Ageless Iron and the stories behind it

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Jodi:

Welcome to the Successful Farming Podcast. I'm Jodi Henke. In this episode, I'm talking with Dave Mowitz, who is the machinery executive editor with Successful Farming Magazine. And he's also the editor of the Ageless Iron Almanac, which is a collector publication. So Dave, how many years have you been working on Ageless Iron?

Dave:

Oh my gosh. Real short, great story. I'm on the road and we're shooting pictures for Successful Farming Magazine of farmer inventions and machinery that they built. Every spring, we would be somewhere in the countryside shooting planters, and sprayers, and things that farmers had modified. And we were in Nebraska and got rained out. I had a photographer with me.

Dave:

And so I had gotten a lead of a guy who collected antique tractors, which I thought was odd. And I figured, well, that'd be a fun story to do. Let's call him up and see if the last minute, because everybody else is out in the field that could shoot a planter in a muddy field. Let's see if he'd be willing to let us come by at a moment's notice to do his collection. And we did.

Dave:

We shot his collection. It was John Deere collection, Lester Layher of Wood River, Nebraska. He's no longer with us, but his sons certainly are. And they have this collection, a phenomenal collection of John Deeres. And then I later wrote a story about it in the magazine. A couple of things that were interesting about this is we got there, and all this modern machinery is sitting outdoors. And we find out all the buildings are full of antique tractors. Which for me, seemed extremely strange. Let alone the fact that someone would collect an old tractor and restore it. Normally older tractors in the farm were used to run an auger or some side job. They weren't treated necessarily the best. They were maybe shedded, but it was off in the corner of the shed.

Dave:

So we shot this, what would eventually be a cover image, of him sitting in a barn on a Waterloo Boy John Deere, or a John Deere tractor. And we got done with the photography. We get in the car. We're going down the road to the next stop. And I remember turning out of their driveway and turning to the photographer and saying, "Boy, those people got to get a life." Because there was just all these antique tractors.

Dave:

So six months later, we run the story. We run the cover. I convinced the editor, Loren Kruse then, say, "Hey, we got to run this as a cover. It's going to be a great cover." I did the story. And by rough count, I received over 1,400 letters-

Jodi:

No kidding.

Dave:

... in response to the letter. And that's rare. I got to tell you, it's really rare. If you get a couple letters off a story, that's something. But these many. And hey, there's something going on here? Well, eventually, by hook and crook, and by getting the support of Goodyear as an advertising sponsor, we started a series of stories in the magazine called Ageless Iron. They were extremely popular. They ran for about seven, eight years. And then that morphed into a magazine called Ageless Iron Almanac. Which is, lo and behold today, Ageless Iron Almanac is a smaller publication, about 16 pages every other month, and about 30,000 readers.

Dave:

And it's really my labor of love. I've got a full-time job doing machinery and technology reporting for Successful Farming. And then I host a television show that we have on YouTube and RFD-TV. And then the fun part of my job is to do the Ageless Iron Almanac, which is a collector publication that covers the whole world of tractors and other foreign collectibles. Because it's more than tractors. Tractors are their marquee, they're the headliners, but these guys collect anything that's not subatomic, that is agriculturally related. My favorite is hog oilers. I actually have three or four different hog oilers of my own because they're just so weird.

Dave:

So the hobby started out mostly 50 some years ago. I have the more or less exact date that I found when I declared that the hobby started. It was what was called the Threshing Reunion in Wauseon, Ohio, where a bunch of guys got together, and said, "Hey, we really love threshing. We're going to have a reunion of thresher. We're going to get all guys together that used to thresh." By the way, threshing was hot, dirty work. So I'm trying to figure out what would inspire someone to get together just for fun to thresh. It's like you really want to get together and bale hey. No, it was just weird. But they want to do it. The threshing reunions were great comradery.

Dave:

And this has been 50 some years ago that first one of these were held. So of course that generation is twice removed now and no longer with us. So out of these threshing reunions came these tractor shows where people would get together and they had an interest in tractor collecting, or they were collecting tractors. And they'd still thresh. But then they started doing more and more things with their tractors.

Dave:

My first story on Ageless Iron was September of 1990. So you asked the question, and it took me forever to get to it. I'm like a politician. So September of 1990 was my first article in Successful Farming Magazine. And now I do this publication. Back in those days, the hobby was still small, but growing rapidly. And I claimed that it's probably one of the largest family hobbies in the country. Because it's a hobby that involves oftentimes the entire family, grandpa and grandma, mom and dad, and the kids all will go to these shows, all looking at tractors and participate

Dave:

And most of its growth is in agriculture. But the vast majority of collectors are city cousins. They grew up as farm kids, but they don't farm anymore. Certainly there were a lot of farmers that collect. But the vast majority of collectors, if you went to a tractor show, do not farm. I've always described antique tractor and machinery shows is kind of a cross between the county fair, family reunion, and a church social. It's all these kids running around having a good time. You can take your kids to a tractor show and you're safe. The worst that's going to happen to them is that some grandmother will feed them too much pie and ice cream.

Dave:

It's fun because everybody participates in these shows, and everybody, even tractor widows, and there's not many of them there's a lot of times a large part of the hobby is females that collect tractors. But those that don't, older generation women, oftentimes would revive old farmstead techniques like broom making and rope making, and a lot of the cookery that took place. And they'd actually put on demonstrations at these tractor shows that you could see. They're more than just tractors parading. A lot of these shows are a cornucopia of everything that was agriculture of one era or another, going way back to the threshing days, including and up to more modern agriculture.

Dave:

So there's a lot going on at some of these shows that you can really enjoy. So if you've never been through a show, make it a point to go to a show. It would be a lot of fun, a lot of good food. And of course, if you've been to shows, you know, hey, my advice is pick a show someplace different in a different part of the country, because you'll see stuff you've never seen before. Which I had the great pleasure of being in Upstate New York, and seeing apple cider made and apple butter because that's the apple butter days that they hold. Or Washington State when they bring in the wheat harvest and the aspects of that. So everybody's trying to preserve what was once a practice, and they're all having fun doing it.

Jodi:

So for the people who are collecting, actually buying this stuff, taking it home, what's hot right now? I mean, what are they getting? What do they want?

Dave:

Oh. Well, and there's a huge transition that's taken place during this period of from when Dave Mowitz entered this hobby in 1990 till now. Because back then, tractors from the 1920s and 30s were hot, and possibly early 40s, were the hot tractors. Not anymore. Now the hot tractors are tractors from the late 50s, 60s, and early 70s. And that's because either older collectors have the older tractors, and they want something new to add to their collection. By the way, 1960s tractors are now considered collectible.

Jodi:

I feel old now. I guess I'm collectible.

Dave:

I know. Well, I've been long since collectable. And so that's the hot thing. Also young men and women that are entering the hobby want to have tractors that they grew up with, or their grandfather had on their farm, or Uncle Tom that they'd go visit in the summer. So those are the tractors they want. So the hot thing now in the hobby is muscle tractors. Over 100 horsepower tractors from the late 60s and 70s. And phenomenal amounts of money being paid for these tractors. It stuns me.

Dave:

One of the best deals in the hobby, the older tractors. Let's just take a John Deere A, or a Farmall C, or a Minneapolis-Moline U. These tractors that used to bring bigger money, now you can buy them at an estate sale, an older collector, restored for less money than likely the collector put into the tractor restoring it. Because there's less interest in them, number one. Number two, they were far more of those tractors made than 1960s and 70s tractors. Because the population in agriculture had receded. Had really been cut in half or even to a quarter. So far fewer tractors were selling in the 60s and 70s than say the 1920s and 30s.

Dave:

So I will tell anybody interested in getting into the hobby, which I advise FFA-ers, and I help judge the national FFA Tractor Restoration Contest, I know you'd like to get a muscle tractor from the 1970s, but to make it affordable, go buy something from the 1930s. Because you can buy these things for a very reasonable amount of money, and then restore that tractor because you're going to spend a lot less money on it. And so a guy can really get into the hobby fairly reasonably now by buying older tractors.

Jodi:

Now it's more than tractors though, right?

Dave:

Oh my God.

Jodi:

I mean, people are collecting implements, engines, tools. What else is hot besides tractors?

Dave:

Implements took off about, I'd have to just say roughly, 20, 25 years ago. Because tractor guys would get all the tractor models that they're interested in, say, John Deere A's. I want to have the letter series. So now I've got all the letters series Deeres. Okay, what should I do now? Well, I'll start collecting the implements that went with those tractors. So they start planters and disks and mowers. So implements have been hot for a while.

Dave:

By the way, implements are far more different than tractors. And I'm not being facetious, because of course implements don't have a motor or transmission. There were far fewer of them around. Tractors are almost always kept around the farm even after you got a new tractor. Or you either traded it in, and it got resold, or it just sat around the farm, like the John Deere A that I have that was my father's, because you used it for odd jobs.

Dave:

Not true of implements. When you had that two wheel planter, eventually it went to the scrap yard, especially thanks to World War I and World War II, especially World War II with the big scrap drives. A lot of that stuff got scrapped out. Or it was sitting under the trees and somebody would come in and just clean out the trees, and all that stuff would go to the iron man. So we have far fewer implements out there. So they're highly collectible in some situations. And it's just fun to have the old implements to pull behind these tractors.

Dave:

Everything from that to hog oilers. There's hay collectors. I think they're called the Hay Collectors Association. Anything that deal with hay handling inside a barn or around the field itself. So all the hay forks that sat in the top of the barn, the rails that went with it. They all have their little segments, their little sub hobbies that they love. Corn items, corn huskers, and shellers. There's a lot of tools. Tool collecting is ubiquitous. It goes beyond agriculture course. But a lot of guys will just specialize in farm tools. There are certain tools that we use on the farm.

Dave:

Anything that can be collected is now collectable when it comes to agriculture. Seed corn sacks. There's a collectors association for seed corn sacks. It's kind of fun. I did a story on a guy in Western Iowa. Unfortunately he's not with us anymore. But I walked into his machine shed. All the walls of this machine shed, sizeable machine shed, were covered with seed corn sacks. It was like, oh my God. I'm dazzled by all the colors. So cast iron seats. Anything agriculture is now collectible.

Jodi:

Long ago they made clothing out of those seed corn sacks, and I wonder if that's collectible too. Grandma's dress when she was four, that sort of thing.

Dave:

So it's whatever they find fascinating. And the world of collecting, both within agriculture and then outside, has always been a fascination to me. Not that I'm removed from it as a journalist. I mean, I had my little collections. I've got three tractors. Well, four actually. I've got tractors in other states. I got to go pick it up one of these days. But it's fascinating how people take to collecting, no matter what it is. There's actually a sewing machine club collectors now. That's outside of agriculture, of course. But I teased before, anything that isn't subatomic is collectible.

Dave:

So we are a nation of collectors. I don't know why that is. But we just love collecting. To see these collections, and you'll see a lot of them at these tractor shows. You'll see the guy with hog oilers, or the guy was stationary engines. Stationary engines were just engines that sit there and putt. And then they would drive a washer machine or a grinder, feed grinder, or whatever. And I've always been fascinated with the stationary engine guys because they'll sit there all day watching their engines run, and that's it.

Jodi:

Oh boy. Okay. Well I guess-

Dave:

That's like watching paint dry, isn't it?

Jodi:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, all this farm equipment has history. And I know you know some of that history, like the time John Deere used his own money to prop up the banks in the Quad Cities, during a financial crisis in the 1900s. What was up with that?

Dave:

Well, first of all, I say, I love the history part of it. If there's a thing that I collect, I collect history dealing with agriculture and machinery. I'm just fascinated with the history because the history of agricultural machinery is the history of Industrial Revolution in the United States. Tractors were some of the earliest innovations that took place. In fact, I dare say that a lot of automotive advances were made in tractors first. Advances in engines and transmissions. So it had a huge impact. It's no wonder that Henry Ford was so involved with tractor development, being a farm kid. He was fascinated with it. But he also used what he learned from tractors to build his cars. So it walked lockstep with the Industrial Revolution, and advance the industrialization of the United States.

Dave:

But with that, became all these fascinating stories that came up. And you're right. You touched upon one, John Deere. John Deere during the late 1800s, the country had suffered from several depressions, just not the Great Depression. But we would have depressionary cycles that would happen every 10 to 20 years it seemed like. So the Quad Cities was going through one of these depressionary cycles in the 1800s. And John Deere propped up the banks because there was no government assurance of banks in those days, as there is today. If you went through a depressionary cycle, and you were a bank that had money outstanding and you'd lent out too much money, you just go under. And if you had your money in that bank, you would lose the money. There was no government program that said, "Oh my gosh, it's too bad the bank went under, but the FDIC," that's its purpose these days is to make sure that if you're a saver in that bank, your money's guaranteed.

Dave:

So John Deere realized he depended upon his workers in the Quad Cities to build plows and implements, and everything that they were building. And he did not want to see these banks go under because it would affect his workers, and he needed them to build equipment. So when the banks were failing during one of these economic depressionary cycles, John Deere stepped in with his own money, and said, "I'll guarantee all the banks so that they can keep operating." It's not the first time John Deere did this.

Dave:

And I've always studied the mystique of John Deere, and wondered where it came from. Why does it have such strong loyalty? Why does it have the following that it does? Why is it so successful? By the way, John Deere's one of the most successful corporations in the world. There are very few companies that have done what John Deere has done in 180 years of history. It is not only one of the oldest companies in the world, but it is also one of the most successful companies today. And that was from the very beginning, all the way through its history, John Deere was committed to their service, to the people that they sold to, farmers. They built a high quality product. And it was well serviced if it had a failing. And a great dealer network.

Dave:

Part of their commitment to their industry was exemplified by John Deere stepping in himself and guaranteeing the banks. His son, Charles Deere would do the same thing in the 1930s. In fact, Charles Deere during the Great Depression, fought his board of directors, and said, "We will not foreclose on any farmer or any dealer." Now this was exemplary, this was exceptional, because a lot of dealerships were going under, a lot of farmers during the Great Depression were going under.

Dave:

But John Deere stood by the people that owed them money, which always explains to me why my grandfather was such a strong John Deere man, as was my father. Because that company stood up for them, and said, "No we're in trouble too." Deere was not rolling in the cash. They were financially strapped as well. But they used their ability to step up, and say, "Okay, we're all in. We're with you with this, guys." And so for that, and a lot of other reasons, John Deere has become the massive successful company that it has today. I have great admiration for them. In fact, I contend anybody that gets an MBA today should have to take a semester just called John Deere. Here's how you do it right in business. Look at John Deere. Caterpillar would be another good example of this as well.

Jodi:

Not everybody should have the admiration that John Deere has. There were some early swindlers in the industry.

Dave:

Back in the 1910s and 20s, the tractor industry was everybody was getting into it. You had a huge population of farmers. Back in those days, what, 60% of the population were farmers. So you had a huge audience for this new-fangled thing called a tractor. Farmers are really tired of walking behind mules and horses. Although my grandfather still would tell the story about having to get rid of his horses with tears in his eyes when he got a tractor. But he'd never go back to horses.

Dave:

So the fact of the matter is is that there was a lot of money. A lot of people got into tractors. Dozens and dozens and dozens of companies were into tractors in the 1910s and 20s. And some of them were doing stock swindles. What they would do is they set up a company, in one case called Ford Tractor Company, borrowing off the success of the Ford name. That company got its name Ford because one of the mechanic's last name was Ford. They made him an engineer or something like that, and then named the company after him so they could borrow off the Ford name to introduce a tractor that was really poorly built. Badly, badly built. The thing was defective as heck.

Dave:

That was not what they're trying to make money off of. They were making money because they would sell stock in the company, and say, "Look how much money you could make if you bought stock in our company." The company would last for two to three years. They would take the money that was paid for the stock, and they'd bankrupt the company, and walk away with the proceeds. So if you think stocks swindles, are new and they're a phenomenon of our time, no. This was taking place in the 1910s and the early 1920s in the United States all over the place.

Dave:

Well, it turns out one of these companies, Ford Tractor Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, was building this tractor called Ford, after their guy named Ford. In fact so much so that they beat Ford Motor Company to introducing the tractor. So when Henry Ford wanted to introduced his tractor, he had to call it Fordson. So the early Ford tractors were called Fordson, because this guy with Ford Tractor Company knew enough to copyright the name. So these tractors were just dirt. Company lasted for about two to three years. The guy whose last name is P. Ewing. P, I forget, maybe Peter Ewing. Would later close up the company, take all the money. And he was involved with several other swindles down the line. So there was a lot of stock swindling take place.

Dave:

But as Paul Harvey used to say, "Here's the rest of the story," about the Ford tractor. The Ford tractor was really badly built. It was just tractor in the name only. So they were selling these so the front would work to get the stock money. Right? You had to have something to sell to show people that, yeah, we're building tractors so buy our stock. And a farmer, an unsuspected farmer in Nebraska, bought one of these tractors, Wilmot Crozier. Which by the way, he farmed no more than 10 miles from where I grew up. I didn't know this at the time. But of course he was long since dead.

Dave:

But Wilmot Crozier bought one of these Ford tractors. And it was such a bad tractor, it broke down all the time. And he was getting no help from the company getting it fixed. He was angry. He was a state legislator. And he pushed through, passed legislation that eventually led to one of the first consumer testing efforts in US history, which became known as the Nebraska Tractor Test.

Jodi:

How about that?

Dave:

The Nebraska Tractors Test today is this standard worldwide of evaluating tractors. So it's called OECD testing today, but it takes place in every major country that builds tractors. Russia has OECD testing, India has OECD testing, Europe has OECD testing, all based on the Nebraska Tractor Test, which is still alive and thriving in Lincoln, Nebraska. They're still testing tractors there. And one of the coolest museums I've ever been to is the Nebraska Tractor Test Museum. You've got to go there because it's the original building where they did the original tests. And it's one of the few places that had actually has a Ford tractor. That's a cool story about what happened with a good thing coming out of it in the first consumer testing the world.

Jodi:

Are there any Ford, Fordson tractors out there for people to collect, or are they pretty much in the scrap pile by now?

Dave:

The Ford tractor, the swindler tractor, they're rare. I think there's no more than a handful, if that. I think there's maybe three of them. However, Fordson went on to become one of the most popular tractors in the world. At one time, the Fordson tractor completely dominated the world. In fact, the best description I've ever heard by historians was at one time there was Fordson and some other tractor makes. They were so popular that John Deere and International Harvester were making implements to pull behind Fordson tractors. Henry Ford applied his technological advancement of unit line construction, manufacturing construction, which he used on his cars, to build tractors.

Dave:

So he's able to put up durable, basic, rudimentary tractors at a cheap cost, and did so all the way through the Great Depression. And did so in Europe as well. In fact, the Fordson name lived on in Europe until the 1960s, it was so popular. So Ford, at one time, dominated the tractor industry, by far in a way. And then again, when they introduced their N series tractors. These are the 8N, 9N, and the 2N, with the first three point hitch on it. They were a dominant player in the tractor industry. And so Henry Ford loved tractors. And he'd been a farm kid himself. But he also put a lot of effort in developing the Ford tractors. So we saw a lot of advances in car technology come about because of development of what happened with tractors.

Dave:

And a lot of this was, this is the fun part of the history that I love, is discoveries. 15 years ago, we were in a museum. It's called Stonefield Historical Site at Cassville, Wisconsin. The background story of this was that the McCormick and Deering family had sold International Harvester off. They had all this stuff that they had accumulated over the millennium of International Harvester. And they wanted to donate it. Originally, they wanted to donate it to the state of Illinois because it was based in Illinois. And somehow the state of Illinois didn't want to come up with the money to be able to build a museum, or to house all this stuff.

Dave:

So Wisconsin said, "Well, we'll take it." So now the repository of anything International Harvester and McCormick-Deering sits in Madison, Wisconsin. Oh my God, they have a gorgeous collection. All the posters and beautiful artwork and photography is sitting in Madison. Except some of the machinery they got and prototypes went to kind of living history farm in Stonefield Historical Site in Cassville. So I'd heard about this that they had the original brass prototypes built by McCormick himself, Cyrus McCormick, of the thresher. That's way cool. Because that's really history. This is the little prototype he built before he built the Reaper, had a huge impact on agriculture.

Dave:

So we went and did that. And they said, "Oh yeah, we've got some other stuff here from that collection." And they let us see some other buildings. And here in the back of a building on a dirt floor was sitting a very rudimentary looking tractor. It had a sickle mower on it. And I mean, rudimentary. And it was rusty and it was just sitting there. And I looked at that, and I said, "That's unlike anything I've ever seen." I took some pictures of it. Actually wheeled it up. They said, "Well, we know it's an early IH tractor. And we don't know when it was." They hadn't gotten around to doing the history on it.

Dave:

And so I got back, and I called the guy who was kind of the leading IH historian, Guy Fey. And I said, "What is with this deal here?" And he says, "You know, Dave, I've been tracking that. And let me do some more work." And I did some more work and we tracked it down to being one of the first tractors International Harvester ever built. There was only two or three made. They sent it to the World's Fair to show off this new-fangled concept of a tractor. And somehow it got stored in a back room. There was two or three made. Only one was left untouched. And no one knew that it ended up going to this museum, the Stonefield Historical Site Museum. And they didn't know what they had, and they just stored it in the back.

Dave:

On the front, all painted up nice and neat is an Allis-Chalmers, which was the original tractor mounted with rubber tires. That they knew what they have. They didn't know what they had in this thing. As it turns out, that led I and a really neat guy named Graeme Quick, an Australian engineer that worked at Iowa State, on an adventure to find the oldest tractors in the world. Because this tractor hearkened back to, oh my God, 1912, I think it was. 1910, 1908. That made it old.

Dave:

And so I did a story about the oldest tractors in the world, oldest existing tractors in the world. We found one in South Africa that was older. And then we found another tractor, the Ivel tractor in England that was older than this IH tractor. But the oldest one we found was sitting in Germany. It predated as an existing tractor, 1890s. There were older tractors, but these were tractors that still existed. So one of the old existing tractors in the world is sitting up at this Cassville site. So you can see a bit of history there. I hope you find that kind of fascinating. I did too.

Jodi:

I did.

Dave:

Because it's the fun thing about history is you feel like Indiana Jones. I know it's a little odd, but I do. It's like the time we went to a Case IH press conference in Burr Ridge, Illinois. Burr Ridge was the site where they did all the original Farmall testing. And it's still a testing site for engines, for CNH, Case New Holland. And so we were there because they were introducing a new tractor with a new engine. And we were in this modern facility. And never let Dave go unarmed or not chaperoned.

Dave:

So I and the videographer for the TV show got bored. And we started wandering around this massive, massive building. Looks like the building in Indiana Jones, it's that big. The part where they're pushing the cart back. So we get lost in this building. And we go through a door and I let out a gasp. And the videographer thought I'd hurt myself or something because I turned on the light. Here was stored the original Farmall tractor. There was the original cotton picker. IH invented the cotton picker, and there was the regional cop picker. There were all these early... It was like walking like Indiana Jones for a tractor nut like me, like into this wonder land of equipment.

Dave:

And one of these days we've got to go back and shoot this because they've allowed me access to go back and see their archives of equipment. And they're finally, out of my insistence, talking to executives at CNH, they're finally getting this stuff out and they're going to start restoring it, and putting it out so the public can see it. To see some of the original stuff that they had that was there.

Jodi:

Yeah. That's important. You can research this stuff on the internet all you want, and see pictures. But once you actually see it with your own two eyes, it really puts everything in perspective.

Dave:

And the Farmall Regular led to the Farmall, which led to the general purpose tractor, which had huge impact. It was the tractor that took the last of the farmers from horse era to tractor era. It was the tractor that could be used for everything, not only for threshing to drive a thresher or a plow, but also you could run it down rows. So it'd make a great row crop tractor. And so that was the tractor that retired the last of the horses and mules in the United States.

Dave:

Another fascinating place, which I understand is going to become public one of these days, and that's the phenomenal John Deere Archives. And I got to go take a behind the scenes trip of the John Deere Archives. And if you go to agriculture.com, you'll see the video we did about this. We went behind the scenes to see the stuff that John Deere has kept. Oh my gosh, they have photography, and artwork, and letters from John Deere himself in this repository. And some machinery too, like the original John Deere plow.

Dave:

And it was the funniest thing in the world that we walked past the machinery part of this archive. And there was the original John Deere plow sitting here kind of in front of me. And I'm looking over, and I see something under canvas. And I said, "What's that?" And the guy said, "Well, you can't really show that yet. It's not been received. But we got it in to hold in our archives." But he said, "I'll let you look at it." And we took it off. It was one of the original prototype robotic tractors John Deere's built. It did come back from testing around the world. And now they're putting in the archives. So the original robotic John Deere tractor, which we will eventually see in field is now in the archive and being held. So there you have the plow that made John Deere and the robotic tractor that's going to be running fields in the future. So it's a fascinating place to go see.

Dave:

And to be able to stand there and look at letters that John Deere wrote himself. And some of the stories that he was telling. And interesting, fascinating backstories about the family, and what was all taking place. This is a huge part of Americana, just not the history of agriculture, but the history of industry in the United States, and the development of our nation is rectified in that. And John Deere has done an outstanding job in preserving this history. They really are to be commended for the amount of money that they spent preserving their history. So my hat off to them for that reason.

Dave:

But it's fun discovering these things. One of my favorite places to go to visit is the John Deere Pavilion in the Quad Cities because there's a lot of the old equipment there. And they put on a phenomenal display. It's a beautiful, absolutely exquisite building that's been built right on the river, right where the old plow works was at. And so if you ever want to go someplace that's really neat, go to the John Deere Pavilion in the Quad Cities. And then while you're there, just take another hour drive, and go to the original log cabin blacksmith shop of John Deere when he came out Illinois.

Dave:

Oh, I got to tell you a great story. So history stories. I told how magnanimous John Deere was as a man, and he propped up the bank. The other part of the story. John Deere himself was originally a blacksmith in Vermont. And his blacksmith shop when under three times. Once because of fire, I think twice because of a fire, but the third time, it just was bad economic times. This by the way, was really typical back in those days. Again, I've already established the fact that there was no government support at all. When a business fell on hard times because of a downturn in the economy, you were screwed. I mean, you just had to leave and declare bankruptcy.

Dave:

John Deere was facing bankruptcy. So what he did is he escaped Vermont. He left his debtors back there and moved to Illinois. In fact, he left his wife and kids back in Vermont, and moved to Illinois to start business. Which was done a lot. Not to cast aspersions on John Deere, because, boy, he more than made up for that little indiscretion of leaving his debtors. And he later paid them all back.

Jodi:

Well, that's good.

Dave:

But I found it fascinating. He left the wife and kids back there. He eventually, of course, brought them to Grand-

Jodi:

I was going to say, he paid the debtors, but did he bring the wife and kids back to Illinois.

Dave:

He did. He did. And Grand Detour, Illinois, they have the original blacksmith shop that he settled in. And that's where he got his start with a guy named Andrus, I think was his last name. And now there's some contention as to who really came up with the plow. It's been contended by some historians it wasn't John Deere. It was maybe Andrus that did it. But maybe they did it together. Let's just call it even. Say they did it together. Because I don't think they'll ever figure that out.

Dave:

But then John Deere started from a blacksmith shop in a small town in Illinois. And within about 30 to 40 years, had the biggest plow factory in the world. And in those days, plows were big deal. Plows was everything. He was making hundreds of thousands of plows, and selling them all throughout the world because his plow was so well-made and so famous. So it was riches to rags to riches story with John Deere. And I just find that fascinating, that history of that company, and some of the things.

Dave:

But you can find equally fascinating stories when you get into McCormick-Deering, and the McCormick family and their involvement. Their early development of the International Harvester tractors. But prior to that, to the threshing. Or Case with a lot of development they did with steam traction engines. These were tractors that ran off steam. They were rudimentary tractors. Case, by the way, at one time was the powerhouse in steam traction engine. Something like 70% of the market they owned. So they dominated in that world.

Dave: 

One thing that's always fascinated about tractors is that we are really down to just a handful of companies that build tractors today. Mainline tractors. You have a lot of small utility tractors that are out there. But if you look at the big companies, Case IH, New Holland, owned by the same company, Fiat out of Italy. Well, they're actually now separately owned by themselves. John Deere and AGCO, which is Massey Ferguson and Phantom, the other tractor brands they have. We're down to just a handful of tractor names.

Dave:

At one time, I mean, they're literally, I lost count at over 300 tractor names, tractors that had different names. And I think it was either Guy Fay, the historian I mentioned before, or Larry Gay, another tractor historian, or Lee Klancher, who's writing a lot of great histories these days, they figured that close to 700 companies made a tractor at one time or another. So they'd make like 12 tractors, sell stock and swindle people, or they'd just make 12 tractors and never made it any further than that. That's all they can make. They were a mechanic that would take some metal, an engine transmission, sell a tractor, and then see if it stuck.

Dave:

A lot of them went under, a lot of them, the economy claimed them. And just a lot of them just dropped out because they couldn't compete as big players like John Deere and International Harvester became dominant. So it's a very, very rich history you run into. But what's more fun about delving into the history is you can go play with your history. Can you say that about a lot of histories.

Jodi:

That's right.

Dave:

Get on your tractor and go-

Jodi:

You can restore your history.

Dave:

You can restore your history, and then go play with it. And getting back to the hobby itself, and what's so fascinating about it is it's not enough that these guys get together and show their tractors off. Restored and un-restored, but mostly restored. And then they have a parade. Now we're doing things like tractor rides have become immensely popular. Hundreds of tractors driving down the road. A lot of times they'll raise money with these rides. But anything to get on their tractor and use it. They'll plow with tractors. There're plowing contests. They'll thresh with these tractors. It is a very active hobby that way. And I think that's what attracts people.