My family lived on a small dairy farm in western Washington in the early 40's. The first tractor I was associated with as a kid was an English Fordson - about a 1935 model. During this time, tractors were almost impossible to buy, so we were quite proud of the Fordson. It wasn't wonderful, but served quite well, as our requirements were rather basic. When we were able to put up hay, plow and disk and cut firewood, we were pretty self-sufficient.
During this time, a family friend had a 'stump ranch' about 15 miles away and sometimes I would stay with them for a few days and help. A stump ranch was land that logging companies sold off after they'd taken out the lumber. The land was sold cheaply and farmers would receive a tax break to farm it. Fanners would usually have to be satisfied with taking out the smaller, second-growth stumps to begin with and farm around the large, old first-growth stumps, until they could afford to hire a bulldozer to clear them out.
My friend, Pat, had a Fordson from about 1925 and, one day, when cleaning up stumps that had been blasted and dozed, he drove the Fordson off in a stump hole, hooked onto a root and started up out of the hole. Well, the tractor was in a pretty good twist ,as a rear wheel was in the hole and one front wheel was out (maybe a reader or two has cleared a western Washington stump ranch), so it gave out a terrible squall, but Pat drove on out of the hole and shut the tractor down. There weren't any leaks, and the engine was running OK when shut down. After looking at the tractor a while, Pat decided to take off the side plate where a foot rest was. As I had small hands and was eager, I reached down into the bottom of the transmission and came out with part of a handful of ball bearings and pieces of ball bearings. That pretty well ended our land clearing.
The next time I stayed with them, Pat had a 1927 John Deere D. This was a big tractor with a crank handle in the steering wheel, which I really thought was something. As the land clearing was still going on, Pat had a dozer in clearing more stumps. They had a pretty good fire going and the dozer was pushing more stuff in the fire, and pushing the fire into a tighter and higher pile ,when the operator stalled the dozer with the blade in the fire. This was a hand crank model and the crank was between the blade and the radiator, which was now in the fire. Things did not look good for the dozer. The only thing that could help was the John Deere, which wasn't started. Pat started it without difficulty and pulled the dozer out of the fire, hardly scorching the paint. I now had a real high opinion of a John Deere D.
In 1951, Dad had a sale and moved to central Missouri where his brother had a large farm. My uncle had two John Deere tractors, a D and a G, and a Minneapolis Moline. After having cranked the Fordson, I thought the flywheel start of the John Deere was a real step up. I spent about 18 months around that farm and really liked to operate the D, but after leaving the farm, I didn't really have anything to do with tractors for almost 30 years. I did stop at tractor shows once in a while and always looked at the John Deeres. I always thought that, if I could have an antique tractor, I would want it to be a John Deere D.
In August of 1998, my wife gave me a subscription to Farm Collector, In the October issue was an ad for a 1938 John Deere D. After much discussion, I called the listed number and spoke to Ray Dugan of Leonardville, Kan. He described the tractor and then sent pictures. After looking at the pictures and discussing the issue much more with my wife, I sent a check in December and said we would be after the tractor in the spring. We had to wait on better weather to make the long trip from my home near Little Rock, Ark., to Leonardville.
In March, my son and I made the trip to pick up the tractor, Mr. Dugan starting it up and loading it easily. When we got home, we started it four times that afternoon. It was a bit shy about starting, so four times was enough for us.
Now began the real looking. What needed to be done? What would we like to do? What can we do? The rear wheels had been sodium filled at one time and the rims were pretty bad. One was flaking off pieces of rust about one inch wide and three inches long. We knew from previous experience the rims would probably need repair, so part of the deal had been for Mr. Dugan to break the rear wheels loose. We put the tractor on blocks, pulled out the bolts and the rear wheels slid right off. We took the wheels to the tire shop and had them broken down. By the time this was done, one tube was sticking out through the rim. We sandblasted the rims and that hole took about a 16-inch repair. Now we had nice, new-looking yellow rims and a faded tractor.
The fenders had some rips in them, so I took them to an old friend who was retired from the auto body business. My son did the painting, and over the course of a summer, we got the tractor back together.
Now the tractor looked pretty good, but was still rather bashful about starting. I took the magneto to a repair shop and the carburetor to be cleaned, and that really helped it start better.
We have been to a couple of shows and hope to be able to make it to more. I have wanted one of these tractors for a long time, but had trouble convincing my wife. Now I try to convince her that this is all her fault, as she subscribed to Farm Collector.