John Deere DI: A Yellow JD

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The John Deere D Industrial: Fewer than 100 were made during a production run that went from 1936 to 1941. Gary Schroller's is a 1940 model, one of just two DI tractors Deere made that year. His daughter, Hannah, is at the wheel.
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Gary's DI, buried, as he found it. "Those industrials just never really went over," he said.
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The main case, disassembled ...
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... and after restoration.
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Before restoration: all there, but rough.

Everybody knows John Deere never made a yellow tractor … everybody, that is, except Gary Schroller. Gary is the proud owner of a John Deere D Industrial, fully restored to a screaming yellow that’ll make you want to put on your sunglasses.

The DI was originally sold to a township road department in Kansas, Gary said. It was designed for road work: It has higher speed gears and steering brakes. The seat is mounted sideways so the driver could watch the road patrol. The clutch and throttle are mounted on the left.

“It had high speed sprockets,” Gary said. “There’s just no power in the lower gears.”

And then there’s that color.

“It was painted yellow at the factory,” he said, “which most people doubt was the original color. When I show it, everybody questions the color. I’ve got to explain it, and show them the archive photos.”

“I talked to an old farmer at the state fair when I showed it down there,” he recalled. “Well, I got a lecture. He told me, ‘I farmed with John Deere all my life, and they never made a yellow tractor.’ He shook his finger at me and everything!”

Gary first learned of the tractor when he was on another tractor mission in western Kansas, buying a John Deere D.

“This guy told me that his neighbor had this real high speed D Industrial,” he said. “It ended up being just 90 miles from where I live. But it took me several years of pestering the guy before I got it bought.”

When Gary first saw the tractor, it sported a more conventional – though worn – JD color scheme.

“A dealership had had it, and they painted it green and yellow, and put it on the lot,” he said. “But they hadn’t sandblasted it. It was still all yellow underneath.”

Later, a farmer bought the DI. But the industrial tractor was not a good fit to the farm.

“It would never pull a plow,” Gary said. “It was geared too high. They just used it for harrowing.”

Restoration was a monumental challenge.

“It was the roughest tractor I have ever done,” Gary said, “and the toughest restoration job. It had sat for 25 years. It was so stuck when I got it, the wheels wouldn’t even roll. It was so darn rough … I expected the very worst, and that’s what I got.”

Everything had to be replaced, he said.

“The industrial stuff was all there: the steering brakes, all the oddball stuff was all there,” he said. “The motor, the radiator, and the gas tank all came off a Farm D.”

Getting parts was a snap, compared to the restoration, which ended up taking a year.

“The worst part was tearing it down,” he said. “That’s usually the easy part. But the brakes, everything was so stuck, there was no way you could get it apart without breaking something.”

The project pretty well cooled him on restoration efforts.

“That was the last tractor I restored,” he said. “I used to do one a year. But there were so many midnight hours on that one. I just don’t have the ambition any more.”

Nor, really, does restoration match his taste.

“In my collection, my favorites are original and unrestored,” he said.

His personal collection includes 18 to 20 “favorites,” and another 300 or so (all two-cylinder Deeres) for parts and other projects.

His absolute favorite? “It’s a BWH-40,” he said. “It’s just one of 12 made, an experimental model made in 1938. It’s a skinny and tall; it’s a little high-clearance, narrow tractor. It’ll be the last one to go.”

His collection includes a 1923 Waterloo Boy (his oldest tractor), and a spoker D flywheel.

“But they just don’t do as much for me,” he said.

He also has a John Deere cement mixer, a pump jack, a cream separator, air pumps, toys, and literature.

“If it’s a two banger,” he said, “it’s probably here.”

His Deere collection is like an American patchwork quilt.

“I’ve gone coast to coast chasing tractors,” he said. “I have high crops out of Florida, and orchards out of California.”

Gary’s DI was featured on a Green Magazine wall calendar a few years ago, but it wasn’t quite the same tractor he knew.

“My DI has a dual exhaust on it that was made by a jobber house in western Kansas, after market, to help it run cool,” he said. “But when the picture ran on the calendar, they’d airbrushed one of the exhaust pipes off, because they wanted it to look 100 percent authentic, the way it looked when it left the factory.” FC

For more information: Gary Schroller, 21401 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Randolph, KS 66554; (785) 363-2458.

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