Working on Old Iron: A John Deere Repair Man

Working memories of a John Deere mechanic in the late 1940s.

John Deere Harvester Works

 John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Ill.

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In 1949 I started work as a mechanic at the John Deere dealership in Mediapolis, Iowa. My first job was helping correct the end-play of the crankshaft on a Model A tractor.

One big repair project was replacement of a broken axle on a Model A that had a mounted 226 corn picker. The elevator had to be removed, transmission oil drained and the hydraulic system with the PTO shaft (that was a heavy unit) taken off to gain access to the final drive gear. The axle nut cotter key was removed and the nut taken off. The broken part was then removed using a wedge and a sledgehammer. The owner had gone to Waterloo to purchase a new axle. On his return, it was installed and the parts were replaced. All that took place in the middle of a muddy cornfield!

One day I took a new Model 60 and an automatic wire tie baler to a farm north of town for a demonstration. The prospect was a preferred customer, and he induced me to bale straw for him that afternoon. He returned after the first load and wanted the bales lightened, since 110 pounds was too much. The field was baled and the live PTO proved to be a great help. When I was leaving, he said to just leave the machine and he came in the next day and paid for it.

In 1949 I attended the John Deere service school in Moline, Ill. One of the main subjects discussed was the Model M series' hydraulics system. We were told about a problem with starting a new Model R tractor. Since this was John Deere's first diesel, a compression release had not been built in and the injection rack stuck open. In a test, the engine ran wild until the flywheel exploded. They told us one piece knocked a Model A off its wheels, one piece went through the roof and another piece through the floor. A new flywheel was cast, a compression release installed and the test then continued.

On the final day of the service school we toured the John Deere Harvester Works. While we were there they made a special run of five horse-drawn mowers and a special run of hillside combines with levelers on both sides (the design had been changed to levelers on one side only).

Years later, when I was a petroleum salesman, the new owner of a John Deere dealership told me our oil was no good! He showed me a head that was loaded with an oily deposit. I took the air cleaner cup off and showed him it had not been cleaned and was caked full of dirt and the tractor was running on full choke. The conversation ended there! FC