Museum Formed Around 1930s John Deere Tractor

Putting the past in perspective: Retired educator puts focus on tractor and implements

| April 2009

  • 1936 John Deere B and cultivator
    Don’s 1936 John Deere B with a Model BB 221 2-row cultivator from the same era. The museum’s collection of implements reflects what would have been used with this tractor on a small Midwestern farm in the 1930s. Overhead: two American flags, one of which is authentic to the 1930s.
  • John Deere No. 10 corn picker
    John Deere No. 10 corn picker, circa 1931. The piece was in working order when Don McKinley acquired it. “We could have greased it up and gone to the field,” he says. “It was functional.”
  • Marvin Huber and Don McKinley
    Marvin Huber (left) and Don McKinley work closely together in collection and restoration.
  • 1931 Van Brunt grain drill
    This 1931 Van Brunt grain drill has received the customary painstaking McKinley/Huber restoration treatment. Before replacing the drill’s deteriorated wood parts, Don and Marvin conducted extensive research to find out what was originally used and, accordingly, used cypress in their restoration.
  • John Deere corn binder
    A John Deere corn binder from the 1930s.
  • John Deere hay press
    A John Deere hay press from the late 1930s.
  • John Deere tractor binder
    This John Deere tractor binder (circa 1935) was used to make bundles for threshing. John Deere’s first PTO-powered binder was introduced in 1927. Within two years, the company had a quarter of the market: International Harvester had nearly all the rest.
  • 1935 John Deere tractor binder
    You’d never guess it today, but this 1935 John Deere tractor binder survived a fire years ago, before Don and Marvin gave it a total restoration.
  • 1935 John Deere Model E manure spreader
    A 1935 John Deere Model E manure spreader.

  • 1936 John Deere B and cultivator
  • John Deere No. 10 corn picker
  • Marvin Huber and Don McKinley
  • 1931 Van Brunt grain drill
  • John Deere corn binder
  • John Deere hay press
  • John Deere tractor binder
  • 1935 John Deere tractor binder
  • 1935 John Deere Model E manure spreader

Don McKinley may have retired from a career in public schools years ago, but he never quit teaching.

His rural Illinois museum serves as a remarkably outfitted classroom where visitors bone up on the evolution of agriculture over the past 75 years, and where Don is an enthusiastic tutor and tour guide.

Born and raised on a southwest Iowa farm, Don now lives in rural Quincy, Ill. An avid collector of antique farm equipment, he has a marked preference for the green-and-yellow line. “My dad had Farmall tractors,” he recalls, “but my older brother had a 1936 John Deere B, and I found at a very early age that I could work the hand clutch on that B.”

Don’s son-in-law, Marvin Huber, is a partner in the museum. Before retiring to help his wife, Cathy, in the couple’s horse tack business, Marvin worked 28 years as a mechanic and service manager at a John Deere dealership. In his spare time, he restores John Deere tractors and works on the museum.

Past in perspective

Today, a 1936 John Deere B is the heart of the museum, but it’s more than a point of nostalgia. As a collector, Don began to sense that the public at large had very little understanding of antique farm equipment. As an educator, he saw his opening.

“I overheard a boy and his dad talking at a show,” he says. “The boy asked about a tractor, and dad read the sign identifying it. ‘Yeah, but what was it used for?’ the boy asked. ‘They farmed with it,’ the dad answered. The kid still didn’t know what a tractor did!”

Then there was the conversation he had with his daughter Cathy when he asked her what a grain binder’s function was. Don maintains she was unsure; Cathy, gently scoffing at his version, recalls the conversation differently. No matter: The die was cast. “I decided right then I was going to surround my tractor with everything it pulled or powered in the 1930s,” Don says, “and use that to help people understand.”



The result is a 5,700-square foot museum fully stocked with antiques gathered by Don, Cathy and Marvin, and another daughter and her husband, Connie and Wayne Palmer, who live in Omaha. The collection includes an astonishing array ranging from household items to implements, tractors to vintage equine gear, all arranged and displayed with a curator’s deft touch. Much of it is John Deere equipment, but Don also has a preference for locally manufactured items. “I love to show what agriculture has done in the last 75 years,” he says. “It’s a phenomenal evolution. I just want people to understand it, to appreciate it.”

Time of transition

Nearly 50 John Deere implements from the 1930s surround Don and Marvin’s handsomely restored 1936 John Deere Model B tractor like the one Don’s brother owned years ago. Each of the implements would have been used on a Midwestern farm of 80 to 120 acres. “If you bought this tractor in 1936, it would have cost you about $675,” Don says. “But after that, you wouldn’t have had money left to buy anything else, so you’d cut the tongues off your horse-drawn equipment and use those pieces with your tractor.”

American agriculture underwent a period of tremendous change in the 1930s, Cathy notes. “It was the transition of horse-drawn equipment to mechanization,” she says. “After the Depression, farmers could afford tractors.” And that mechanization had enormous immediate impact. “When I picked corn by hand for my dad, I’d pick about 10 bushels an hour in a 10-hour day,” Don recalls. “By the 1930s, a mechanical picker was picking 42 bushels per hour. In 2006, a combine was harvesting 70 bushels per minute.”



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