Thumbs Up!


Although the efforts to learn the beginning history of my John Deere 60 were painstaking and genuine, they were, nonetheless, fruitless. I never bothered to verify what I believed to be the facts before beginning the restoration project on this 1956 Deere. Since I had never heard of Green Magazine at that time and certainly had no intentions of ever writing an article about the tractor, so there just wasn’t any need to verify anything.

Now that the tractor has been finished for 1-1/2 years, I’ve spent a portion of that time trying to find out if we are indeed the second owners. I knew my dad purchased the tractor and mounted 237 picker from a man near Connersville, Indiana and the fellow’s name was William Bunyard.

William has been gone for some years now, but I had the pleasure of speaking with his widow a few weeks ago. Mrs. Bunyard did remember the tractor. She remembered when my dad arrived to buy the machine from her husband. She even remembered my dad from years earlier when he lived in that area because she kept referring to him by his nickname. She did not know what her late husband paid for the unit, but offered to see if she could look up any receipts. This, of course, made me leap for joy as it would prove we are the second owners. However, as I questioned her further about the receipts and her husband buying the unit new in 1956 or so, she was quick to inform me that she didn’t know if he bought it new or not.

Being a married man myself, this confused and baffled me. I can’t come home with a new shovel without my wife knowing I just purchased something “brand new,” let alone a new tractor. This led me to investigate with more personal yet respectful questions. It was then I learned she had not married William until 1975! This tractor was already 19 years old when they were honeymooning! She promised to do some further checking around and we kept in touch, but too many people who would know the facts had passed away. Everything I tried led to dead ends as far as the birth history of my little 60.

I was told that William had used the tractor and picker to open up fields for his pull type picker for years. Later, he went the way of the combine and no longer had any use for the unit. Since he was a friend of my dad’s brother in nearby Laurel, Indiana, we were able to find out about the deal. So from this point, I can give a fairly accurate life history of this very special and, by today’s standards, very little John Deere.

It was 1979 when my dad left Mom, my siblings and me in charge of the farm and set off in a 1963 corn binder truck with a 20-foot flatbed headed to Connorsville, Indiana. His mission was to purchase and return with the aforementioned corn picking monster to use on our dairy farm in Wisconsin. The picker had to be dismounted from the tractor to fit onto the truck for the 600-mile trek back home. It was at this time, as my dad recalls, that William told him it was the first time the picker had ever been removed from the tractor. This is what led us to believe he had purchased it all new, and although we still believe it to be true, we cannot prove it.

Once it arrived home, we used it each year to pick the 40 acres or so of corn. Every fall, the unit was backed into the shed to await the next year’s harvest. Some oldtimers would tell us that a 237 picker shelled way too much corn onto the ground. I don’t know if they shelled any more than other pickers at that time. I do know we never heard complaints from the deer or turkeys. For us, it did a fine job for many years, as it had done for many years before it was ours.

In 1990, I took over the family farm. The tractor and picker were now mine and I could do with them as I pleased. Being younger and therefore much wiser than my dad, I decided it was a waste to leave that John Deere sit idle in the shed 11 months out of the year. So for the second time in its life, the unit was separated. It didn’t take long to figure out the tractor was too small to operate a manure spreader in hill country. Not to worry. I decided to use it for hauling loads of baled hay. This job it would handle—but with a top speed of 11 miles per hour on the road, it was quickly retired. I could double that speed with the Farmall Super “M” or the 560. That fall, the 60 was once again fitted with its work clothes, the 237 picker. When the corn was harvested, the two were backed into the shed once more, together again, for what seemed to be their life purpose.

Then came a day when I quit farming to seek a more exciting life and ended up way down in the sub tropics. Although most of the machinery was sold, I never parted with the 60 or the picker. Before I left, they were backed into a lonely shed where they would remain for the next decade. Over time, moving parts began to rust, exposed areas faded to a dull hue and the tires relieved themselves of air, settling down into the dirt floor. Of course, none of this was known at the time.

Out of sight really is out of mind. I rarely even thought of my orphaned 60 for the next few years. There were jet skis and sailboats. There were airboats and swamp buggies. These things required all of my time and attention. These were exciting times and busy times. Some days, I would wonder why my dad had chosen the drab life of dairy farming when there was so much excitement to be had elsewhere.

To fund my new habits, I took a job as mechanic on a vegetable farm. Even this method of farming was so different from what I had done that it was also exciting. There were several Hi-Crop tractors and I had not ever seen a Hi-Crop tractor before. There were several 3020s, 4020s and 4230s, all Hi-Crops. The boss would not have a tractor on the property unless it was green. However, he did not and would not own any two cylinders either. In time, I repaired and painted each one of his tractors and there were many. After a few years, he invited me to an auction in the hopes of getting a couple more tractors. Since his health was poor at the time, he wanted me to drive him around and perhaps do some bidding as well.

What an auction it was! I could never have dreamed an auction could be so large. It was to last a full two days with no less than four auctioneers going at all times. I understood why he wanted me there. It would have been impossible to see the entire grounds in a day if one had to walk. We had a golf cart.

It was held at an abandoned airport and each runway was lined with equipment. There was additional equipment on the grounds that would not fit along the runways and it looked just endless. I had not ever seen so many Hi-Crops together in one place. In fact, I never knew so many models of Hi-Crops were made. Hundreds of people had shown up for this event and the commotion was numbing. In hindsight, it’s really a wonder nobody was killed as there were people climbing over and starting machinery that they really had no business trying to operate.

In the midst of this turmoil and confusion of belching diesels and shouting people arose a new sound which caused me to spin around and sent a pleasant tingling down my spine. It seemed to have the same effect on those around me as well because I noticed many of us were all looking in the direction where the sound was coming. It was the distinctive pop, hiss, pop of a two lunger coming to life. As the crowd and I moved in unison toward the noise, I spied the little man in the seat who had been the reason this machine was now popping a steady rhythm. He was such a scrawny little man with baggy bib overalls that he really looked like a garden scarecrow come to life. Atop his head sat a cowboy hat several sizes too large. Beneath the hat was a broad faced grin displaying the one and only tooth left in his entire head. That tooth was being used for the sole purpose of holding in place his, yes, corncob pipe.

I wonder who among us can deny that the sound of a John Deere two cylinder brings back memories? Who can say with a straight face that this sound is not music to the ears just as much as a favorite old song? Whether it be the lighter pop of a little H” or the deeper bang of a 70, who can say that it does not bring both a sense of longing and of loss? I have friends who have never owned or even operated a two cylinder tractor. Yet, even they will listen with awe and respect to the sound of one working a distant field. Even they will nod in approval as an old John Deere “A” will pop down the track in the tractor pulls, often winning the prize in its class year after year. This sound has a well deserved place in American history. It’s a shame that this sound is becoming less frequent as the years go by It’s a loss to those who are to come after us that they will never understand the millions of people who were fed because of this unique sound. Just how many acres have been rolled over by these two cylinder engines? How many millions of bushels have been harvested? And just how many memories are being forgotten each time we bury another “green” farmer?While watching Scarecrow Man, I was immediately taken back in time to the old dairy farm. I could hear Dad pop-pop-popping through the corn fields as I did chores. You could tell if he was going uphill or down by the sound of the engine. It could be heard for miles under the right conditions. One old boy looked over our machine years ago with obvious disgust on his face. He let us know that a 60 was too small to operate that big picker. Maybe. But it did it for nearly 40 years.

For each load, we would start out in second gear. On flat ground, it could fill the entire load in second gear. In the hills, it had to be dropped down into first, where it would crawl up any hill, spewing golden ears out the back all the while. By today’s standards, it was slow. Back then, it was productive.

Scarecrow Man knew these things. It showed all over his face, at least the part of his face you could see. He had chosen to fire up the only two cylinder on the property and not for its looks. No, it was well past its prime. In fact, most of the tin was missing as well as the serial number tag. The green paint had been gone for many years and now all that showed was a dull rust color. He was not sitting up there to impress. He was there for the SOUND.

He was not even aware that a crowd encompassed him, nor would he have cared. Just as I went back in time to the old dairy barn, he was back in time somewhere also. Only he knew where. His smile never ceased. His head nodded slowly in deep appreciation. Nobody tried to get close and disrupt his time alone with the machine. Instead, the crowd, and myself included, were nodding and smiling along with him. I wonder if we had not all gone back in time and as one, we now declared: Let those big diesels roar all around us, but this is how a John Deere is supposed to sound!

I was suddenly aware there was only one difference between me and the scarecrow. I had more teeth.

I was also reminded that I still owned one of these pieces of history, but it was now in the process of decay some 1,700 miles away.

It wasn’t long after this that my life in the big city lost its appeal. Fixing tractors for someone else wasn’t as much fun as it once was either. I would think about going back home to the farm. I was beginning to see why my dad chose to raise his family on a farm after all. Dad still owned part of the farm. I still owned a couple of tractors. I could go back. I would think about it.

I was thinking about it one day while driving down the freeway. Four lanes of traffic going every direction but none of them led to peace and quiet. The news on the radio had once again informed us that the authorities were cracking down on road rage. I never could understand how people would beat one another at intersections. They must be idiots.

Out of seemingly nowhere, a young fellow skidded up alongside me and with great dramatic acts and shouts which I could not hear, started pleading for help. I could plainly see that one of his fingers had become dislodged and was protruding straight up in the air.

I had seen the same fellow minutes earlier darting in and out of traffic so I knew he was in a great hurry. Somehow, I must have been moving too slowly and got in his way. It took a couple of miles before I was able to chase him down and help get his fingers all back in order. The police must have heard about this poor fellow because they showed up to help him also, but I had already taken care of everything. Neither the police nor the young fellow was very appreciative of my good deeds. Shortly after my court date, I left the exciting life of the big city and headed home.

The reunion between my 60 and me was uneventful. I didn’t jump with glee upon sight of it, nor would have anyone else. The 237 picker was gone so only the tractor remained. Although I knew about the demise of the picker, and had agreed to it, I had forgotten about it. So it was just me and my little tractor that didn’t look much better than the one Scarecrow Man had fired up, but all the pieces were there. I towed it from its 10-year lonely abode, where it had not even a visitor, to a nearby garage. What a sorry sight it was.

Although by this time I had restored several tractors, this was something new. Before, I never had to buy parts and supplies and I got paid to do the work. Now I was working for free and buying everything. To her credit, my wife never complained whenever money was spent on this tractor. It took a couple of years from start to finish. Every piece was taken off and restored separately before being put back together. Everything was done in order; even the decals were the last thing I purchased.

The head was removed and taken to a machine shop. They said it checked out fine and needed nothing. The exhaust manifold was decayed so a new one was ordered. All the usual things which go bad from sitting around were all replaced and the carb was rebuilt as well. The generator, which had never worked all the years we owned it, was rebuilt and now works just fine. The toggle switch, which served as the ignition switch, was removed and the wires now run properly through the original switch. I don’t know who put the toggle switch on it, but it had been there as long as I can remember. Somehow my tachometer vanished and nobody knows anything about it. It was like asking kids who took the last cookie. Even the one with crumbs on his face will deny knowing the answer. It never had fenders because there was always a picker mounted on it.

Other than finding some original head lights and maybe a new tach, the tractor is done. I’ve backed it into the same shed it spent the lonely decade in, but it isn’t lonely any more. It gets visitors now. People come from all over to see it now and I don’t even know how some of them found out about it. I’ve yet to take it even to a local parade. I guess I didn’t restore it to parade it around. It just seemed the thing to do. I fully expect to be sitting in my house one day and hear it fire up, only to walk out and find Scarecrow Man sitting in the seat smiling and nodding.

Once in a while, someone will ask to borrow it. One fellow asked if he could use it to skid some logs from way back in the woods. Another guy said he had a few loads of soupy manure to haul and asked if he could use it on his manure spreader. Lots of comedians around here.

Sometimes on a nice day, I’ll fire up the engine and leave the shed. I’ll wash off the dust and load one of my very young sons onto the seat alongside me. They need to be trained very young in the way they should go. They need to hear and be able to identify that sound. They are never too young to begin memories. So we ride.

These young ones need to see which levers do what and why. We go through the fields and the hills. We pop-pop up and we hiss-hiss down. Either they are supposed to sound this way or else I need to adjust my timing. I cannot run the tractor at nap time because my boys already know and identify that sound. That sound will wake them from the deepest sleep. If someone comes to visit my tractor at nap time, I will not start it. It causes too much grief for my wife.

I’ve not one piece of equipment to use with the 60, so we just ride it. As we go along, I nod and smile. The little guys look at me and do the same. Men who ride Harleys are not allowed to smile. Men who ride two cylinder John Deeres cannot help but smile.

It never fails that we end our ride on the country road. Just two lanes here, one going each way. The last trip out it was the youngest boy, not yet a year old. We popped up onto the blacktop and stopped to shift into road gear. He knew what was coming because he was smiling already. We were about to go “fast.” I eased the clutch lever forward and throttle, too. As the throttle went forward, our hair flew backward. The boy looked up at me with the same broad-faced grin that Scarecrow had, not much different in the amount of teeth either. To the little guy, we are now at breakneck speed with the engine popping wide open and the tires whirling.

It usually happens that someone will seemingly appear out of nowhere and come up behind us. They eventually pass us by slowly, usually smiling. The last trip out it was a pickup truck full of young fellows. My tractor was 35 years old before any doctor had slapped their bare bottoms. They pulled alongside and followed for a while. They all peered around one another to look and make remarks I could not hear. The sure enough, every one of those guys stuck one finger in the air and sped off. But life is different here. This time, it was the thumb. There was no reason to chase after them and even if there was, it wouldn’t have done any good. Not at 11 miles per hour.