John Deere Collectors Fill Home

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Jack and Carol Davidson and their most recent restoration: a 1949 G tractor.
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"It's almost as easy as dialing a phone": promotional piece for power steering.
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The Davidson's fleet of the ill-fated lawn and garden line. The couple's son's sign collection covers the walls, but "99.9 percent of what we have is green," Jack Davidson says. The collection fills the Davidson home, displacing furniture in some rooms.
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A 1941 H (minus its fenders, which have been removed for restoration): the Davidsons' next restoration project.
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A 1936 B: one of the two tractors that started the Davidson collection.

When Dorothy clicked her heels together and said “There’s no place like home,” she had Kansas on her mind. But she might just as well been thinking of Jack and Carol Davidson, and their home in Anderson, Ind.

The Davidsons are avid John Deere collectors. That in itself is not unique. But the fact that they’ve given over their home to their collection is.

“We’ve been collecting for about 20 years,” Jack says. “It started when I bought two tractors from my neighbor: two model B’s: a 1936, and a 1938. I had been working at Ford, and farming the family farm, and I didn’t have a lot of time for collecting. I’d just buy stuff, and stow it away. But when our son and daughter grew up and left home, we kind of looked at it again.”

That “look” resulted in emptying three full rooms – two bedrooms and the living room – of all their furnishings, filling them instead with an extensive display of John Deere memorabilia.

“After I retired five or six years ago, we gave away a lot of the furniture except for what was in the family room and kitchen,” Jack says. “We brought out all the toys and displays, and made our home a mini-museum of John Deere stuff. The living room literally has no furniture in it except for a John Deere bench.”

It’s only natural that the John Deere collection should spill into the family room as well. Throughout the house, there are lamps and paintings in a Deere theme; even the kitchen sports JD wallpaper and coordinating paint.

This unique approach to home decor has just one downside.

“It is a big job keeping everything clean and dusted,” Jack says. “But we’re really proud of our collection; we just love it. This collecting … we decided that we were going to do one thing that no one else has done, that we know of. When you pull in to our place, you know it’s going to be John Deere.”

The Davidsons’ collection, of course, extends beyond the house. The barn is home to several full size tractors, a restored 110 pan seat (the first lawn-and-garden tractor Deere came out with), as well as a unique set of lawn-and-garden patio series tractors from 1969.

“The lawn-and-garden patio line was a failure,” Jack says. “People wanted green and yellow, but these were painted all white, and shipped to the dealers with yellow, blue, orange or green seats and hoods. You’d pick the color you wanted. Well, it was a nightmare to stock parts.”

The Davidsons have seven antique two-cylinder tractors. The oldest in their collection is a ’36 B; the newest is a 1957 520. Jack, his son and son-in-law work closely together on restoration projects. They’ve just completed a 1949 G, investing four years in the process. Their next project will be a 1941 H bought new in Michigan by the grandfather of Jack’s daughter-in-law.

“He had it stored for years,” Jack says. “It’s got the original plow and original bill of sale. And it had fenders, and those are a rare item. There was a state law in Michigan requiring fenders. We didn’t have fenders on our tractors in Indiana: we’d just sit there and eat dirt.”

That family involvement has trickled down to the Davidsons’ grandchildren.

“Oh, the grandkids love the collection,” he says. “They’ve never attempted to play on it. They’re real, real savvy about JD things: they don’t try to tear it up, they never ride the pedal tractors. They like to go to the shows. They’re learning that it’s fun to have fun with different colors of tractors. When I was a kid, that was serious business. Them were fighting words.”

Jack wasn’t always surrounded by Deere equipment.

“My dad’s first tractor was an F20 Farmall, and it was nothing but trouble,” he recalls. “He used to say ‘If I have to farm with a Farmall, I’ll farm with a hoe, or quit.'”

In the mid-’50’s, though, Jack’s father became acquainted with the owner of a new JD dealership.

“All of a sudden,” he says, “everything turned green.”

Years later, the Davidson place is still green. Jack and Carol’s collection includes virtually anything related to the Deere company: Advertising pieces, pocket ledgers, china, model airplanes, toys, paper memorabilia, calendars, mirrors, calculators, castings, models, pedal tractors and wall signs. One of his favorite pieces – an oversized phone dial big enough to be placed over a steering wheel – was part of the initial promotional effort for power steering.

“It’s a really rare piece,” Jack says. “And I love that series of tractors – the 40, 50, 60, 70, 80. If I were younger, I would love to have all the tractors in that series.”

Mirrors with dealer insignia are also at the top of his “favorites” list. His collection includes eight mirrors, including one with a painting of a 1947 or ’48 A on it.

“It was given away by the John Deere dealer in Swayzee, Ind.,” he says, “and they called it the only Swayzee in the world.”

Memorabilia – particularly pieces as great as the mirrors – is increasingly hard to find. Although he still makes finds at the occasional auction, Jack buys more and more online.

“The best stuff is on eBay. The prices there are outlandish, but it gives you a chance to get it,” he says. “I’ve bought some items there that I thought I would never find.”

The prizes in his collection include cast iron model airplanes – one red, one silver – dating to 1929.

“For a while, we thought they were fakes,” he says, “but we’re convinced now that they’re genuine. I have a letter documenting their authenticity.”

He also treasures a red horse-drawn implement tongue purchased new by his father. Never used, it now serves as a shelf for items in his collection. A second tier – but green instead of red – came when a friend found an almost identical piece.

Other special pieces: a 1938 pocket ledger from the first John Deere dealer in Anderson, Ind., in mint condition; an Auto-Lite dealer kit from 1960 (one of the last two-cylinder ad kits Deere produced before the New Generation tractors were introduced) and a wide variety of calculators. Those, however, are a far cry from what we know as calculators today.

“Just a few short years ago, the farmer had no computer or pocket calculator,” Jack says. “So calculations were done on cards put out by companies. They’d do speed calculations, fuel economy, combine speed, hay moisture, just about anything.”

The Davidsons enjoy the show circuit, whether they’re exhibitors, visitors or volunteers.

“Nearly every weekend we go to a tractor show,” he says. “We’re the chairmen of the tractor and engine show at the Lapel Village Fair held the first weekend after the fourth of July. And Carol is really into it: she drives the tractors – usually the 1957 JD 520 – at shows. She really likes it.”

After years of hard work on the farm, the Davidsons relish the time they now lavish on their collection.

“We’ve just loved this hobby … we’ve had a ball with it,” he says. “It’s just fun.”

And it may have been a prudent investment, as well. When a 40-10 was new, he says, it sold for $4,000-$5,000. At a recent auction in Kansas, he notes, a perfectly restored 40-10 sold for $20,000.

“There’s a lot of those still in use in our part of the country,” he says. “If you’re looking for a way to spend money instead of putting it in the stock market, just buy John Deere.”

As long as they can find a place to put it, Jack says, the couple will keep collecting.

“When you collect memorabilia, your wish list is never ending,” he says. “As much stuff as we have, we just love it.” FC

For more information: Jack and Carol Davidson, 1001 S. 600 W, Anderson, IN 46011.

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