I recently enjoyed an annual migration of sorts. It’s a spectacle unique to farm country, and it lasts throughout the summer months. It’s a time when field work has slowed, and farmers can take a bit of a break to enjoy the event with family and friends. No, it’s not a movement of birds or four-legged animals but a procession of wheeled beasts from the field. They show up at Fourth of July parades, county fairs and farm expos — caravans of tractors, every variety, chugging down the streets or on display. They represent years past and even offer a glimpse into the future.
The debates about which ones are the best heat up, too. Which color? Red or Green? Most people know Illinois is the birthplace of John Deere’s brand, where in 1837, the entrepreneur developed a new style of plow that could cut through tough prairie sod. It’s just one of many innovations farmers came up with to simplify day-to-day tasks.
Go figure, but I’m not quite in the mainstream when it comes to tractor brands. There’s a special place in my heart for the golden yellow of a Minneapolis-Moline. This company also has roots in Illinois, but you’re more likely to see these tractors in parades and at expos than farm fields anymore. I came by my preference through my father. After returning home from serving in World War II, my dad found work as a blacksmith apprentice in the tiny town of Geff, Ill.
He was a good welder and repaired farm machinery at a time when much of it was still horse-drawn. He also made a lot of horseshoes, but he told me shoeing horses was the least favorite part of smithing for him. Times were changing. Even in Geff, horses were on their way out, and mechanization was on the way in. It was a natural progression for my dad to strike out on his own in the implement business. He moved to Mill Shoals and set up shop there. That all happened before I was born, but it set the stage for having MM yellow in my blood.
The first tractor I learned to drive was a Jet Star model, a small utility tractor with a wide front end. Ours was equipped with a front-end loader. The workhorse for the field was a narrow front-end 445 model. We also had a G6 that ran on LP, and had huge concrete weights in the rear rims and a dozer blade out front. I also remember getting to drive a big G1000 and a brand-new articulating four-wheel-drive T1600.
Dad was one of the area’s early adopters of no-till. He used his welding skills to modify field implements pulled by these Molines. He got out of the business as MM was purchased by White. I was still pretty young and I’m certainly not an expert on farm machinery, so forgive me if I have some of the models wrong — I’m just going from memory, and Dad’s not around anymore to set me straight.
Seeing these tractors from years gone by, still running the roads and demonstrating their prowess in the field, sure does bring back a lot of memories for me. I can only imagine what it does for those who spent hours upon hours operating and maintaining these machines that revolutionized farming. Then when I see today’s versions, I’m also in awe when I realize how far we’ve come and where we still have to go. What a fantastic migration of man and machines through time.
Dozier is the Illinois state conservationist. Direct comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.