it’s a “BR”
In about 1960, at Hillsboro, North Dakota, the R.F. Gunkelman Elevator had acquired the nicest little “BR” John Deere I had ever seen at that time to move boxcars when they loaded grain. About six months later, I noticed the tractor had the fenders and seat all wrecked and had really been through the mill. I heard a rolling boxcar had crashed into the little “BR” and the driver jumped clear so he didn’t get hurt. The elevator company decided to rebuild the tractor completely so they had the fenders taken off, rebuilt the platform, put on larger wheels, re-bored the engine and completely rebuilt the tractor.
A few months later, I was in the John Deere dealership and the owner asked me if I wanted to buy a tractor. The elevator had broken the transmission on their “BR” while jerking on a boxcar they couldn’t get to move. The elevator decided to buy a bigger tractor to move boxcars with and would sell the “BR” for $65. I couldn’t say no to that deal so I bought the “BR” and found another junked “BR” for $25 to get the transmission parts. I fixed up the “BR” and it really proved to be a little workhorse for me.
My father and I had a John Deere 65 combine we had been pulling with a John Deere 50. I decided to try the “BR” on the combine to free the 50 up for other jobs. After using it a few days, I decided it was just the right tractor on the combine as it was so easy to jump off and on, being close to the ground with the flat platform and no fenders with a hydraulic seat that had been added. It was 90 percent loaded pulling the combine so I never had to clean spark plugs any more from carboning up like the 50.
A few years later, I started raising pinto beans and bought an old 65 spike-tooth combine and rebuilt it for beans and, of course, put the “BR” in front. The beans were a crop that when they were ready, you had better go. The 65 spike-tooth cylinder was about impossible to plug and did a very good job. Everything that would go into the feeder and out the chopper seemed to go through the cylinder, really taxing the old Hercules engine on the combine. The “BR” was obviously getting worked to its max. Second and fourth gear in a “BR” were faster than an old four-speed “B” and with the larger wheels on my “BR,” second gear was about four miles per hour at rated speed. I soon found myself with a twine string on the governor using second gear to the max to keep the combine full of beans. I figured I had only paid $65 for the tractor and every hopper full was worth more than the tractor so I had better get as many beans done as I could before it rained. In the loose bean field, the poor little “BR” was 98 percent loaded, with steam coming out of the radiator cap. The RPMs ranged from 500 to a number I don’t know. To make a corner properly, I would pull on the string to get maximum momentum, cut the front end, drop the RPMs so the combine would push the tractor around, then hit the throttle again with the back of the tractor sliding around and off I would go.
I used and abused this tractor for about 10 years like this with no trouble on a variety of jobs where it was usually loaded to the maximum.
One day about noon, I started on my last 10 acres and on the first round, the straw chopper bearing went out so I got the combine pulled onto the road with the “BR” to go home and fix it. I started out in fourth gear and just about got to full throttle when I heard a knock in the engine. I quickly cut the throttle and the engine stopped in a bang with a broken crankshaft. Well, that wasn’t too bad as I had a crankshaft in the $25 parts “BR.” By 5 o’clock, I had a crankshaft in my “BR” without taking the rods or pistons out of the tractor and was headed back to the field to finish my piece. The first thing I noticed when I got to the field was the front tire on my ’48 Ford truck had blown out from sitting in the hot sun that afternoon. That was three things that went wrong that day. I did finish at 11 p.m. that night.
Back to my old “BR.” I continued to use it and abuse it as my all around little chore tractor. In the winter, it was used almost every day to pull my model “E” steel wheeled JD manure spreader. I had a set of chains on the wheel weights. When the snow was deep, I would make a track down the field first, then turn around and put the spreader in gear so I could pull it in the track in the snow. A few years ago, before I sold all my dairy cattle, I was spreading manure and, all of sudden, the “BR” started to run on one cylinder. I decided I could make it home, the engine sucked the valve into the combustion chamber and when the piston came ahead, it punched a hole in the head and broke the block. Water and steam shot out from under the radiator cap. When I took the tractor apart and took the rod caps off, the crankshaft was all rusty on the journals. I couldn’t believe how that could be. Then, I remembered how fast I had put the crankshaft in the day I was trying to finish combining years ago. I couldn’t believe I had used it all those hard hours and the rust still wasn’t polished off the journals. I guess that reassured me a little more of the ruggedness and durability of the old two cylinder John Deere tractors.
Today when I look at my little “BR” and think of how hard I used it and abused it, I wonder why more things didn’t go wrong. It is still my favorite John Deere for pushing, pulling and moving machinery around the yard. It is ready to go with just two turns on the flywheel.
Buxton, North Dakota