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Lands' End Newsletters | For love of a tractor

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Midwestern frugality being what it is, most farmers are loath to discard a well-used tractor - even as newer models find a place in the shed. There's always something an old tractor is good for. And if it falls into disuse? Well, many's the tractor that's been classroom and teacher for an eager farm lad with budding mechanical inclinations.

That's how our Wisconsin neighbor Gene Andrews got started. Gene has been working on old-time tractors since his teenage years. Today, what started as a hobby has become - well, more than a hobby.

Gene recently restored a 1948 John Deere B for a rural neighbor. The machine sat untouched for 20 years. Gene tore down and rebuilt the motor. Repainted the bodywork. Put in long hours on nights and weekends. Today, the '48 is shiny and bright as the day it left the factory.

Naturally, the neighbor is mightily pleased. "There's the sentimental value," Gene explains. "Maybe it's a tractor they grew up with. Learned to plow on."

Pebble Beach has its Concours d'Elegance for the vintage car crowd - if that's the crowd you travel with. Out our way, an old farm tractor is no less regarded as an object of art. And is no less an object of adoration.

Last Labor Day, Gene made a trip up to Ashland in far northern Wisconsin to take possession of a pair of vintage Farmalls. The seller was the original owner, who bought them new back in '46 and '47. "He wanted 'em to go to a good home," says Gene.

"You learn a lot from the old guys," he tells us. "One neighbor taught me some. And my dad."

Along with the knowledge, Gene has painstakingly built up the tools of his trade - including some hard-to-find John Deere factory tools dating back to the '20s. Parts still turn up at farm sales, we're told. Say, $10 for a grimy jumble in a wooden box. One man's junk - well, you know the saying. There are swap meets, too, but "collector prices" are fast becoming the order of the day. And there's always the Internet.

Gene currently owns five John Deere tractors. The two Farmalls. A '56 International W-450 Standard. Plus machinery - stationary bailers, corn planters, even an old road grader. Toy tractors, too - around 45 John Deere scale replicas.

Of course, every collector has his own preferences. "Some guys don't like John Deere at all," Gene tells us. "It all depends on where your roots are. What you were brought up with."

His dream tractor? A 1925 John Deere D - with steel wheels. Says Gene, "It's a big ol' brute of a tractor that did a lot of work back in the day."

The steel wheels that came standard aren't so easy to find anymore. Kits for converting to rubber tires were popular and most farmers made the switch-over. "Better on the roads," Gene explains. "Not so rough-riding."

His two Farmalls also left the factory with steel wheels, but acquired sets of rubber tires somewhere along the way. Gene hopes to take them back to their original configuration. Steel wheels - as Farmall intended.

"I haven't found 'em yet," he says. "But I've got my eye out.


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Lands' End Newsletters | For love of a tractor
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