Between the Bookends: Art of the John Deere Tractor, Josephine Roberts Hits the Road & Kid Stuff

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The Art of the John Deere Tractor by Lee Klancher
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Full-page spreads like this are a highlight of The Art of the John Deere Tractor.
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Full-page spreads like this are a highlight of The Art of the John Deere Tractor.
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Full-page spreads like this are a highlight of The Art of the John Deere Tractor.
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Grandpa's Tractor by Michael Garland
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Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel by Josephine Roberts
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Tractor Mac by Billy Steers

A lot of books have been published on John Deere tractors but The Art of the John Deere Tractor stands in a class by itself. In author/photographer Lee Klancher’s unique volume, the finest and most collectible John Deere tractors get glamour girl treatment, photographed in a studio against plain, seamless backdrops.

The result is a selection of 250 very, very fine photographs showcasing decades of carefully considered industrial design. By placing each tractor on an identical stage, one with virtually no visual distractions, Klancher trains the spotlight on the specimen. Multiple views of each tractor and detail shots lend full dimension and clarity. For those interested in the magic behind the curtain, Klancher describes the process of constructing a temporary studio – one big enough to accommodate an 8010 – inside a building at a collectors’ museum in Wisconsin.

The tractors – 30 in all – are from the renowned Keller collection, which leans heavily toward first built and last built, often from production runs of exceedingly small numbers. Collectors Walter and Bruce Keller contribute extensive detail, rarely heard anecdotes and invaluable historical insights. Some of the tractors are in their original dress; others have been flawlessly restored. All are significant in the design evolution of John Deere.

Klancher sprinkles fascinating details with a sure hand. Here you’ll read about the tractor that belonged to a Deere heiress, the impact of Deere recalls, the John Deere series nearly clad in brown paint and the Cinderella-like 8010. Intriguing tales to be sure, but it’s the photos that carry the day – the photos and the enduring art of the tractor.

The Art of the John Deere Tractor by Lee Klancher, hardcover, 192 pages, color photography, Voyageur Press, $35, available through Farm Collector Books, click here to order.

And now for some titles off the beaten path, starting with Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel by Farm Collector’s own Josephine Roberts. Based on notes from her journal, the book is a first-person account of our intrepid columnist’s solo tractor trek through the Welsh countryside – six weeks before she gave birth to her firstborn – at the wheel of her Massey Ferguson 35. The title of the book may seem a bit confusing to readers in the colonies, but we are advised that it is a bit of a play on words referencing both another journey tale (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”) and a familiar nickname (Gwen) for a Welsh housewife.

The tale will sound a bit familiar to anyone who’s ever gone on a tractor drive, though Josephine traveled alone and camped along the way during her six-day sojourn. She tackles navigation, perilous heights and the obvious challenges presented by late-term pregnancy with pluck and good humor, both useful resources for one in such a situation:

“I waved again and [the man] altered his course and came over. ‘On your holidays with a tractor, are you?’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I said, suddenly aware of how stupid it sounded when put like that. I tried explaining the sheer wonder of being alone on a tractor holiday, what a great way it was to see the country, but he didn’t look the least bit convinced. I couldn’t see him going back to his wife and saying, ‘You know what, darling, I think we should flog this flashy caravan [camper] and get a couple of old tractors and a tent and take off like that.”

Josephine’s tone is friendly, wry and conversational; it’s as if you’re hearing this tale face to face. You’ll enjoy the occasional hiccup that results when Americans encounter the British dialect of English (bonnets, midges and plonkers). Tractor drives allow plenty of time for contemplation, and contemplate she does, on everything from scenery to agricultural vagrants to human nature. If you’ve been on a tractor drive, considered going on one or just want to kick back with a bit of light reading, you’ll have fun with this good natured romp of a book.

Gwen and the Art of Tractor Travel by Josephine Roberts, soft-cover, 144 pages, color photographs, Old Pond Publishing, available through Diamond Farm Book Publishers, Div. Yesteryear Toys & Books Inc., RR 3 Brighton, ON KOK 1H0 Canada, (800) 481-1353;

A classic tractor and a supporting cast of barnyard animals make good company in the Tractor Mac series by author and illustrator Billy Steers. The series tells the story of Tractor Mac’s arrival on the farm, a not altogether positive development from the perspective of the farm’s workhorse, Sibley, who feels suddenly cast aside. When heavy rain mires Mac in the mud, though, it’s Sibley to the rescue.

Charming illustrations and chatty farm critters will appeal to the small set. Their elders will appreciate bonus material created by thoughtful diagrams inside the front and back cover. Detailed drawings of both Sibley and Mac are labeled with all the relevant parts so children can learn to identify carburetors and collar pads, reins and radiators. Different drawings are featured in each book, giving children exposure to airplanes, carousels and more. Super!

Tractor Mac: a series by Billy Steers, hardcover, 24 pages, full color illustrations, $7.95 each, available from; (830) 210-9805.

Those with grandchildren who live far removed from the farm may need a helping hand in explaining the allure of the tractor. Grandpa’s Tractor is just the ticket. Aimed at the 5-and-up audience, this storybook does a fine job of explaining the role played by the farm tractor. And for kids who think milk comes from the grocery, the book does a nice job of explaining what farms are all about.

Through lovely illustrations, author and illustrator Michael Garland breathes new life into a long dormant Farmall tractor as a granddad and his grandson depart suburbia in search of the old family farm. The title character recalls the tractor’s use and illustrations show the farm in every season. “When I was your age, my dad let me sit on his lap and steer the tractor as we plowed the fields,” he tells his grandson. Very fine bedtime reading bound to engage a child’s attention.

Grandpa’s Tractor by Michael Garland, hardcover, 32 pages, full color illustrations, $16.95, Boyds Mills Press, 815 Church St., Honesdale, PA 18431;

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