Our 1938 John Deere B

Learn about one family’s struggles and success during the harshest years of the dust bowl with their reliable 1938 John Deere B.

| February 2020

Otto Griesse cultivating corn in July 1939. “Notice the grassy corn,” Gary Griesse says. “Some collectors argue that the present tires aren’t original. Here is the proof.”

The Depression and Dust Bowl lasted for years, from 1932 to at least 1939. The farmers of the Midwest who survived did so by living off the land with daily limited resources.

Making a box of .22-caliber shells last all year to shoot prairie chickens for the dinner table, or bartering excess crops for coal to heat the home in the winter, were common tales of that period. Your team of horses might grade the county road, or working the pink quartzite mines around Sioux Falls in the offseason might bring extra income to families in northwest Iowa in those times.

In 1936, the crops looked good until a late August hailstorm. Grandpa harvested one narrow box of oats and three loads of ear corn that year. 1937 looked to be a good year, until that cool September morning when it was discovered that an equine sleeping sickness had spread through the area. Our farm was not spared: the Percheron team died and the quarter-cross Haflinger was down and would never get its wind back.

The 2-year-old gelding cross with the bent tail and wind puffs never did contract the sickness. Harvesting with that gelding later proved to be quite a test. Once a day he’d bolt from the ear corn, hitting the bangboard on the wagon box. Without the team to disc the ends, it was an all-fall process.

The Griesse family heirloom: a handsomely restored 1938 John Deere Model B bought new by Gary Griesse’s grandfather.


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