Vintage Tractors Can Be a Source for Local History

Some tractors surely witness multiple stories during their decades of service, and sometimes their presence gets humans to recount these tales.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

I’ve long been intrigued and somewhat amused by the fact that vintage tractors in rural areas can develop quite a local history. Thanks to their longevity (it’s not uncommon for these veteran tractors to be used for decades on end), they can pass from one farmer to another, building up a lifetime of memories that their current owners might not be familiar with.

Do you ever look at a vintage tractor, perhaps one of your own, and wonder where it has been and what it’s done? I do, and through the years I’ve heard some fun stories about vintage tractors.

Take our John Deere Model 40 “Little Mo,” which was a part of our farm long before we lived here. Little Mo has probably had only two owners, but I can’t say for sure.

However, there was an occasion a few years back when an elderly man stopped by to say hello, eventually revealing that he used to spend time on our farm when he was a boy. At the time, Little Mo was missing the arms of her three-point hitch, and when the man spotted the aging tractor he recalled that the arms had been tossed away onto a rock pile decades earlier. He also remembered how he would ride up from the cow pond on the back of Little Mo, standing on the drawbar while holding onto the arms of the three-point hitch.

Another tractor we’ve used is a powerful diesel Leyland, painted bright blue (well, dusty blue these days), the traditional color scheme for this British brand. How did a British tractor wind up in the northwoods of Wisconsin? Apparently a Leyland dealer existed in a nearby town, and on a recent drive through that town I spotted three Leyland tractors in a field.

The Leyland has obviously worked hard through its life and has seen better days; one of its more noticeable signs of wear and tear is a large vertical dent on the front of the machine. As the story goes, the Leyland had been lent out for a haying job on a nearby farm, and the hay was so deep that the driver failed to see a metal stake in the middle of the field. The Leyland drove into the stake head-on and has the scar to prove it.

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I have long been fascinated by the history of old farms and vintage farm machinery, so these anecdotes about hard-working tractors are always fun to hear. If you have a vintage tractor on your farm, ask around and see whether any of the local farmers have stories to share. You never know what you might learn.

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