How I Came to Love Old Iron

Pearlene-1937 John Deere B

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Schmidt, Rt. 2 Box 84A Hickory Hillside Acres California, Missouri 65018

It was a hot Friday afternoon in August 1984. My wife and I were visiting her folks, Raymond and Pearlene Stephens, at their farm near Bush City, Kansas. Like I said, it was hot and I was bored. I went out walking around the farm passing the time looking at old pieces of farm machinery. I had no real interest in them, I was just passing the time. In a fence row, out behind the barn, I paused looking at an old rusty tractor. I'd passed it many times before and not paid much attention to it. This time I noticed it was an old John Deere and found myself wondering how it came to be there and if it would ever be run again. Now I got to thinking that I might just try to get it running as a project for when I came visiting. If I could, it might even help Dad out a little giving him another tractor to use.

I returned to the house and told Dad my idea. He told me to have at it, but warned me that the old tractor had been setting there in that fence row for fourteen years. He said it was a 1937 John Deere 'B' and that he and his father had bought it in the spring of 1938 for $410.00. He said when they first bought it the tractor had skeleton steel wheels on it. Later they took the steel wheels off and put rubber tires on. The steel wheels he said went to the scrap iron dealer during the war years. He said they used the tractor on the farm until 1970 when, while mowing hay, the magneto bracket broke and it quit. It was pulled to the barn and abandoned.

I went back out to the tractor to take a serious look at what would be needed to make it run again. It was in pretty bad shape. The engine was stuck. The radiator had a hole in it you could put your fist through. The water pipes and hoses were rotted away. The hood had rust holes in it.

The front tires were rotten and flat, the rims completely rusted through. The muffler and exhaust pipe were missing. It was in really sad shape but I needed a project to pass the time and Dad's story had sparked my interest. I decided the tractor not only could, but would run again-it would be a challenge though.

Dad and I pulled it up by the barn and parked it under a shade tree. I went to work tearing it down to unstick the engine. The next day my brother-in-law, Wayne Anderson of Tecumseh, Kansas, came by. Wayne has at least a dozen tractors, most of them old ones. I always thought that was rather strange, who could use more than a couple? He was always talking tractors and claimed that he loved 'Old Iron', especially IHC. Wayne helped me Saturday and Sunday work on the John Deere. With the help of a sledge hammer, a 4x4 block and quite a bit of persistence, we broke the pistons loose in the engine. Due to the extent of parts needed and the distance from home, the story nearly ended here, but Wayne loves his old tractors and he wasn't about to let me quit just yet. He kept encouraging me about the John Deere and even got me to dreaming about actually restoring it to like new condition. He went a bit further and had a subscription to GEM, Gas Engine Magazine, sent to me at home.

In September of 1984 the wife and I again came to Kansas to visit her folks. I was half-heartedly looking forward to working on the old John Deere again. Dad surprised me by telling me he wanted me to have the tractor and for me to take it home so I could really get down and work on it. I think everybody thought I was crazy and that the tractor was a hopeless case, but I hauled it back to my home near California, Missouri anyway, and started working on it in my spare time. While looking for the needed parts I started meeting people and making new friends. By January I had the tractor running, not very well at first but running. Seems like I had to learn everything the hard way, including patience. Trying to get the bugs worked out of the tractor, I met more new friends. I was really getting interested now and it was becoming fun along with being a challenge.

Finally in July 1985, almost a year after starting, I completed restoring the tractor, except for the steel wheels. I thought it was beautiful and nicknamed that tractor 'Pearlene' after my mother-in-law as she was always wanting a progress report whenever we came home visiting. By August 1985 I was ready for my first tractor show. I'd never been to one before. Wayne had kept in touch and he knew I was ready. He invited me to bring 'Pearlene' to a show near him, the Heart of American Steam Engine Show at McLouth, Kansas. We went, but I was a little bit afraid the restoration on 'Pearlene' wouldn't be good enough or original enough. I had done my best on both counts considering limited funds and knowledge. Needless to say I really had a fine time at that show and was greatly pleased to see that 'Pearlene' was one of the nicest tractors there. Guess I was getting the fever! Back home, in September 1985, friends urged me to take 'Pearlene' to an antique tractor show at the Cole Camp, Missouri fair. I did and was delighted when she won a trophy for the best restored tractor on rubber out of 18 tractors. Encouraged, the very next day I went to the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association (M.R.V.S.E.A.) show at Boonville, Missouri, not very far from my home. There I was amazed when 'Pearlene' won another trophy for best restored tractor at the show from a field of nearly 150 tractors. That year, 1985, I joined the M.R.V.S.E.A. club. By now I was really interested in 'Old Iron'. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, including GEM. I talked tractor with anyone who would listen or talk, and was learning a lot, especially what I had been missing out on before. I enjoyed looking at things that I had always considered junk before.  

In November 1985 I bought my second tractor, a 1936 IHC Farmall F12. Needless to say, Wayne was delighted: #1 that I was 'hooked' on 'Old Iron', #2 that I'd just purchased an IHC, and #3 that he had someone else in the family to talk tractors with. The F12 was in bad shape too but was on full steel. A lot of hard work and enjoyment later it was restored and ready for the 1986 show season. We nicknamed her 'JoAnn' after Wayne's wife. 'JoAnn' went to McLouth, Cole Camp and Boonville shows that year. She won a trophy for best restored tractor on steel at the Cole Camp show.

Through my new tractor friends and G.E.M. I searched and finally found a full set of skeleton steel wheels for 'Pearlene' that I could afford. Decked out in her new steel wheels, I took her back home to Bush City, Kansas for the Centennial there in June 1986. This was significant to me because the tractor had come from Bush City, the tractor was almost 50 years old and Mom & Dad had married almost 50 years. Dad drove 'Pearlene' in the parade that day. It was the first time he'd driven her in 16 years.

In the fall of 1986 I started looking for another project, one that I could afford. I didn't think I could afford another tractor I bought an old, early 1930's, John Deere 'Junior' hay press from a newfound friend. I completely restored it for the 1987 show season. It bales beautifully and makes an excellent companion show piece for 'Pearlene'.

Memorial Day, 1987, while visiting Mom & Dad again, another newfound friend offered to sell me a 1937 Allis Chalmers 'WC'. It too was stuck and on rubber, but it was complete and the price seemed reasonable so I bought it and I'm now working on still another project. It isn't running yet but it is getting close. Maybe I can get it restored for the 1988 show season.

None of my restorations are rare or valuable like some you see, but I've learned to love each piece and I take a lot of satisfaction and pride in having each one as nearly perfect and original as possible. I've learned a lot about yesteryear and made a host of new friends. I look forward to viewing 'Old Iron' whenever possible and I'm dedicated to trying to save all of it I can for tomorrow.

I think it would be safe now to say that I, too, love 'Old Iron'. My son Chris, now nearly 13, is learning well too. As long as there are people like us (tractor nuts) to pass that love along, 'Old Iron' will never be forgotten. I'll see you at the shows.