Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John Deere Man, 12 years old

As I approached manhood at 12 years of age (almost 13), my grandfather finally gave me the 'unsupervised' use of his classic 1929 John Deere (I had been riding on, then driving and working it for many years). He had rebuilt the 2 cylinder Poppin' Johnny engine, so it ran really well.

He taught me about the preventive maintenance and oil changes (WWII he had filtered and stored up all slightly used oil) and how to file the points and adjust the magneto timing. Spark plugs were always cleaned, adjusted and re-used back then. I finally was strong enough to Pull the Hand Crank 'up' against compression to start it by myself (important), often times it 'kicked' back dangerously. Poppin' Johnny badly needed all four tires though.

I worked the 'custom' contract jobs, my Grandmother mysteriously found for me in the community. Sitting high, and with great pride driving the green John Deere and hauling the equipment on the trailer pulled behind, I flew down the highway paved in squares (the 'ceee-ment road' as some neighbor folks called it).... at 10 to 12 (almost 15) mph...

Industrious and hard working Grandma, also worked the phone and kept the cash flowing in. She also figured out what each hour was worth, telling the customers the price for each job. Being just a kid, I had no idea what to charge folks.

Eventually I got a feel for the rates and confidently figured the hourly, until the profits started to build a total in my first real 'Passbook' bank account. Eventually the funds were there to buy new tires, ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog..... after WWII rationing ended.

The much anticipated arrival of those new tires and tubes delivered by the blue Sears truck, brought a welcome end to the 'airing up' of the old tires. A daily event, with an hour of pumping like crazy on the old, leather washered 'bicycle pump'. Only the gas stations could afford expensive electric 'airing up pumps' in those years.

After rolling each of the brand new tires back to the barn, I had to figure out how to mount the bless'ed things myself. What a tough job by flashlight and lantern, over the several weeks in the dark, snowbound and cold winter months (tractor was drained and in the snowed in, storage barn).

At 12 I was strong for my age, but nowhere near enough to man handle those big hard rubber tires. I was worn out after each night I fought 'em, from the wrestling of rubber and iron. It took old mechanical lever screw jacks, placed strategically under the weight of the tractor, just to 'break the beads'.

It took long steel bars that kept endlessly slipping loose, to lever them off the wheels a fraction of an inch at a time. I poured out the sodium chloride solution (traction weight), removed the old 'boots' that were slipped in years before, to cover the old cut and blown out sidewalls. Saved the old patched red rubber tubes for slingshots. WWII rationing forced everyone to just 'make do'. There were No tires or rubber, the war effort got them.

The heavy iron John Deere sickle bar mower had to be dragged under the jacked up tractor, the tractor lowered, then the mower jacked up and hard mounted to the frame, an all day and more, project in itself. I had two large flat fabric sickle bar drive belts. One was an old spare that I kept re-laced for emergencies. The row cultivators with four seperate assemblys, were hard mounted as well.

The heavy John Deere moldboard plow with 'squeeze handle' lift, was the same to mount and adjust. Rare and very expensive, US Union made socket wrenches were not something everyone could afford. Antique forged black iron, open ended 'S' and straight wrenches were used. I used some of my money to eventually buy some new hex bolts and nuts after the war. At 16, Mom gave me a Christmas present of a new Craftsman wrench set. I slept with that shiny new chromealoy set next to my bed for months. Still have some parts of it, even after a couple of thefts in ABQ got most.

The normally used pre WWII square nuts and bolts, were sharp cornered and really took off lots of skin.. 'Knuckle busters', were the given name to those old wrenches including adjustable 'Monkey's, we were fortunate to even own. The old Seat and Lever manipulated, disc harrow and levered drag spike harrow, were leftovers from the horse drawn era, as was the hand and muscle powered, wooden handled 'slip shovel' I used as my earth mover bucket.

As soon as school was out each day, I ran home to start working and chores before dusk (we raised hundreds of chickens. For a WWII time, two hogs and a beef each year). While the other kids played ball in the nearby field, I happily drove past on my way to yet another mowing, plowing or cultivating job, grandma had scheduled for me.

She was my corporate 'office manager'. Folks called her every day with projects that needed tractor work. For a young kid, the rewards were fantastic. I always had pocket cash. She also found me harvesting jobs in the orchards and 'de-tassling' corn, while riding on the big machine with other kids trying to earn more cash.

Driving the John Deere up to the tall glass cylindered, gas pump was exciting. At the highway crossroad, the guys playing pool by the pot bellied stove, and sitting on the tall 'shoe shine chairs' inside the little store, always looked outside to see who pulled up.

Jumping down from the burlap bag cushioned steel seat in my straw hat, cranking the dark yellow Regular leaded gas up from the underground tank and into the big measured jar, then climbing up and putting the hose nozzle into the tractor tank, I felt sort of special for a kid. Especially while paying my own bill to Mrs and Mr Hokemier.. a dollar... and change.

After the war when 'stuff' became available, the little gas station, 'Hokemiers' (Hokey's to us) got a brand new electric 'Tokhiem' gasolene pump. A little glass bubble had a small metal 'vane' spinning around inside it. The red 'Ethyl' was for rich folks. Sometimes when flush with some extra cash, I gave the John Deere an 'Ethyl' treat. The pump's mechanical numbers rolled and the price and gallons appeared in the windows. I thought, "What will they think of next".

Saved up more money and bought my own car, a dead 41 Chevy, at age 14 (almost 15). We towed it home with the tractor. Rebuilt the broken timing gear drive, with instructions from a 'Motor's Manual', grandpa picked up from one of his mechanic friends. Took me almost half a year of spare time and ordered parts. By 15, I was driving it around on the farm roads and impressing the local kids...also angering the local residents.

Grandma got called on many occasions. Grandpa threatened to 'dismantle' (I remember his exact words) the 'straight piped, split manifold and loud, black with fender skirts and lowered, 41 Chevy 2dr sedan. Speed and more speed was my addiction. The tractor was slow, I switched to the shiny Black Chev for a thrill. Loudly roaring through the farm fields and dirt roads at night with the straight pipes alternately 'barking' and 'rapping off', was my adrenalin rush. :>)

Sacking groceries at the Jewel store where mom and grandma's friend Mike was the mgr, helped keep funds for car insurance and fuel flowing. Haying on a crew with friends, also came to help fund my now growing car projects. The Hoffman Machine shop job in town was also the result of Grandma knowing Floyd the shop foremen. I Have no idea what I would have become, if not for mom and grandparents consistantly prodding me along 'The yellow brick road' to my future.

Those years went by fast. With all of the work, no time for much 'hanging out'. My wilder friends were more loosely supervised and began smoking, drinking...lots of both. I could not afford 'smokes' or 'beers'. The Chevy needed gas, registration plates and insurance to drive, and the unpredictable old Poppin' Johnny often needed expensive pieces, to replace parts broken.....
by falling into ditches, hitting tree branches (radiator :<(, breaking the sickle blades on wire hidden in the weeds, and just it's heavy usage in general, kept me busy.

Steel fence posts hidden in the tall weeds were a bugger. They knocked the mower assembly back and out of it's sprung safety lock., and often broke the mower bar's forged iron guides. Often had to climb down and grab the end of the big long mower bar. A fast and hard muscled pull forward, got it back into 'lock'. Had to keep fingers out of sickle blades during this maneuver, cause the bar started to shake and cut as soon as 'lock' was restored. If I didn't do it by hand, the oak wood 'throw board' assy on the outer end could break, and it was expensive.

Many farmers lost fingers doing just this one, all too common maneuver. I quickly learned to use the anvil to chisel off and re-rivit the new blades on the sickle bars. I bought them by the dozens at Hersberger's International Harvester farm equipment store. I was proud to have two complete bars, One spare was always ready to be quickly installed so that the job always got finished on time. Sometimes the John Deere needed a factory part. Grandpa drove me to the dealer in Des Plains. That was a big trip. I enjoyed seeing the airplanes at Pal-Waukee Airport. Joline Illinois was the only bigger trip..the John Deere factory.

My hardest later competition, my perceived nemesis, was an older kid that had a shiny new red Farmall Cub (International). His family bought it for him. His family also had just moved from the city and had bought the little neighborhood store and gas station... Hokey's. Hydraulics and modern equipment on the Cub, instead of my old 'Jack Armstrong' mechanical iron squeeze levers, were much faster and easier. His three point hitch did in minutes, what my 'hard point' bolt mounted equipment took all day to do. I was sooo jealous of him.

My tough Frenchman Grandpa told me, "Too bad for that kid, he is missing out". "It is good for you. The big iron levers build strong arms and legs, so no one will kick sand in your face". He surely saw me enviously looking at those body building ads in the magazines, don't you think? :>)

I beat my nemisis older competitor, on price only. I heard that his folks wisely told him "if you can't earn a good profit to pay for that new tractor, don't do the job". My equipment costs were minor in comparison to his. That was only one reason.. Grandma's 'in community favor' did the rest. She was just one of her 'Church Ladies', and did lots of charity work. "The Ladies Aid" was her group and they often met at her house to discuss the community's needs.

That was before wellfare and Johnson's 'Great Society'. The church and concerned citizens took care of the needy (still do). No one starved or froze. Somehow the community always spread the word about who needed what (the 8 party line?). Sometimes my 'garden' jobs were charity.
Grandma said:
"Mrs -------- needs her garden to grow food. They have no money, so you go plow and do whatever it takes". "You will find out that it pays off after a while, God Will take care of you:"
She was so right.. :>)

Life was surely wonderful in this 'One Nation Under God' THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA


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