Heads It Is!

May 1993

The following are selected excerpts from the acquisition of a 1936 unstyled John Deere “AN,”serial number 427930, originally shipped with no rear wheels to Sacramento, California.

This unforeseen quest evolved from a harmless classified ad in the local newspaper in search of any two cylinder John Deere tractor for sale. After the ad had run a few days, the phone rang one night at my brother’s house. The hoarse, gruff male voice on the other end said, “I see here you are looking for them Johnny Popper tractors to buy. Isn’t that right?”

“Why, yes sir, my brothers and I restore older John Deere tractors as a hobby, when we’re not farming,” my brother replied. “What type of John Deere is it? We might be interested.”

After a concentrated clearing of his throat, the obviously old gentleman said, “It’s one of them model “As.”

After a long pause, my brother requested further information about the tractor.

“Well, it’s only got one front wheel and it used to run a few years back.” “A few,” in this case, was 12 as we found out later.

“Is it styled or unstyled?” my brother questioned.

“Well, I don’t know about any o’ that stuff, but it looks pretty stylish to me!” he chuckled.

After further quizzing, my brother determined that this tractor was an unstyled “AN,” year unknown, that had been sitting outside in the same spot for at least a decade. After getting directions to the gentleman’s residence 25 miles away, our quest began.

We first visited this character and his tractor a couple of days later in February 1992. On the drive up to the homestead, the first thing we noticed was the tractor in question sitting out back. We saw a relatively complete unstyled “AN” with cut-off rears. Our eyes then focused on the weeds up around the eaves of the house and nearby shed, unpruned trees in the yard and cats galore. One of the most amazing features of the area was the nearly three-foot-high pyramid of beer cans in the backyard. The window we could see had torn drapes. The front porch had a hammer and bucket of rusty nails, which had obviously been there since a long attempt to resurrect the collapsing front shelter. A knock on the door yielded no reply. After a second knocking, the door opened and a large man emerged behind a huge belly about ready to burst the buttons on his obviously unwashed shirt. The stale air from inside his castle was evident, as was the beer in his hand and his full head of salt and pepper hair standing on end. It was 9 a.m.

We introduced ourselves and found out that his name was Bill.

“We came to look at your tractor,” my brother said.

“Well, let’s go look then,” Bill replied.

He offered us a beer, but we graciously turned him down, explaining to him that we still had work to do that day. He explained that the beverage would aid in our work efforts but that it was our choice. We inspected the tractor up, down and sideways. The tractor was complete and amazingly still unstuck after 12 years of sitting out in the elements. Bill told us the tractor was last used to knock walnuts from the nearby orchard with a large hook, cable and eccentric pulley bolted to the front. Apparently a belt was attached between the tractor pulley and mounted eccentric pulley to somehow jerk the cable and hook attached to a nearby branch in order to shake the walnuts free from the tree.

After a few more stories, Bill exclaimed, “Well, if you boys are interested in buying this beauty, I’m not going to let you steal it from me.”

Following an explanation of the costs involved with the restoration, 10 spline skeleton rear wheels that would have to be found and purchased and that we did not do this for a profit but only as a hobby, my brother asked, “How much do you want for it?”

“As much as I can get for it,” Bill replied.

“How much is that?” I asked.

“As much as I can get,” the answer came back.

From that point, we figured he was unsure as to the actual value of the tractor. With this in mind, my brother started out with a respectable low-ball figure. Bill laughed out loud and countered with an offer $1,000 greater than ours. He said a man down the road offered him nearly this much more and he wouldn’t sell. Well, as luck would have it, we know the fellow collector and conferred with him later. After more dickering with the stubborn old man, the two sides came within $250 of one another. Well, that day neither of us were going to budge, so we paid Bill only our respects and went on our way.

In the months to pass, farming was first on the list, as well as contacting the fellow collector to whom Bill had referred. Ray was a good friend of ours and mentioned to us upon discussing the tractor that he had only offered Bill $450 more than our respectable figure. He said he wouldn’t pay any more for it and wished us luck in obtaining the tractor.

With this information, we returned to the site for a second visit in late October, following harvest. We noticed the weeds a little higher this time, the nails and hammer a little more rusty, the porch a little lower and a second beer can pile established. Bill came to the door in jockey shorts and undershirt and slippers. Quite a sight, I must say. There was the ever-present beer in hand. It was 10 a.m.

“Well, I thought I had scared ya boys off the last time you came around,” Bill exclaimed.

“No, we just had to get the almonds and beans in,” my brother replied. “Are you in the sellin’ mood?”

“Are you in the buying mood?” Bill countered.

This time we weren’t offered a beverage. We proceeded out to the tractor again and inspected our quarry. This time we noticed the engine to be stuck when pulling on the flywheel. We were very concerned at that point and it became our goal to salvage the find before it became worse. We informed Bill of our conversation with our fellow collector and Bill dropped his price $100, which narrowed the margin between sides to $100 after we came up a little. We again walked away due to differences in the perceived value of the tractor.

We decided that the tractor needed to be salvaged and restored, so we returned in mid-December 1992, ready to deal. This time Bill offered us a beer. We accepted in hopes of putting him in a congenial mood. It was evident he had already kicked off the day with a bang. It was 11 a.m.

“Are you ready to buy the tractor this time?” Bill exclaimed.

“Are you ready to sell the tractor this time?” we both replied.

We came up $50 to meet him in the middle of our $100 discrepancy. We had said before that we would not go any higher. Bill would not come down. He would tell a story and then we would dicker. No luck. Story-dicker. Story-dicker. Finally, after nearly two hours, Bill suggested we flip a quarter. My brother and I reluctantly agreed. The coin was tossed, my brother yelled, “Heads!“

“Heads it is!” I gratefully said.

We came back for a fourth visit to pick up the tractor and found Bill picking up pecans in his backyard/beer can depository. Amazingly, the tires held some air to make it easier to winch the new buy onto our trailer. Once we got the tractor onto the trailer and were about ready to chain it down, an enormous boom nearly scared all of us out of our shoes. A split second later, I was wet from my cap to my boots. One of the tires we had pumped up blew out the side wall and coated me with stagnant water that had seeped into the tire over the years. Bill exclaimed it nearly made him drop his beer from the concussion. We got the tractor home, carefully put a bar in the flywheel with a short chain and broke the tractor loose with only the weight of the bar and the slight pressure of one hand. We were very relieved to get the tractor free again.

After we restore a tractor, we compile a scrapbook of pictures and articles pertaining to that tractor. I think we’ll include that quarter in this scrapbook, for memory’s sake. Head side up, of course.

Submitted by,

Joel and Dax Kimmelshue,

Kimmelshue Orchards

Durham, California