Nostalgia runs deep in rural America. During the 2013 Super Bowl, millions of dollars were spent on costly, off-beat commercials. However, the late, great Paul Harvey won the day with his eloquent salute to the American farmer, sponsored by Dodge Ram Trucks.
Another prime example of family farm nostalgia is the Classic Farm Tractors Calendar, set to observe its 25th Anniversary with its 2014 edition. Few advertising campaigns or promotional programs last for a quarter century.
The original calendar featuring various brands of antique tractors from the US and Canada came to be when DuPont Agricultural Products developed a new soybean herbicide in 1988. It was named “Classic.”
The marketing manager for the new soybean weed-killer had just returned to DuPont headquarters in Wilmington, Del., from Europe, where calendars were used to promote a wide range of DuPont products.
Excited about his new assignment, he met with John Harvey, public relations manager for DuPont Ag Products and suggested a classic car calendar to promote brand awareness. The plan would be to send the calendar to every soybean grower in the database. The calendar would become a marketing tool. DuPont retail dealers would be involved as well.
“I love classic cars,” Harvey replied. “I have a ’67 red Mustang, a real cream puff. Everyone wants to buy it. But let me do some scouting. There might be something we can find that’s more ‘farmer friendly,'” Harvey suggested.
Searching for Clues, Finding An Answer
First, he called a friend, a Continental Airlines captain who flew out of Denver. He knew his friend had restored his father’s John Deere.
“When I finished it, I drove it around the block here in our suburb,” said Harvey’s friend, a farm boy turned pilot. “People came running from every direction to find out what that sound was. Many had never seen or heard a Johnny Popper, but others knew exactly what it was because of that unique two-cylinder John Deere engine sound. They’d grown up on a farm and that distinctive sound identified.”
Harvey also picked the brain of the Gas Engine Magazine publisher in Lancaster, Pa. “All I know is, whenever we run a picture of a restored antique tractor, we get lots of letters asking for more,” he told Harvey.
Then Harvey remembered a neat Ford-Ferguson tractor a 4-H Club member had restored and displayed at the Mills County, Iowa, fair during his visit with his sister and her family in southwest Iowa the previous summer. Driving back to his DuPont office, the idea hit Harvey like a thunderbolt: Classic cars? Why not classic tractors?! Bingo.
The term “classic tractors” was ideal, because at that time, old tractors were referred to as antique or vintage tractors–not classic tractors.
Next step was to run a full page ad in Gas Engine Magazine, asking readers to submit pictures of their restored antique tractors, along with announcement DuPont Ag planned to introduce a 1990 calendar featuring vintage tractors.
Within two weeks, hundreds of letters arrived from farmers with photos of their tractor restorations. “We’ve plucked a heartstring,” Harvey reported to the Classic marketing manager. “Let’s get it done,” was his quick reply.
To field-test the 1990 Classic Farm Tractors Calendar, it became a part of DuPont Ag Products’ major exhibit at the 1989 Farm Progress Show in Rochester, Ind.
“There were long lines waiting at the calendar booth inside the DuPont tent,” Harvey says, “and it was clear to everybody the new calendar showcasing old tractors was a hit. … Make that a grand slam home run.”
Capturing Tractors & Owners on Film
More than 300,000 Classic Farm Tractors Calendars were printed in 1990, and that first edition has become a much sought-after collectors’ item. One Vol. 1, No. 1 calendar sold at an estate sale in Iowa for $1,000.
Harvey realized the owners of the calendar tractors had a wealth of knowledge to share with others interested in restoration and ag-related history, so he arranged to have movies made of each collector, pointing out the features of that particular tractor and its contributions to the advancement of the tractor industry.
Owners responded with gusto and their enthusiasm showed through in every interview. Technical advancements came quickly in moviemaking with video production taking over, a quantum leap in quality and efficiency. Harvey has been the executive producer of 44 classic tractor DVDs, capturing the calendars’ owners and tractors. Plus, specialty productions on various brands including John Deere, IH, Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline and Big Bud 747, the world’s largest tractor custom-made in Montana.
When Harvey left DuPont in 1993, he established Classic Tractor Fever, marketing the calendars, videos, tractor books, playing cards, clothing and other tractor-related items at national, local and state tractor shows and events.
He led tractor tours to the U.K. and Europe in 2000, 2002 and 2004 to visit some of the finest tractor collections abroad, as well as fascinating farm museums, all major cities, and many miles of beautiful countryside.
“We learned that other people in other countries have a passion for vintage tractors and farm machinery,” Harvey notes. “They too have a desire to restore and preserve items from the past for future generations, especially classic tractors,”