Fieldside Classic: Classic Tractors And Other Farm Toys

I recently wrote about the Okoboji Classic Cars museum in Iowa that I went to on our summer trip. The other part of our trip was spent in Minnesota, where my wife’s uncle has a farm. On that farm, he has a collection of tractors and assorted vehicles that the motorheads around here might find interesting. Click through for some down home fun.

Uncle Boyd’s property is not a true working farm, as he has never farmed it himself. However, he has been leasing the fields to other farmers since he bought it almost 50 years ago and also leases fields for cow grazing. It’s located on the outskirts of a larger city (that I will leave unnamed for privacy), which is where his actual engineering career was spent before he retired a number of years ago. The city is starting to encroach, with a couple neighborhoods cropping up on his road, so it may only be a matter of time before the developers start seriously calling.

Boyd has spent years refining and optimizing how he maintains his property and maximizes the fun that family and friends can have there. The most interesting aspect of that for curbside classic readers is that he maintains a small fleet of classic tractors, unrestored, fully functional and each with a specific job.

Patina Alert: beware of excessive amounts of patina ahead

The 1947 John Deere Model A is used to spread fertilizer/herbicide on the fields. Boyd grew up on a working farm where his father always had Deere tractors, which he believed were most economical. He also favored them because they had a hand clutch rather than a foot clutch. This was easier for young operators to use, as the boys could use the tractors and start doing jobs around the farm at 12 or 13 years old, well before their legs reached maximum length to reach a foot clutch.

Click on the video above if you are curious what a huge, 70 year old two cylinder engine sounds like as Boyd drives it out of the barn.

The Model A was a larger tractor that Deere designed to compete with the large International Harvester models. It had a 321 c.i. two cylinder inline engine, horizontally mounted, putting out 39 h.p. Not a lot of power, but it was geared very low so the maximum speed is rated at 12 2/3 m.p.h. and it has a maximum tow rating of 4110 lb. (at 2 1/4 m.p.h.). An electric starter became standard in 1947. Built between 1934 and 1952, 1939 was the first year for the “styled” front end, when the previous open radiator was covered with sharp art deco-ish sheet metal to create the classic John Deere look everybody loves.

The John Deere model B, approximately 1942 vintage, is used for grading and smoothing the long gravel driveway. The exact year hasn’t been identified because the serial number is (shockingly!) rusted over and illegible.

The Model B was a companion line to the Model A, introduced one year later as a similar but smaller tractor. It had a 175 c.i. engine putting out approx. 27 hp.  Like the Model A, it was “styled” in 1939 and built through 1952.

The unique thing about the model B in Boyd’s fleet is that it’s the only one without an electric starter. To start the tractor, you open the choke and spin the flywheel by hand. I tried to do it, but it failed to start after a couple of what I thought were energetic spins. I relented, and Boyd (who is over 80) walks up and starts it with one spin like it was nothing. Guess it’s all in the wrist!

The biggest tractor on the farm is the 1950 McCormick Farmall model M, built by International Harvester. It is used mostly for hauling wood.

The property has a large wooded area, which always has a few trees that partially or completely fall down over the year. Boyd will chop the wood with saws and haul it with the tractor. He will then split it with a hydraulic splitter and place the ready-to-use wood in pre-filled holders he built, which are easily moved to the house (with the front end loader we’ll see below) over the course of the winter for burning in the stove.

McCormick introduced the Model M in 1939 as their first “styled” tractor and sold it through 1952. The engine is a 248 c.i. in-line four cylinder mounted vertically, putting out 36 hp. Not as unique-sounding as the Deeres, but definitely smoother.

The 1946 McCormick Farmall model B is the lawnmower, and easily the most frequently used of the classic tractors. There are other lawnmowers, as we’ll see, but this one has a very wide deck that is great for the larger grass fields around the property.

I’ve driven this one a few times to mow the largest field. Once you get used to using the controls, it’s not hard to drive at all.

The Model B is a much smaller tractor than the Model M, with its four cylinder engine displacing only 113 c.i. and putting out 18 hp. The B is unique with its high-clearance rear axle. The driver sits offset to the right, so he can clearly see the ground below the tractor.

That’s it for the big boys, but there are a number of smaller vehicles. This 1971 John Deere 120 garden tractor was used for many years for mowing around the house. It’s fully functional, but basically retired. It has long been replaced by newer mowers, but Boyd has kept it around because it’s so neat.

Boyd’s modern lawn tractor is the 2018 X730. This is Deere’s largest lawn-style tractor, though it doesn’t have the fancy 4 wheel drive or 4 wheel steering that is available in the series. At my house, I have a Deere D105, their smallest, cheapest lawn tractor. This X730 feels like a Cadillac to my Geo Metro. The speed, the smoothness, the power steering, the hydraulic deck lift, it is all very cool.

The deck is almost as wide as the Farmall B and it’s really fast, so it can mow a large field in close to the same amount of time. It is also maneuverable enough to mow around the house, but isn’t usually used because Boyd has something even better for that.

The Gravely Zero Turn mower is Boyd’s favorite toy, I think. He will zip that thing around like nobody’s business and make short work of a big yard. I used it once and it is definitely a skill. After the whole yard, I barely felt like I was getting the hang of it. I said I’ll stick to the regular tractors.

Even the kids have a tractor to use on the farm! Here’s my daughter enjoying it, though she says it’s too slow.

The New Holland skid steer loader is useful for hauling all sorts of loads, be it wood, rocks or dirt. This is the primary snowplow for the driveway. It also has been spotted supporting ladders to reach high tree branches. It may look precarious, but Boyd-the-engineer has very well-planned operations that are creative, robust and safe. We’ll see below why he needs to reach high into trees.

Last up we have the four wheel drive Polaris Ranger, for getting around the property. Kids love riding in the back.

Besides all the vehicular toys, the farm has other fun things to ride on. Here is the zipline, a real engineering masterpiece. The Ranger is attached to a pulley system, which pulls the seated rider up to the top of the line in the woods. The rider releases the catch, and zips down the line until he almost reaches the end, which is mounted to a large tree. Bungees catch the rider, though, and spring him back to the starting point (low point) in the line.

Here is a first-person video of the zipline. The zipline system is very solidly designed and constructed. Boyd has a refinement or two that he comes up with just about every year. I would bet that this is the longest, fastest zipline installed at a private residence in the country.

Boyd’s first big ride was the Super Swing. It is hung from an approximately 30 foot high branch. Pulleys mounted on the next tree have a line attached to the swing’s seat and the Deere lawnmower. The mower backs up which pulls the rider (who is strapped in) up to at least a 60 deg angle (feels more like 90) and approximately 20 feet off the ground. When the rider is ready, an assistant on the ground pulls the release to start the epic swing.

For non-mechanized fun, there is always the good, old-fashioned tire swing. The branch is at least 20 feet up, so it has quite a long arc. There are other things to do on the farm, but you get the idea. It’s a hugely amusing and relaxing place to visit. We are hoping to make it there in the winter, when Boyd sets up his snow sled lift. Can’t wait to ride it!

related reading:

actually I don’t think there is another article quite like this on Curbside Classic, but

Paul had a very interesting article on driving tractors as a boy.