World’s Smartest Tractor

Here’s some background on the John Deere tractor because not everyone has had the extreme pleasure of living with one:

The John Deere is Green and Yellow. If you ever ate vegetables or fruit, there is a 99% chance that a John Deere tractor helped bring it to your plate. The John Deere was the replacement for the mule/horse on many farms. They are and always have been durable, reliable and economical. It is a fact that many farms still have the first one brought to the farm because even though it is a 1936 tractor with steel wheels, steel seat and hand crank, it still runs and works all day. The John Deere has a special feature that endures it to men and boys alike, the engine is 2-cylinder and the pistons travel horizontally (lay flat). The engine timing is spaced so that when it is running, it makes a Pop, Pop, Pop sound that carries for miles, a very distinct lovable sound that earned this old tractor the name Johnny Popper. The main character in this story was such a tractor.

Our story takes place on a farm in North Carolina where tobacco, corn, cotton, soybeans, and peanuts were the crops and hogs were the livestock. The tractor was a row crop tractor which means the front wheels were close together and referred to as a tricycle because it looked like a kid’s tricycle. Farmers did not always have a barn for Johnny Popper; many only had a bean can that was placed over the exhaust pipe when the farmer parked it for the night. Some ran all night if it was hooked to an irrigation pump, after a full day of cultivating the corn. Mostly it slept under the bean can that prevented rain from running down the exhaust pipe and getting into the cylinders.

The owners of this Johnny Popper were John and Kate (not their real names) and they had inherited the tractor and the farm from John’s father who had inherited it from his father. It was only 500 acres, but John was a good thrifty farmer and he had a very productive farm. He had a couple more tractors, but they were kept in the big metal butler building with the concrete floor. This old gentleman was always kept in the original barn with some of the animals (horses, chickens and prize milk goats). John had called the tire dealer in town and ordered new tires for the old gentlemen as the family called him. They would be put on tomorrow. Kate had ordered a birthday surprise for John to be delivered in a week or so, a new yellow seat cushion for the old gentleman.

Summer in North Carolina can be hot during the day, hot and humid at night.  After a long day in the field they are often rewarded with a night-time rainstorm. It is refreshing and it cools the air and delivers needed rain to the crops. If the day was extremely hot and humid, the storm can be violent with hail, heavy rain, wind and lightning. Every farmer must be part weatherman, part vet, part mechanic, and part banker if he expects to survive. After supper an hour is invested in the evening local news and the weather forecast. Special attention is paid when the storms are from the southwest – they always carry a punch.

The day had been unusually hot and humid so John was expecting a storm, but what the weatherman said was scary. Hail that could damage crops and winds that could damage the roof.  John put his work boots back on and went out to secure the barn doors and the truck windows and the boat cover and just anything that might take a notion to fly.

Sure enough about 11 pm the wind started breaking limbs out of the apple and pecan trees and marble-size hail commenced to pelt the metal roofs. It was a fast-moving storm that also carried lightning and it was hitting fence posts and trees with regularity. A similar storm the summer before had hit the house and killed the TV, computer and several of the kitchen appliances. The year before that lightning had killed a prize bull out in the pasture. Lightning was no friend of this farm.

One last parting shot as the storm crawled away toward the Mashburn farm to the north-east...a loud bang that was close, but not sure where it had hit. After about twenty minutes there was a frantic banging at the door. A neighbor was yelling fire, fire, fire. Another farmer, he was returning from town and watched lightning lit the old barn. John and Kate and neighbor Bob ran to the barn.  First order was to get the animals out.  The fire was going pretty good already into the loft area. Kate ran to the house to call the volunteer fire department about 3 miles away. John heard the siren that would summon the volunteers. The horses and goats ran away when their door was opened but those stupid chickens can’t see in the dark and had to be carried out, all fifty of them! The fire was roaring and so hot John began spraying water on the house to protect it. John, Kate and Bob stood in the yard watching the barn blaze reach higher than the electric lines, tears running down their cheeks. The fire truck was about a mile away and that Ford was pedal to the metal wide open. It had no mufflers, so it woke up the rest of the neighbors.

Suddenly John cried out, “The old gentleman is still in there!” He tried to yank open the barn door which was on fire, and it took all Bob and Kate could do to drag him away before he would also be on fire. The fire truck turned into the one-mile driveway and was wide open.

John, Kate and Bob stood helplessly in the yard, parts of the barn were falling inside the barn...and that is when the miracle happened. There was a familiar sound from inside the barn, sounded like maybe the old gentleman saying good-bye. Within a minute as the fire truck reached the yard the barn door fell down and the flaming old gentleman went putt-putting down the driveway, seat on fire, front tires on fire, covered in burning hay but headed down the driveway as if on a mission – and to be sure he was. The second fire truck caught him and extinguished the fire. He was out of gasoline by then.

The barn was covered by insurance and the animals were saved. The old gentleman was a mess. John called the John Deere dealer to come get the old gentleman and see if he could be saved. The dealer called back two days later and asked John to come to the shop to see how the old gentleman had saved himself. Seems that the old gentleman’s ignition switch had been left on or somehow got turned on and the battery cable had sagged down making connection and the engine started. Being in second gear he just pushed the barn door down and high tailed it for town. John began feeling guilty that he had never spent any money on the faithful old tractor. The dealer said, “He tried to run away once, he is smart enough to do it again.” The old gentleman was completely restored and given a place of honor in the butler building with his grandkids. He did not approve of them smoking Diesel fuel, but they were the NEW generation.