A John Deere Model H Tractor’s Role in World War II

A John Deere Model H served as both a farm tractor and personal transportation for an aircraft spotter during war.

| October 2017

  • Owner Kevin Titus says this 1941 John Deere Model H tractor served as both a farm tractor and the farmer’s personal transportation when performing aircraft spotter duties during World War II.
    Photo by Kevin Titus
  • Volunteers received rations, including canned water. This can was part of the gear that came with the Model H when Kevin bought it. Anecdotal accounts suggest that the canned water at least occasionally found its way into radiators.
    Photo by Kevin Titus
  • Kevin’s display includes a civilian gas mask, a spotter’s handbook, armband, helmet and binoculars.
    Photo by Kevin Titus

On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany launched World War II, and the U.S. began to ramp up preparations in response. American farmers were asked to produce additional food for the armed forces. They also spent countless hours scanning the skies for possible enemy air attacks.

These volunteer aircraft spotters were not formally trained, but their service was very important to the war effort. Spotter towers were constructed in remote mountain ranges, farm country and coastal areas. Some rural spotters even used tractors – like this John Deere Model H – to reach their posts.

This Model H tractor – serial no. 31118, built March 28, 1941 – was delivered on April 2, 1941, to an Elmer, New Jersey, farmer and aircraft spotter. Michael Esposito and I are now using this tractor to re-create the activities of World War II volunteer aircraft spotters. Through living history demonstrations like a World War II encampment, Michael and I hope to educate the public about this vital civilian activity that got a boost from a farm tractor.

In a June 10-11, 2017, demonstration near Falls Village, Connecticut, historical displays were manned by volunteers (wearing authentic period uniforms) on the lookout for enemy aircraft. My John Deere Model H tractor illustrated the role of a wartime tractor on patrol as farmers used whatever they had to perform spotter duties.

During the June event, Michael and I re-enacted an incident that occurred late in the war when a captured German aircraft was flown by a U.S. Army Air Force crew to a Florida base. The aircraft was sighted en route by a volunteer spotter who dispatched an emergency message, correctly identifying the plane.

The living history display also re-created an actual observation post once located 1 mile southeast of Falls Village. The original post included a small building erected by local residents as a spotter shelter. The shelter had a coal stove for heat in the winter; a porch provided shade in the summer. It was furnished with a phone, clock and chairs. From 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., men served as spotters; women kept watch during the day. As a general rule, spotters served in pairs; sometimes married couples worked together. Sightings were reported by phone and recorded in writing. FC


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