Farm Progress

John Deere M passes to 4th generation

My Favorite Tractor: Matt Schwantes, Kewaunee, Wis., favors this tractor that first belonged to his great-grandfather.

Harlen Persinger

May 21, 2018

2 Min Read
SEEING GREEN: This 1950 Model M John Deere tractor has been in Matt Schwantes’ family for four generations.

Matt Schwantes of Kewaunee, Wis., is the fifth owner of a 1950 Model M John Deere tractor. It was originally purchased new off the showroom floor from Kewanee Implement Co. by John Wier, but was later sold along with a two-bottom plow and harrow to Schwantes’ great-grandfather Erwin Sr. He farmed 50 acres with a team of horses and used the tractor to plow, disk, harrow, rake and mow hay, plant corn, move wagons, and haul manure, Schwantes says.

Prior to being introduced in 1947, the M was in development for several years during World War II. It replaced the H, L and CA models. Three additional variants — the MT tricycle row crop, MC crawler model and MI industrial model — were also built. The M was the first tractor to be produced at John Deere’s new Dubuque, Iowa, factory, and was the first to use Deere’s Touch-O-Matic hydraulic system. Live PTO and electric starting were standard features. There were 45,799 models built, and the original price in 1952 was $1,075. The M had four forward and one reverse gears, two front lights (one of which swiveled to the rear), fenders, wide-front end, toolbox under the seat, wheel weights, 10-gallon fuel tank, belt pulley, and oil and temperature gauges.

In 1988, Schwantes’ tractor passed to his grandfather Erwin Jr., who teamed it with a D17 Allis-Chalmers. “I was enamored with the tractor, and as a child would unlatch the back-screen door and try to catch a ride with my grandfather,” he says. “At 10 years of age, I could reach the pedals and begin driving in the yard. My first job was racking hay. Once Granddad tried to change the front tire and insisted the caps popped off, but they were bolted on. While hammering and prying with a cold chisel, he broke the hubcap and offered some choice words. They were never welded back on.”

Over time the tractor was no longer used and fell into disrepair. In 2007, Schwantes spent $1,800 and replaced the rings and bearings, ground the valves, and added a new clutch. Today, the Model M still does work on the 50 acres.

“This is a handy tractor that has excellent maneuverability, steering and is a joy to ride,” Schwantes says. “The M is my favorite because it’s a family heirloom and also sparked an interest into collecting more machines. As a teenager, I purchased a 1947 Farmall H and a 1944 WC Allis-Chalmers. Now I have 17 machines, including a 1928 2-ton Caterpillar.”

To have your favorite tractor featured, send a photo of yourself with your tractor, along with a 300- to 400-word write-up about the tractor, to: [email protected] or Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919.

Persinger writes from Milwaukee, Wis.

About the Author(s)

Harlen Persinger

Harlen Persinger is a photojournalist who lives in Milwaukee. Since 2004, he has freelanced for regional and national farm publications such as Wisconsin Agriculturist and Farm Industry News, plus many others.

Persinger grew up on a farm in Grundy County, Iowa. He received a degree in ag journalism from Iowa State University in 1972. He has traveled to more than 40 countries and has been a member of the American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 1976. In 2016, he was the first photojournalist/freelancer to receive the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017, Persinger began providing college scholarships to 4-H’ers from his home county who have an interest in photography/journalism and agriculture. He was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame in 2023.

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