Have you ever met a guy whose tractors outnumber the number of years he’s lived?
Well, I’d like to introduce Jim Birk from Hutchinson, Minn. What can put an ear-to-ear smile on his face? You guessed it: a John Deere tractor. Does he have a favorite? He can’t decide between an “A” and a “D.”
At age 21, he already owns 24 John Deeres. Adding a Waterloo Boy is his immediate goal. Someday owning a complete type-set collection (having two identical tractors, one on rubber, one on steel) is his long-term goal.
Planting the seed of Jim’s love of JDs was his father, Eugene. One day on the way home from town, 8-year-old Jim spotted a neighbor boy riding a mini-bike. Naturally, Jim begged for one. Because Eugene hated cycles and loved tractors, he rather hurriedly spent $100 for Jim’s first tractor, a 1937 model “B” JD on factory rubber. For days, Jim proudly drove it up and down the road ditches. Then he spent $10 of his own hard-earned money for paint and painted it himself. Needless to say, the seed had sprouted and would grow rapidly.
After Jim had three tractors, Dad said, “No more!” Combined with his, they had no more shed space. Luckily, Grandma came to the rescue. She inspired a new 36-by-72-foot Lester shed that today is filled with sparkling JDs.
When Jim was 11, his family began bringing him and his tractors to the Scott-Carver Steam & Gas Engine Festival in Jordan, Minn. He’s never missed a year since, sometimes exhibiting as many as eight tractors. In the daily parade, he gets kidded by parade announcer Ken Scott about his “long green line.”
Playing favorites, Jim has brought his favorite “D” JD to the Scott-Carver Festival for the last seven years. When he was about 9, he was at an auction with his dad; there he spotted that “D.” As the bidding progressed, he kept tugging at his dad’s sleeve, urging him to buy it. Finally, the tears rolled down Jim’s cheeks. Eugene bid $340, the final bid!
Another time his dad paid $125 for a 1934 model “A” on steel and kept saying, “You know, that’s way too much money for that tractor.” That $125 came back to Jim when he won first place with that “A” at the Minnesota State Plowing Contest in September 1982, and placed seventh in nationals, which qualified him to go to the world plowing contest. (He didn’t go because it was being held in York, Pa., a bit far from Hutchinson, Minn.)
The lengths to which Jim will go to bring home a JD “D” are illustrated in the story he tells of buying a 1939 “D” over the phone:
“I bought it over the phone because the man told me it had excellent sheet metal. He said the grill and motor were perfect. So one winter day, I went up to Fargo, only to find it frozen in a lake. It was over the front wheels in ice. The man had a 4440 JD with a loader. It took hours to chop the ‘D’ out of the ice. After we finally made the hole big enough to get a chain around the one axle, we lifted up on one corner at a time; the front wheels of that 4440 actually squatted down.
“Then after spending a whole day freeing it and loading it, the hood blew away on the way home. I was so disgusted! But a pleasant surprise awaited me. After I was home only 10 minutes, the phone rang. On the line was an old friend of mine that lives near Fargo. He said he had found a hood for a ‘D’ JD on a gravel road and could I use it for one of my tractors. I couldn’t believe it! I then told him my story. After laughing together over the coincidence, he told me the best part: even though he found the hood standing on end, driven into the gravel, it wasn’t even bent!”
To haul his tractors, Jim has a 1947 Dodge that his dad bought at an auction for only $72.50. Of course, it needed lots of work. After all the repair and a shimmering coat of paint, it is such a sharp truck that he was recently pulled over by a policeman. When Jim asked what the problem was, the cop replied, “I just wanted to look this beauty over!”
Jim’s beauties can be found in his house as well as in his shed. As a small child, his parents would not let him take his tractors and trucks outside to play in the sand and the mud. Naturally, he resented that restriction. Today, however, he is grateful because he has a 165-piece toy collection, of which over 100 are tractors all in perfect condition. Presently he’s adding toy combines to his collection.
As I look around the Birk farm at all the shiny JDs and listen to the many stories of all the dollars and hours invested in restoring JDs, I’d venture that his father planted and nurtured enough seeds that the bountiful harvest may require more bins. IMA