It's all not that often that something truly lives up to its advance billing, whether your favorite major league baseball team's prospects, the latest software package released - or even a just-published 'tractor' book.
However, The Big Book of Farm Tractors is precisely what it bills itself to be, and is really 'big' in many aspects:
First, in size alone this volume physically dwarfs every other 'tractor' book in my collection. It measures 12-Â¬Âº x 9-Â¬Âº inches and it weighs in at a hefty three pounds, seven ounces.
With wrists and arms unaccustomed these days to bucking hay bales, I found reading it at my desk more comfortable than holding it while seated in my favorite living room chair.
My numbers might be off several either way, but I counted the color photographs of 267 different tractors. That's 267 different tractors!
This whopping figure represents the involvement of one heckuva lot of time, effort, and expense. Seldom does a photographer find more than a couple or a handful of tractors at any one location.
I doubt any other book has featured this many restored tractors before. That's not even counting all the detail color shots of many tractors and archival black-and-white photographs of some of the earlier models and farm scenes.
Plus, there are numerous tasteful color and black-and-white reproductions of advertisements and brochures of the periods covered.
Actually my only negative feeling at all about the entire book concerns a photograph, specifically the major visual on the cover. Three interesting and important tractors from widely separated eras are presented quite small. The main photograph is of an International 400 Hi-Clear, however.
While I have nothing against that particular make and model, there are photographs inside of tractors that have had much more impact on both farmers and agriculture over the years.
Speaking of the cover, at first glance the background might not register with you. Probably at your second look, though, you'll see the farmers looking at you from the screened black-and-white print of an earlier day that's almost subliminal in effect.
This book is also large in many respects considering the information provided by the text. It gives quite well the personal, human side when detailing the brief history of a tractor or line of models, and how each did its part to influence 150 years of American agriculture.
On the downside, even with 256 pages there's obviously not enough space to provide a full, complete history of each make and/or significant model. Some other books, mostly those concerned with detailing just one make, provide more information.
Yet, generally the major and most significant points are brought out, and in a brief, interesting fashion.
This book is also big in terms of excellent design and little extra editing bonuses that you'll appreciate for putting things into perspective for you. For instance, following the first page of each chapter is a sidebar itemizing important dates and happenings during the covered period.
As an example, Chapter 5, 'The Classic Years, 1935-1960' provides a timeline that starts with '1937: Dirigible Hindenburg crashes in New Jersey' to 10 listings later with '1959: First computer chip patented.'
This really gives you the feeling of what else was happening in the country and world at the time, and how this might have influenced the development and marketing of the tractors of the period.
There's a lot of information about the history of farm tractors summed up in these pages that you probably don't know. Here's a test for you, with answers below: A. What tractor had the first traditional 'live' PTO? B. Which had the first optional 'live' hydraulic pump? C. The first diesel tractor?
Answers: A: 1946 Cockshutt Model 30. B: 1948 John Deere Model B. C: 1931 Caterpillar Diesel Sixty.
In addition to nuts and bolts type of information, the personal or human side of what happened is also often presented. This gives you a feeling of the problems during the period, the objectives, and how the people involved went about coming up with practical solutions.
At $39.95, this book is equally large in price. To the best of my knowledge, $29.95 has been the ceiling in 'tractor' book prices up until now.
Well, everything else seems to cost more these days, so maybe it was time for a break-through. Also, this wasn't an inexpensive book for the authors and publisher to produce, since it's apparent they went all out.
And, they were successful, too. I have no qualms about recommending this book.
It would be an ideal volume for someone just developing an interest in 'antique iron.' The book is equally appropriate for the man who's been restoring tractors for years and is always searching books, questing for more knowledge.
The Big Book of Farm Tractors, Text by Robert N. Pripps, Photography Andrew Morland, Voyageur Press, 2001; ISBN: 0-89658-471-2; 256 pages, hardcover, $39.95. Voyageur Press, 123 North Second Street, P.O. Box 338, Stillwater, MN 55082-5002.
Chester Peterson Jr. is the author of American Farm Tractors in the 1960s.