The very first thing Brett Carson said after saying hello was just how much patience, perseverance and appreciation for simplicity he gained from restoring an old 1941 Model “A” John Deere tractor.
Moreover, Brett gained the unbridled admiration of his grandfather, Marv Carson, for having brought the old green tractor back to its original appearance. As it happens, the tractor and Marv are the same age.
“I am really proud of him,” the elder Carson said one day in November when he came to the newspaper office asking for a story about his grandson. As it turned out, that was the day after Brett started it for him.
Brett is the sixth generation on the Carson farm in east Bradley County located between Ladd Springs Road and Bates Pike. The farm used to be larger, but as time passed, family members sold out and all that remains of the family legacy is cattle and hay on 70 acres. Brett says his 2-year-old daughter, Lainey, will be the seventh generation.
“She’s my little tractor buddy. She’ll climb up in the cab of that other John Deere we’ve got and she doesn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “She loves tractors.”
A love of tractors is something inherited from Brett.
“As a die-hard Deere fan myself, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. We farm. We’ve got hay and cattle,” he said. “I’ve got another John Deere I use for hay.”
The other tractor is a diesel-powered 1991 Model 2755 with a cab, heat and air-conditioning, but the simplicity of old tractors is appealing. A horizontal two-cylinder gasoline engine with a magneto ignition system powers the Model “A.” Since there is no alternator or generator, there are no belts or batteries.
“This tractor is 71 years old. They built them to last back then,” he said. “These are tractors that were simple to use. They were something a farmer could get on and drive all day. They didn’t have fancy electronics to breakdown and they didn’t have stuff these new tractors have.”
It is the early version of keyless entry. There is no key or kill switch with which to start it or stop it.
“It’s all done by hand,” Carson said.
The starter is a flywheel mounted on the left side on the tractor at the rear end of the engine.
“You’ve got this big flywheel right here and you just roll it over real gently. As you roll it over, you are also monitoring your gas. You’ve got to (manually) choke it just right to get the right amount of gas in there and I’m telling you it’s a trick,” he said. “When I went up there to buy this, I thought I knew everything there was to know about these tractors. I read up on them, watched videos — and I found out I didn’t know a thing.”
He bought the tractor earlier this year from a nice old gentleman in his 70s who lived in Strawberry Plains. He had bought the tractor from a dairy at a farm sale.
“The dairy farmer was a friend who lived down the road. The dairy farmer passed away. They had a farm sale and he bought it,” Carson said. “He tinkered around with it some. It sat outside and then he put it under a shed so it was weathered when I found it.”
By now, the old man was down in his back and could no longer start the faded green tractor. Most of the problems were cosmetic in nature. There were a few odds and ends like hoses, gas lines and spark plugs that needed changing. Mechanically, the tractor was in good condition, but Carson could not start it to save his life. The truth is, it was just a little bit embarrassing as he turned the flywheel in front of his wife, father and the old man and never got the first hint of the characteristic popping sound from the exhaust that earned them the nickname “Poppin’ John.”
“I thought, man, I’m either doing something wrong or there’s something wrong with the tractor,” he said. “We were there close to three hours and couldn’t get the durned thing started by hand.”
The old man suggested pulling it with his other tractor.
“He pulled it a little bit and told me to engage the clutch. I engaged the clutch and that thing fired right off,” he said. “I thought, man — I was really doing something wrong. I just didn’t know how to start it.”
The Carsons brought the tractor home and he spent hundreds of hours over the next six months disassembling it; that took a long time because parts were rusted.
“It’s 71 years old. Parts are rusted. Everything is made of steel and cast iron. There’s no plastic on it, so everything was either rusted or froze up,” he said.
After laying out all the parts in the small farm shop next to the house, he began putting them back together. He worked on it evenings after work as a machinist at McKee Foods, in between days in the hay fields and tending gardens. All the while, Carson tried to keep it as original as possible.
“I worked on it almost every night after work, learning stuff, bought manuals and parts books just to figure out how it operated. I finally got the key down to starting it, but it’s not just something you can walk up to and know how to do,” he said.
The tractor was manufactured in January 1941. It was shipped from the plant in Waterloo, Iowa, in February. The Model “A” is referred to as a styled tractor.
According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, John Deere hired well known designer Henry Dreyfuss from New York City in 1938 to re-style Deere's agricultural equipment, especially its tractors. The first two letter series tractors (the A and B) were the first to receive the new modern styling, and other models were added later.
The Dreyfuss styling was intended to help John Deere compete with the forthcoming Farmall Letter series of tractors, which along with Ford-Ferguson, were John Deere's largest competition at this time.
The 1930s and 1940s saw a large number of different John Deere models emerge, as small farmers emerging from their Depression troubles increasingly turned from horses to tractors.
According to TractorData.com, The Model A was John Deere's first true row-crop tractor, replacing the GP. The tractor’s appearance was changed in 1939 with the "styled" look, which added engine cowlings.
In 1940, with serial number 488000, the engine was increased from 309 ci to 321 ci. In 1941, with serial number 499000, the transmission was changed from four forward speeds to six.
There were several variants of the A. The A was the row-crop model. The AR was a standard (or fixed) tread model. The AO was an orchard model, with no exhaust stack and shielded fenders.
There was also the AI industrial model, the AN with narrow front, the AW wide front, and the high-crop ANH and AWH.
The model A was the first Deere tractor to come from the factory with rubber tires. The "slant dash" A was produced between 1939 and 1947. It was an A with the electric start option; a special hood piece was used to cover the battery. In 1947 (serial number 584000), the battery was moved under the seat.
Brett’s father, Jeff, teases his son about putting the tractor to work raking hay.
“This one will never see a hay field. This is a toy. I’ve spent way too much time on this one to put it in a hay field,” he said.