency to do, but I still like the pull-type picker. I’m a creature of habit.
Eventually, I felt the need to go to the Air Force for an eight-year stint, which meant that I only got to go home on leave a few times. During this time, the whole complexion of farming had changed and Dad bought more land and a 3010 diesel and, ultimately, a 4020 diesel to go with it. This relegated the “A” to basically yard work and the like. I remember one time after it had sat for a while and had not been run, Dad—in the cold of winter—went out to get it started in the shop. I still have a cassette tape of that event which he sent to me in Germany. The sound of that “A” was music to my ears. Unfortunately, that was probably the last time I heard it run. While my brother was transporting equipment to another farm, a wrist pin let go and that ended it right there. It didn’t make much sense to fix it right away, so it sat in the shed for a few years. Dad did buy a ’51 “A” and ended up using the ’52 for parts for it, but it never was the same. When he sold out in 1982, we let the ’51 “A” go with the auction. The ’52 ended up as just a frame with odds and ends. By that time, my twin brother was collecting two cylinders as well, so the ’52 became invaluable for parts to keep the other tractors going. I managed to salvage the pistons, however and brought them back with me to Colorado where they will become bookends or something. Every time I look at them, they will remind me of some great times growing up on the farm. I should mention that I have a couple of John Deeres of my own—a 420U and a 720 gas. Not bad for a city kid.
What would we do without memories?

Submitted by,
Neil E. Jordan
Littleton, Colorado