Fordsons Everywhere!

By Staff

6750 Rattalee, Clarkston, Michigan 48348

In the late Thirties, a young man bought out the local John
Deere dealership. The previous owner was a real gentleman and was
retained as the grand old man to deal with the older customers and
help the new owner gain acceptance into the small community. At
first things were slow, easy and business as usual; little did we
know that big changes were hatching in the brain of Henry, the new
owner.

Our town was located about 60 miles north of Detroit, and when
Mr. Ford was trying to buy back his company, he pushed thousands of
his Fordson tractors in every direction. Ford car dealers found
themselves forced into taking unwanted tractors to get hot selling
Model T cars. Many farmers in our area would come in from the
fields at night and find a Fordson tractor sitting in their yard.
Without instruction or prior experience, many farmers went from
horse to tractor just because it was there. An official of the
board of health for the county told me that for years the largest
single cause of injury and death was the Fordson tractor. By 1923,
the first year for the John Deere tractor, more Fordson tractors
had been sold in the world than by all other tractor manufacturers
put together. Fordsons were everywhere, and most everyone that
survived the experience of trying to farm with one quickly learned
valuable lessons about good and bad tractor features.

Henry, the new owner, seized the opportunity to both satisfy the
pent up need for good quality farm equipment and allow Fordson
owners to save face, all in one marketing package. Maybe this was
an idea handed down from JD headquarters, or maybe it was unique to
Henry; I’d like to know. The deal was this: buy a John Deere
tractor, and Henry would allow $100 for any Fordson, regardless of
condition, which would also serve as the down payment. Wow what a
strategy! Word of the deal spread like wildfire, and Henry
couldn’t get tractors quick enough. Flatcars of John Deere
tractors would arrive in town almost as if on a schedule, and the
backyard was filled with Fordson tractors. Talk about a successful
launch of a new business; this guy must have broken all the records
and then some. Strangely enough, one of the biggest problems was
what to do with all those Fordsons.

The Fordson problem solved itself when a junk dealer from
Detroit bought the whole lot for scrap. I often wish I could have
taken pictures of the scrapping process. An enormous black man
broke up all those Fordsons with a sledge and loaded the pieces and
parts by hand on a stake rack truck. As I remember, the yard would
hold around 35 Fordsons, and it was cleaned out two or three times.
I’ve always regarded Henry’s marketing plan as more of a
service to mankind than anything else, because it took away
virtually all the widow maker Fordson tractors for many miles
around, and put a lot of farmers in the business of farming with
real quality equipment.

Henry put most of his profit back in the dealership in the form
of parts and service facilities. When the mother lode of Fordsons
ran out, Henry was ready with another plan-customer service. It was
an unadvertised special that everyone knew about: if any
farmer’s JD equipment broke down in the field for any reason, a
call to Henry would bring help. Henry ran the business like a good
neighbor, a formula that I believe works wherever it’s been
applied.

While the other kids had heroes in Hollywood and sports, my
heroes were at the John Deere dealership. These guys found fun in
most everything they did, and not always from satisfying a
customer. Some of the practical jokes and pranks that were played
on themselves and others could fill a few pages. They worked hard,
played hard, and yes, drank hard. This all seemed quite natural to
me as I was growing up, and only later in life did I realize that
some people aren’t equipped to blend all three activities
proportionately.

The largest single problem with the John Deere tractor seemed to
be in the carburetor. The factory had an exchange program for
rebuilding because the dealers couldn’t always fix the problem.
Sometimes two or three rebuilt carbs would be installed before the
tractor would settle down and run right. There was a boxelder stump
just outside the shop door and it was used to test out governors
and carburetor adjustment. My job was to warm up the tractor and
hook it on a chain that stayed on the stump. I would then put the
tractor in top gear and load the engine by holding in the clutch
while a mechanic adjusted the carburetor. I would guess the stump
idea started back in the days of the model D, because it had lousy
brakes. You could tell right away if the carb was any good as soon
as the load was put on, and if it was bad there didn’t seem to
be anything that could be done. It must be that many other dealers
sorted through the rebuilt carbs, because it became more difficult
to find a good one. Some mechanics would purposely strip out the
fuel inlet threads or damage the body in some way so that it
wouldn’t come back. I’m here to tell you there is nothing
in this world that sounds as good as a John Deere tractor with a
good, properly adjusted carburetor under full load. I once heard
someone say that there is something about the sound of a John Deere
that is good for the soul of man.

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