Portrait of A Smithsonian Tractor


| January/February 1987



Securing the model D to the roll back truck

Securing the model D to the roll back truck. To the rear, the Waterloo Boy waiting its turn. Photo by Jeff Tinsley.

Jeff Tinsley

The Smithsonian's John. Deere Model D poster came about from a scattering of conversations and ideas that finally came into focus. Larry Jones, who works in the Division of Conservation and on special projects with the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, first came up with the idea. The Model D had been in storage at the Smithsonian's Silver Hill facility, but it came out of retirement in February 1986. Pete Daniel, curator in the division, enthusiastically agreed that the time was right for the project, and both approached Jeff Tinsley, one of the Smithsonian photographers.

From the beginning, Larry and Pete agreed that the project should be carefully planned and executed and that nothing could be sacrificed when it came to authenticity. The first objective was to find a farm with buildings that dated to the early twenties, when the Model D was manufactured. Larry and his wife, Signy, and daughter, Signy (Signy is the name of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter, an Icelandic custom that has prevailed for ten generations of Buddvasdottir women) visited Richard Gosheff, who had helped the museum on a previous project. Since his farm was of a more recent vintage,

Richard suggested a visit to William O. Tucker's farm in nearby David sonville, Maryland. The white frame house had been built in 1906 and the red barn in 1919; the setting was perfect.

The property had been in the Tucker family since 1919, and since their marriage in 1934, Genie and William Tucker have run the farm, at times tilling up to 350 acres. They had met when William's sister, a fifth grade teacher, brought Genie to her brother's sixteenth birthday party. Both Tuckers have always farmed. They personify the best of the family farm tradition, for they are tied closely to the community and are good neighbors.

Fate guided Larry to the Tucker farm. William O. Tucker loves machinery (when it works properly), has several vintage tractors (a John Deere R, W-9 International Harvester, F-12 Farmall, and 1948 HD-5 Allis Chalmers Dozer), a family of contemporary tractors and implements, a sawmill (owned with a partner), and a pickup converted from diesel to gasoline (a story that is best told by Mr. Tucker). When he and Larry began talking machinery, it was the give and take of two people who intricately understood working parts. After exhausting the merits of various tractor shows, they started in on competent repair shops (there were few within a hundred miles), exchanged disaster stories about incompetent shops, and ended up dissecting the brake problem with Mr. Tucker's truck. After a careful analysis of every line, drum, cylinder, and booster-Jones offering a theory and Tucker countering that he had already tried that-finally Mr. Tucker said with some exasperation, 'Hell, I've replaced everything but the engine trying to get it to stop.'

But what would such a practical people as the Tuckers say to having a herd of museum types stomping around the place trying to take a picture? Larry wondered if they might think this just another hairbrained government project. Whatever they thought at the time, they agreed to host the project.