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Deere’s Corn Borer D

In the late 1920s, the European corn borer was having its way with the crop in the eastern Corn Belt. During this time preceding pesticides, an innovative USDA program set out to provide farmers with a tractor and PTO-driven stalk shredder for rent at $1 an acre.

The theory was that shredding cornstalks exposed borer larvae to the elements causing them to perish. The theory proved to be effective. But the Great Depression killed the program and, in doing so, left a fleet of corn borer tractors built for the USDA program by John Deere, IHC, and Ford. All told, 444 Deere D’s, 444 IHC 15-30s, and 360 Fordsons were equipped with PTO drives by their respective manufacturers and delivered to the USDA in 1927.

That agency, in turn, dispersed the tractors, which were paired up with an IHC stubble beater (the corn shredder) and a plow into an area stretching from Indiana to Pennsylvania. 

With the program’s demise, the fleet of tractors was sold off or given to other governmental agencies. And the legacy of this effort would have been lost if it weren’t for collectors like Lewis Frantz. The Hellam, Pennsylvanian found his corn borer D in an equipment dealer’s lot in nearby Lancaster. “He had bought it in New Jersey,” Frantz recalls. “Originally, it was used in Ohio. How it got to New Jersey is a mystery.”

LewisFrantz

Lewis Frantz’s fleet of vintage power includes many unique and rare tractors, although his favorite is the corn borer D. The PTO shaft on the tractor (a splined shaft similar to the 540-rpm shafts used today) is surrounded by an extensive shield, which could likely be the first PTO shield ever devised. That shaft is powered by a gearbox located on the top of the transmission and is engaged with a shift lever.

Frantz knew the D was unique by its PTO drive, “which was an option offered by John Deere but one rarely ordered,” he says. “That this was a corn borer D was confirmed when we were steam cleaning the tractor during restoration.”

That cleaning revealed the stencils “U.S. 626” located on both sides of the tractor’s radiator and on the tappet plate.

Frantz set about meticulously restoring the D. He repainted its number designations as well as the program’s identifying stencil across the tractor’s hood.

Read more about John Deere's history in John Deere's Planter Pioneer. 

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