A Custom Motor Home From a John Deere Model A

Keeping up with the hillbillies is a full-time, fun job in this custom motor home.

Sign on the hillbilly motor home

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Photo by Leslie C. McManus

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Motor homes are not typical fodder for Farm Collector. But then the custom “motor home” lovingly handcrafted by Lester and Linda Peters, Plainfield, Iowa, is not your typical motor home — unless you’re part packrat and part hillbilly. This one-of-a-kind rig fairly groans under the weight of down-home humor, old relics from the barn, cleverly repurposed parts and pieces, and a collection of what can only with great generosity be called taxidermy.

The motivation, Lester says tongue in cheek, was economy. “Grandma said, ‘I want a motor home,’” Lester explains. “Grandpa said, ‘We can’t afford one. I’ll just build one.’” And so he did.

A John Deere Model A

Old iron is literally the heart of the hillbilly motor home. Lester bought a 1947 John Deere Model A at an auction and built an 8-by-18-1/2-by-9-foot shell around it. “I had to look quite a while to find a tractor that looked awful but ran well,” he allows. The Model A was in good running condition when he got it but the clutch needed a little work. “After I bought it, I told them, ‘Now don’t you scrape any dirt off this tractor. I want it to be natural.’ It just kind of metastasized from there.”

The choice of a ’47 Model A may have actually simplified the design phase. “I always wanted to put it on a Roll-a-matic but this tractor was built just before that came out,” Lester says. “If I could have done that, I think I’d put it on one big tire and one small tire.”

It’s hard to say whether the motor home caused sleepless nights or merely fueled the fire. “Lester would lay awake at night, thinking of things to put on there,” Linda says. “Meanwhile, my brother would go to auctions and help look for specific things Lester needed.” Launched on April 1, 2004 (yes, really), the project looks complete today but Lester says otherwise. “Something like this never ends,” he says. “I still have some more ideas. And we get a lot of suggestions. Some you can use; some you can’t.”

On a rig that has a clearly marked “road-kill processing department,” a one-hole outhouse marked “men” on one side and “ladies” on the other and a “lizard” on a rotisserie that turns when the tractor moves forward, it’s hard to imagine what, exactly, would constitute an unusable idea. “Sometimes we get a little carried away,” Linda says with a smile. “I’m the chief instigator and enabler, but basically, we’re two warped minds.”

The hillbilly motor home takes shape

Framed with old barn boards, the cabin includes the driver’s seat (surrounded by a complex system of horns that produces a veritable cacophony of sound) and a compact living space with bed, shelving and wood stove. “I have built a fire in the stove so we’d have smoke when we run it in a parade,” Lester admits.

A magazine rack holds copies of National Geographic dating to the 1950s. Curtains blow through open windows; shelves hold an assortment of curiosities, including a can labeled “possum farts.” In small picture frames, photos show the couple’s grandparents, gazing in what must surely be disbelief. “Dear Lord,” a hand-painted sign implores, “bless this mess.”

The main part of the motor home is supported by a rollbar over the driver’s seat; metal rods extend down to the framework that holds the floor. “The shell fastens to the tractor’s back axles,” Lester says. “Truss rods support it, kind of like a support bridge.”

Trailing behind the motor home is an elaborate complex — outhouse, roadkill processing kitchen, rotisserie, boat, motor, fishing equipment and more — rising from a John Deere Model L manure spreader dating to the early 1950s, another auction find. The boat does not look exactly seaworthy. “It has a hole but it could be fixed,” Lester says with optimism. “With a giant cork,” suggests granddaughter LeAnn Ripley. Painted on the boat’s side is its name: Lovely Linda. Were the boat to float, however, right side up, its name would be upside down. On this rig, that seems entirely appropriate.

Welcome to the wild kingdom

A farmer’s interest in wildlife is evident throughout. The hillbilly motor home is adorned with a coyote hide, a bear trap Lester built (cheaper, he notes, than buying a piece now considered a collectible), a snapping turtle’s shell, a possum pelt, ram’s horns, wire minnow trap, buffalo horn, pronghorn sheep horns, block and tackle to lift the big ones and, naturally, a set of deer’s hooves. “I have a bad habit of going to auctions,” Lester says. “That’s how I got the deer feet.” In the outhouse, a mount that looks more like a hyena than the fox it is grins menacingly over the throne.

Elsewhere wildlife is the source of gags. “Possum: It’s what’s for supper,” one sign reads. An old relic is identified as a “squirrel tail/dog food grinder.” A burlap bag holds a possum; a mailbox door falls open to reveal a skunk on full alert. An artificial robin presides over the birdbath. “We restore tractors,” Linda says, “so we can laugh at ourselves.”

More than a custom motor home

LeAnn and her sister, Paige, routinely invoke squatter’s rights on the motor home, confident in the knowledge that they have The Coolest Grandparents of all Time. Grandma even provided authentic hillbilly costuming. “We play in it all the time,” Paige says. “We act like we are hillbillies in our new home. There’s nothing like it!”

Now in its second decade, the custom motor home is a bona fide fun machine, whether you’re 6 or 60. Smiles spread across the couple’s faces as they talk about one enhancement or another. “The rain cap on the exhaust,” Linda says. “I just laughed and laughed when I saw that.” In a design Rube Goldberg would have admired, a rain cap is lifted from the exhaust pipe by a rotating bicycle chain (minus the pedals, which had been sawed off). For Lester, the barbecue rotisserie that rotates when the tractor advances still generates a chuckle.

The motor home is a regular on the local parade circuit. For a hillbilly parade with a “Christmas in July” theme, the couple planted a big red ball on the cow skull on the front of the tractor — making it a red-nosed (John) rein-Deere — and Lester was decked out in a Santa suit. But the rig really shines at antique tractor shows.

“We need people who understand farm life and tractors and old junk,” Lester says. “Young people just kind of walk by. But old farmers like me, they find it pretty humorous.” “One guy circled it for 45 minutes,” Linda says, “just laughing and laughing.”

For the Peters’, that’s what it’s all about. FC

For more information:

— Lester and Linda Peters, 12753 Butler Ave., Plainfield, IA 50666.


Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.