My son is a certified John Deere NUT! He was born into a family with a strong green and yellow history. His grandfather started it all when he bought a new John Deere “A” in the ’30s during the Great Depression mainly because Deere & Co. would sell machinery on the installment plan where IH wouldn’t. There was a faint hint of IH red on his mother’s side, but the green genes were dominant.
His first word was “tractor.” When he was four, he made a wooden front end cultivator for his little 60 riding tractor. He spent many happy hours tilling his “fields.” One day, some city friends of ours came to visit, bringing along their oversize bully of a son. This insensitive lout promptly tore the cultivator off, plopped his big, heavy rump on the tractor seat and put a large, terminal bow in the rear axle. Ah! The cruelties of childhood.
At age eight, he started reading John Deere parts manuals and any other JD literature he could get his hands on. And of course, “Corny Cornpicker” came into being, because he had the mumps. (Bad!) When he was feeling really sick he would say, “Tell me a machinery story, Mom.”
He always got toy tractors for Christmas and birthdays and got the idea to write to Deere & Co. to suggest they make a toy model of a 95 combine. Deere responded kindly to his letter but said sadly that, “At this time, it would not be feasible to try to reproduce and market a toy copy of a self-propelled combine.”
When he was 12, he was determined to make a John Deere go-cart, go-carts being very popular at the time. He was having severe engineering problems with the front end. Truth to tell, the only thing that had turned out right so far was the green and yellow paint job. His sister, Kris, who at this time was more or less totally involved with quarterhorses and Hackney ponies and had an uppity disdain for anything mechanical, remarked, “What are you going to use to hold the front end up, a sky hook?”
On a bright, spring morning when he was almost 16, the seed catalogs began to arrive and I casually remarked, “I think I’ll save up my egg money and buy me a little garden tiller.”
Up spoke self-proclaimed genius type son and his visiting neighborhood cohort, Bri. “Hey,” they said, “no need to buy one. We could make you one out of all the spare parts we have.”
True, collectively, these two did possess an extensive inventory of unrecognizable, non-functioning engine carcasses gleaned from various wrecked go-carts, motor scooters and JD 110 riding lawn mowers.
All through that summer, late into the evenings, the lights in the shop burned brightly amid the hissing of the cutting torch, sparks from the welder and the giggling female laughter of “consulting engineers.”
The pile of pop cans grew steadily, matched in height only by the weeds in my garden as I foolishly waited for this remarkable new concept in agricultural tillage to be finished.
When questioned about their design or progress, they gave vague mumblings about Hemi-heads, chrome nut covers and extensive, non-understandable structural changes. On the rare occasion that I did get a peek at the plans drafted professionally on a seed corn sack, it looked to my untrained eye more like the specs for a 4020!
Finally, in late August, spurred on by a stern, paternal warning of “You two get that thing out of the shop before I have to start getting the combine ready!,” they announced proudly that they were ready to treat me to a test run.
I was speechless as they wheeled out a mechanical monstrosity of gargantuan proportions consisting of handle bars I had seen only recently on an old Cushman, four odd-sized wheels, an engineering nightmare of V-belts and meshing gears sporting a new coat of green and yellow paint that was still sticky in places.
“That looks awfully big for me to manage,“ I said skeptically.
“Can’t ever have too much power,” they assured me.
After a complicated series of starting procedures requiring precise timing sequences by both of them, it roared to life, belching an ominous cloud of blue smoke but remarkably little flame.
Bri, whose eyebrows were still unsinged, yelled above the noise, “Let’s give here a little test and see if she’ll dig!”
Nodding, my son flipped a lever bolted to the handlebars and with a deafening “va-room,” it lurched forward with a mighty jerk, taking all the skin off the palms of his hands. Drunkenly, out of control, it roared across the yard, wiping out a row of peonies, digested a small tree, chewed its way across the snoots of the 227 cornpicker, ran smack into the chicken house and clawed its way halfway to the roof before it fell backward into a smoking, shuddering heap. They rushed forward and mercifully choked it to death.
As the two mourners viewed the mutilated remains of the whole summer’s labors, I—finally, completely out of patience with this whole project—grabbed up my daughter’s riding crop and advanced menacingly on the two boy geniuses.
Bri, in a classic understatement, said, “Maybe it needs a tad of redoing on the throttle.”
Silently, I handed one a hoe and one a scythe. The look in my eyes told them any argument was futile.