BETWEEN THE BOOKENDS

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Minneapolis-Moline Comfortractor

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Great photography, meaningful text combine in new Leffingwell book

Let me be up front with you about a couple of things.

First, even though you may have seen my byline on six 'tractor' books published by MBI Publishing Co., please be aware that I have no particular ax to grind. If they publish a dog of a book and I review it, I'll tell how much it barks.

Second, let me inform you that Farm Tractor Milestones was somewhat difficult for me to review. You see, a complete book review should also point out some of the not-so-good things, as well as the points that turn on the reviewer.

You know, it's kind of like the 'Yes, but...' you may hear your wife saying occasionally: You might have done great job, etc., but you could still stand some improvement.

Over the years, I've probably notched the writing of maybe three dozen book reviews on widely varying subjects. Always before, with even the best of books, there's been at least one or two (or more) little niggling things that I'd either like to have seen the author cover, or handle differently.

Not so with Farm Tractor Milestones by Randy Leffingwell that's just been released.

I've leafed through the pages time and again, sometimes reading every word of text carefully, other times scanning the photographs, often doing both. The last couple of times through, I specifically looked for something I didn't like.

Every time through, though, I come up with the same conclusion: I simply don't know what I could suggest to improve either the wordage or the visuals. The book is that well done.

Farm Tractor Milestones just well may be the best 'tractor' book ever produced. It has my vote, anyway.

It starts with a cover that's sure to grab you. If you see it in a bookstore, you're going to pick it up, believe me. One reason is that it combines two mighty interesting tractors: a 1960 New Generation John Deere 4010 snuggled up near a 1937 Minneapolis-Moline U-DLX Comfortractor.

I admit to a strong bias toward both classics. The New Generation tractors were truly revolutionary, not just evolutionary. And, the Comfortractor was engineered so a farmer could pull a three-bottom plow with it in the morning, and his wife could drive it at 40 miles an hour to town to shop in the afternoon.

Inside, these stars are just two of the 36 tractors that are featured. Each of these pacesetters is allotted four pages into which a lot of interesting information is tastefully crammed.

What I really liked about the text all the way through is that, rather than the generalized material that appears in some such books, it's specific and quite detailed. There's usually a background synopsis of the thinking and philosophy behind the production of each tractor, too.

People who were most instrumental in the birthing of a particular tractor are also often named, along with an explanation of what they helped accomplish. Even better is that with many of the tractors, these people are quoted as they express their intentions and reasoning.

Then there are the exceptionally nice photographs, four to five of each tractor. Several of these zoom in on specific details. Rather than repeating something already said in the text, I liked the fact that the captions almost always focus on some new and interesting tidbit of information.

The kick-off photograph of each tractor almost invariably is one that exhibits some drama; a shot that goes beyond the simple visual recording of a weighty hunk of metal and rubber. The extra time and effort this obviously required pays off, seducing your attention to each different classic tractor as you flip the pages.

My bottom line: If you're planning to buy just one 'tractor' book or are thinking about getting such a book for a relative or a friend, look no further. You're not going to find any others with this combination of interesting, informative text and dramatic, colorful photographs.

It's a keeper.

Farm Tractor Milestones, by Randy Leffingwell; MBI Publishing Co., ISBN 0-7603-0730-X; hardcover, 10'xl0', 156 pages, 70 color illustrations, $29.95; available from Classic Motorbooks, (800) 826-6600.

Chester 'Chet' Peterson, Jr., is an award-winning journalist and author of ten books, including American Farm Tractors in the 1960's. He lives in Lindsborg, Kan.