Persistence pays-in 'gold'

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Bob CroweGold-leaf model D John Deere tractor

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Some rumors turn out to be true. Such is the case with the gold-leaf model D John Deere, created in 1937 to help celebrate Deere & Company's centennial year.

A Sept. 3, 1938, story in Implement & Tractor magazine confirmed the rumor of such a tractor was true and sparked an Indiana collector's search for the long-forgotten showpiece that finally ended successfully eight years ago in Kingfisher County, Okla.

The magazine article was found in 1989 by custom toy builders Dennis Parker and the late Lyle Dingman of Iowa in the files at Deere & Company, Moline, 111. It told the tale of why the tractor was created and of how, after the festivities concluded, the glittery machine was put on display at the Kansas City branch - and up for sale.

Francis Gooden of Josiah Gooden and Son, the John Deere dealer in Kingfisher, Okla., spied the gold tractor while it was on display in Kansas City and put in a bid. Reportedly, other dealers bid on it too, but Deere & Company awarded the tractor to Gooden because his dealer ship's 1937 tractor sales record was so outstanding.

The gold D arrived in Oklahoma just in time for another celebration - the Gooden dealership's 25th anniversary -and after that event concluded, the tractor again went up for sale. This time, it was offered to the first comer at the regular price of a model D; a race ensued between two customers, JJ. Haffner and G.D. Hancock, with Hancock coming out the winner.

The 1938 I&T article quotes then-owner Hancock as swearing that 'the gold on it somehow makes the fields cultivated with it produce bigger yields.' At the time, he was using the tractor to pull his combine and plow on a half-section of wheat. Reports are that he worked the tractor hard until 1955, when he traded it in - at the local Massey-Harris dealer ship.

There, the tractor got a new coat of green paint to camouflage the faded gold, and then was bought by a employee, Bill Beecher Sr., who couldn't resist the gold D's lure.

Just like Hancock, Beecher worked the machine hard, until about 1970, when he took it apart for an overhaul. Neither he nor anyone else in his family ever found time to do the overhaul, though, but they kept the piles of parts together and under cover.

That's how the tractor's current owner, Charles Q. English Sr., of Evansville, Ind., found them after a patient and persistent search. He first learned of the tractor through Parker and Dingman, the toy builders, who were inspired by the 1938 article to create a 1 /16-scale version for toy collectors; English bought four of those toys and then decided he wanted the real thing.

He began with a detailed search of information on model D serial numbers, to see if he could pick out a special paint code that would have been associated with the centennial tractor. He also asked John Deere enthusiasts who lived in central Oklahoma about the tractor, but he struck out on both counts.

Then, he saw an ad for a Kingfisher, Okla., Ford truck dealership in the High Plains Journal and it occurred to him that someone there might know of the Hancocks or the Goodens mentioned in the 1938 story. He called the dealership and asked to speak to 'the oldest employee.' That man told him the Hancocks were no longer living but George Gooden, grandson of the John Deere dealer, was still alive and could be contacted.

George Gooden appears as a boy in a photograph published with the 1938 article, sit ting with his brother on the gold tractor's hood. When English called him, he vowed to help find the tractor, and subsequently tracked down Beecher's telephone number and passed it on.

English telephoned the elderly Beecher, who said he still had the tractor but couldn't bear to part with it - at least not while he was alive. After Beecher's death, though, one of his relatives contacted English, to honor Beecher's request that the tractor go to the Indiana man.

An avid restorer who knows model Ds 'inside and out,' English says this was by far the most worn-out D he's ever seen. 'Even hard-to-wear parts were shot!' Estimating the usage based on the wear patterns, English guesses the tractor had about 20,000 hours on it.

When he hauled the remains from Oklahoma to his shop in Indiana, he knew a lot of work lay ahead; as it turned out, he put in 625 hours over the course of a year to restore the rusty relic to its original glory.

The green paint job probably helped camouflage the valuable tractor from other collectors, English says, but small bits of the gold color could be seen in nooks and crannies on the machine. He used those flakes to match to the current gold-leaf color, and paid out $4,000 for a new paint job.

To date, the restored gold D has not been started; English fears oil leaks would wreck the expensive paint. He protects the tractor by storing it in an insulated trailer inside an insulated barn, which helps keep it from 'sweating.' An electric winch helps him load and unload it at shows.

In July 2000 at the National Two-Cylinder Show in Fairview, Okla., the restored tractor made its official debut, returning to the state where it spent most of its life. Now, though, thanks to English, the tractor is a showpiece again, and not a 'work horse,' and that made its homecoming special indeed. FC

Brenda Kruse, author of John Deere Collectibles, is founder of www.bleeding-green.com, a Web site that serves as a community for collectors of John Deere memorabilia.