John Deere story time

Classic Farm and Tractor – November/December 2019

By: Leonard R. Anderson

Writing stories when you have no idea what you are doing is fun and interesting. When this all started five years ago and I told this to Richard, he made it so simple, even I could understand. He said, “You are a pretty good storyteller; just write down what you are thinking.” He may have exaggerated the first part a little, but I’ve always been somewhat of a storyteller. In roughly 25 years as a truck driver and salesman, there have been some very interesting and often humorous incidents.

It’s already been five years since we started doing this and hopefully many (or at least a few) of you have been following my sometimes senseless drivel. “When you smile, the whole world smiles with you!” We hope there has been enough of it to have created more smiles than head shakes caused by “What is this guy thinking?” Thinking isn’t one of my specialties, but this helps and will keep me from forgetting how to.

Since attempting to retire, the hardest thing for me is missing the people who helped make my life pleasant during the “Deere career.” The Classic Green motto of “It’s about the people” really woke me up about this fascination with the company, the tractors and equipment, which bonds so many of us together—that’s what it’s all about. In today’s world of so much unpleasant news, it’s reassuring to be around a bunch of people with the same interest and everyone is usually happy, helpful, understanding and makes for a very pleasant time.

We have told many stories over the last five years so with time winding down, let’s tell a few more without boring anyone too much. Loading and unloading equipment can provide plenty of drama and excitement, much of which is funnier when you think back than it was at the time.

Loading wide loads by yourself is usually a challenge and always interesting. When you do it often enough, you are usually pretty sure it’s okay and if you line up straight, you can keep it that way. Being much younger and more mobile then, it wasn’t too bad to hop down and make sure you would stay on the trailer. Most of our combines had spacers, which made them too wide for the trailer and put all the weight on the outriggers, which weren’t as sturdy or wide as they are now. The worst one I remember was by Johnson’s Lake in the Lexington, Nebraska area when there wasn’t a soul anywhere around and long before cell phones. There was less than six inches of tire to fit on each outrigger so there was no room for error. It worked out fine, but I did make a few more extra up and down checks than usual.

It was common to haul combines this wide and fortunately there was only one time an outrigger gave out and no instances where we went off the trailer with a wheel. That one incident was caused by being foolish enough to take someone else’s advice and load forward with the corn head attached. Fortunately we loaded off the dock at the store where we had a powerful boom truck to lift it up, repair the trailer and reload it the proper way.

Most of the exciting moments with combines were with retrieving burned up ones. I’m sure anyone with a burned combine experience would say you are better off if it burns beyond the point of the insurance adjuster saying fix rather than replace. We had a 6600 that was in that category; it had something else break nearly every day. The customer brought it in late one day when only the other truck driver and I were there and we determined we could fix it. When it came to using the torch inside the cab, our usually quiet, easygoing customer made it very clear if we started another fire that anyone calling the fire department would face great bodily harm!

There were quite a few more incidents, each with their own unique stories. Most were with good customers who had also become good friends. One vivid memory was a 7700 with an engine fire which Lynn had tried putting out himself. The engine area suffered a lot of damage. As he was showing me the machine, the expression on his face was one I’ll always remember when I pointed to the ether can and told him he was lucky it never blew up!

The most embarrassing one was when an 8630 broke down far into a soft field and the customer wouldn’t follow my good advice and pull it to the road for loading. I knew the truck couldn’t make it out loaded but I wasn’t convincing enough so we went in and loaded with no trouble. That’s when the truck proved my theory and refused to go very far. By the time the Massey four-wheel drive arrived to pull me out, the whole neighborhood seemed to have gathered around to watch. Amazing how fast word travels and this was a long time before cell phones!

The time the winch came loose and the 7520 I was loading started rolling off probably caused me to move the fastest I ever did as it was a long steady decline behind it. I used up most of my quota of good luck as it had nearly stopped when I flew inside the cab and found the brakes.

Slippery trailer decks were always challenging, but keeping a bag of floor dry in the truck was very helpful. One good customer who provided me with some interesting writing opportunities provided a little frustration on a snowy day. His 4430, which he appropriately named Timex because “it takes a licking but keeps on ticking,” needed to spend a little time in our shop. I was going to Plow-Planter later in the day and didn’t want to take time to take the sides off and put them back again, so why not load with them on when there would be plenty of room (at least a couple inches on each side)? After a few failed attempts driving slowly from close range, I foolishly went to plan B. It required a longer run and a much higher gear so once again I proved “luck beats skill any time.” It worked, no damage to the sides or tractor and after the front wheels came back to the ground floor of the deck, we were fine. I considered it a compliment when Ronnie called me crazy after all the times I had said the same to him. All was well, I got Timex back to the shop and went on to Plow-Planter without having to change my underwear.

My first time driving a skid loader got me in a little trouble as the boss was watching through the store window. I backed off a little too fast and the front end went nearly straight up as I was coming down the ramp. I’m still not sure what I did to bring it back down, but it worked and I made it to the ground on all four wheels. I think he figured I must have learned a lesson as all he said was, “What were you doing—checking out the roll cage?”

Several of the young guys always wanted to load or unload so on one occasion, I let one of them load a 2010 which had to go on the very front of the trailer. The ramp was very steep so I carefully explained he would have to back it on. Someone called out and I turned to talk for a couple minutes and, sure enough, my ambitious young helper started loading while I was still looking the other way. When I turned around, he was starting up the ramp going forward and either couldn’t hear or simply ignored my yelling and about then, it stood straight up. Thankfully it had a roll guard and just stayed there as he was in a panic and hanging on for dear life with his foot on the clutch and the gas engine still running. I shut it off and with quick help from the guy who distracted me, we were able to get him off safely. Dick was watching from the window again, but this time I got a pretty thorough verbal reprimand, which I did probably deserve. That was pretty much the end of volunteer loading help at McClymonts!

These memories have made me realize how lucky I was to have such an interesting life while in the company of such great people. Maybe that’s why we try so hard to keep retirement from becoming boring. Here is a philosophy we seem to be missing, but hopefully it’s not too late: “The best part of the art of living is to know how to grow old gracefully!”