Just Like Dad: Driving Pedal Tractors

Dale Jensen remembers farming with his John Deere pedal tractor as a boy.


| March 2008



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Dale’s cousin, Jim Cade, at the wheel of his “big” John Deere 60 complete with shift lever.

Long on desire but short in stature, as children we could only watch from a safe distance while fathers, grandfathers, uncles or brothers confidently and effortlessly wielded the tractors of our childhood. Some among us witnessed steel-wheeled distillate-burners nosily heralding the demise of horse farming. Many of us stood in awe watching legions of post-war, rubber-tired, gasoline-powered row crops working to feed an increasingly urban population. Others gazed upon cab-equipped, wide-front-end diesels, the predeccors at 21st century front-wheel-assisted and satellite-guided behemoths.

Generational differences aside, we were rarely, if ever, denied access to the tractors of our youth. Once the tractors were safely parked, we were encouraged to ascend the drawbars or steps leading to those hallowed thrones of stamped steel or vinyl-covered cushions. Confidently seated with feet dangling years away from distant foot pedals, we leaned forward to grasp a spoked wheel. Turning the wheel left and right cemented a bond between boy and machine. The passion and desire were there; the hands were ready. Unfortunately the feet were not.

Passion and desire notwithstanding, as little children we were simply too small to operate real tractors. On the other hand, breakfast, dinner and supper provided the fuel we needed to power tractors we could own and operate. Coinciding with the introduction of 1/16-scale die-cast toy tractors during the late 1940s and early '50s, pedal tractors also began appearing on farmsteads. Mini Farmalls, John Deeres and other brands operated by munchkin-sized future farmers traversed sidewalks, driveways and farmyards across America.

I was one of those little pedalers. I received my pedal tractor in 1955 for my second birthday. Even though ours was a Farmall farm, my pedal tractor - a used model - was a John Deere 60 (the small one). Perhaps dad decided the bargain price warranted allowing this foreigner on the property. In retrospect, I was so happy to have a pedal tractor I didn't dwell on brand name or color.

At first I had only a green pedal tractor and a yellow wagon. Imagination provided a 2-row cultivator and a hay rake. Thanks to an inventive and creative dad, however, I also had a few actual implements. My first implement was a silage chopper made from a discarded reel mower. Dad simply removed the wooden handle and fashioned a strap-iron tongue that would hitch to my tractor. He also attached a piece of sheet metal above and behind the reel, tapering and rolling it towards the rear to create a discharge chute.

The second was a combine fashioned from oil cans. A rectangular 5-gallon oil can laid horizontally became the main body of the combine. Dad removed the bottom half of the rear end where pretend chaff and straw would exit and the top half of the front end where grain would enter. Another horizontal 5-gallon can cut in half lengthwise and diagonally from the top rear to the bottom front created the header.