Robert Warland of Fort Dodge, Iowa is currently the owner of his fathers 1936 John Deere A. In his story he recalls an earlier time when daily chores of man and animal were replaced by machine.
Robert’s father, Joseph W. Warland purchased the A new from the local John Deere dealership that was located in downtown Fort Dodge, Iowa at the time. Robert fully restored the A after he purchased it many years later. Robert’s son Joel wrote this tribute the family’s tractor.
Ode To My Grandather’s John Deere
By Joel Warland
This tractor, a 1936 John Deere A, represents the end of one era and the beginning of another. At a deeper level it symbolizes a way of life, a way of life that has become extinct.
There was a period of time characterized by labor. A time when work was effort and physical exertion. Machines did not complete tasks, people completed them. Muscles connected by tendons all tied together to form a complex network surrounding a frame of bones called a body completed them. Their own bodies were the means of man to make a living. This is a time when the highlights of your resume’ would read: Strong; Determined; Sweat acceptable; Aches and pain tolerable.
The constant move to productivity resulted in the use of horses. Horses power was literally harnessed to cultivate land that previously couldn’t be worked. Horses could also be used pull heavy wagons. One use of wagons occurred during fall harvest. Horses would pull the wagon through the field while family members harvested corn by hand. Every one in the family would help. Little ones went too and rode in the wagon. It was a family affair.
The family then purchased a 1936 John Deere A. Dad recognized the presence of the industrial revolution. This was my father’s (and the families) first tractor. The machine was almost new and had only a few hours on it. The color was green-John Deere green. This color by itself is not a particularly attractive green. But applied to a John Deere frame, it seems to take on a gold-like sheen. This valuable piece of equipment quickly became the center of farm activity.
The tractor was originally purchased during WWII. The most distinctive feature is the large yellow steel-spoked wheels. You couldn’t use rubber during the war. Wheels were narrow rims with iron lugs (spikes) bolted on for traction. When the war ended, wider rims were used and rubber tires added. A noticeable open front end that housed the steering post also characterized the physical appearance. A large rectangular radiator was open-air exposed and located just behind the steering post.
Tractor fuel for the John Deere A was distillate, a product similar to kerosene. Distillate was derived from petroleum (like paint thinner). Distillate came in 5-gallon cans delivered from the coop and were marked with a label “Contains petroleum”. The engine needed to be really hot in order to vaporize distillate. You couldn’t start a tractor with it. That is why there is a small gasoline tank on an “all fuel” tractor. Once you got the engine started with gas you would move the valve to change the fuel flow to distillate. This came from a large tank on the tractor. During the thirties and forties, it was much cheaper than gasoline. When gasoline became available and cost effective, the all-fuel engine was discontinued.
Through time larger more powerful tractors were acquired and used. Fortunately, this tractor stayed with the farm. A sale needed to be held and a nearby neighbor purchased the tractor. The tractor probably would have stayed with farm, but current circumstances prevailed and my desire to farm was quashed by an ill-conceived opinion that farming was not a worthy occupation. As years passed I hit a 30-year milestone with my employer and decided to change occupations and move into the demanding profession of farming. I had the opportunity to work the land that I grew up on. I began doing what I had always wanted to do. Anyway, my neighbor, whose sense of character and tradition prevailed, sold the tractor back to me exactly for the price he paid for it. The John Deere 1936 A came home.
The farm is intact and today is a fully operational and productive farm. The tractor is a classic piece and one in a collection of other machines. Its home is a shed located in a section of land just off the Badger, Iowa Blacktop.
Just like tractors replaced physical labor and were used to enhance man’s effort, large farming corporations have proliferated and are the norm rather than the exception. Yield and capacity per acre continue to increase at an exponential rate making the U.S. farmer the most productive in the world. The family farm has virtually disappeared. The family unit that was cultivated on a farm was one of societies ideal models to create, convey and proliferate character and values. This process has moved to other locations. Interestingly, the cornerstone of this phenomenal evolution is the John Deere tractor.