First Day on a John Deere Model A

Young tractor operator studies at the school of hard knocks.

This 1936 John Deere Model A is nearly identical to a Model A owned by the author, except that the rear rims on his tractor had round spokes.

I was only 11 when I first drove a John Deere tractor. It was the summer of 1956. We were in a hay field on our farm, picking up bales with a wooden slide. The tractor pulling the slide was a 1936 John Deere A that belonged to our neighbor immediately to the south. I was thrilled to help the local farmers who were heaping the slide full of square bales.

It had been decided that I would be better suited for operating the tractor than wrestling with the dense alfalfa bales. What’s difficult for me to understand, even today, is that everyone in the field knew I was a novice in the tractor seat. My experience until then had been confined to my family’s Farmall H and a neighbor’s 9N Ford.

It also was no secret that my father disliked John Deere tractors. He preferred the 4-cylinder Farmall engine to the 2-cylinder John Deere. He said the foot clutch and the extra cylinders made for a smoother and less abrupt start, especially when straining under a heavy load.

My personal issue with the John Deere I was about to mount was its volume: This was the machine that would pierce my upstairs bedroom window with loud popping from the exhaust on early mornings during spring planting and fall harvest, when its full torque was devoted to pulling various tillage tools. The harder a John Deere pulls, the more it can “bark.” This often interrupted my effort to sleep in, since this particular neighbor was known to be an early bird in the field.

But Albert, the neighbor who owned the John Deere A, was a close friend of my family and our neighbors. He was a widower in his late 60s and seemed eager to welcome drop-in guests, even at mealtime. My parents often discovered that, yet again, I had wandered to Albert’s and shared supper with him. Although to an 11-year-old boy he seemed like an old man, he still proved to be agile and strong.

Ron Moreau
2/3/2021 1:09:51 PM

I, too started out with driving a John Deere tractor when I was 11 years old near Lubbock, Texas. We had a John Deere A, a Farmall F20, and a Ford 8n on our farm where we raised cotton, alfalfa, and milo. I was able to run the John Deere because it had a hand clutch. I just wasn't able to operate the clutch on the Farmall until I was 12 years old. My dad would run the Farmall and I ran the John Deere to cultivate the cotton and milo. We farmed 640 acres and driving the tractors was a big deal for me. Growing up on a family farm was the best thing that ever happened to me, I think. I am 80 years old now and look back on the farm life as the best years of my life.

2/2/2021 7:11:50 PM

Thanks for the great visit back in time. Those old Popping Johnny's had such a unique sound. That hand clutch was confusing for a few minutes when I switched between the FarmAll's and the John Deere. I was the same age when I started driving the old Ford's or an old hand-cranked Massey-Harris. Because I was a skinny kid some mornings I couldn't put enough oomph on the crank to start it. My mother was only about five-foot four but she could start that Massey-Harris in a heartbeat with the crank. I finally graduated to the FarmAll M when I was twelve or thirteen. The M started on gasoline and once the had warmed up a lever switched it over to diesel. We finally got a 40/20 John Deere and the poppers all retired or were traded in. At seventy-three, I remember those days on the farm and miss the great life we had. A lot of work, and not much money, but I can almost smell that fresh turned earth to this day.


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