KOUTS, Ind. (AP) — Since he was a young boy, Chip Horn heard stories about the 1951 John Deere Model B tractor that plowed through his family’s history.
“Just stories,” he told me. “I never physically saw it.”
The 27-year-old lifelong Kouts man always wondered what happened to that tractor. His grandpa, whom he never met, bought the late-styled model in 1952, brand new.
Lawrence Becker was a farmer who worked in the wintertime at Wanatah Implement, a John Deere dealership. Becker also bought a John Deere Model G at the same time, but later traded it for a model 4020.
Just before World War II, the Model B was introduced as a smaller tractor to fill the needs of row-crop farmers who didn’t need a tractor as large as the Model A. The tractor had a nearly 20-year production run, with versions of Model B broadly divided into three groups, according to TractorData.com.
“The original Model B is often referred to as ‘unstyled,’ and includes all tractors built through 1938,” the site states. “In 1939, with tractor number 60000, the ‘early styled’ Model B began. In mid-1947, with tractor number 201000, the ‘late styled’ Model B began.”
There’s something about a tractor, any model, that serves as an iconic symbol for American farming. And the families that depend on it to earn a living.
Horn, who doesn’t have children, operated his first tractor when he was 9.
“I almost ran it through the barn,” he joked.
At 13, he restored his first tractor, a 1951 Farmall Cub.
“My uncle and I did it together,” he recalled.
Horn still has that tractor, along with eight other ones. He’s a proud collector.
“I have a John Deere Model A as well,” Horn said.
Of course he does, I replied.
Still, his collection was never complete without his grandpa’s 1951 John Deere Model B.
“This is the one that was always the goal, you know,” Horn said.
His mother farmed with it in the 1960s. His uncle rode it as a teenager. His grandpa owned it until he retired from farming in the 1980s.
The family tractor was sold a few times, Horn said, eventually ending up in the enviable collection of Lou Abbott, owner of the A&M Farm Center in Valparaiso. In Horn’s younger days, he used to work at that center. He’s been keeping an eye on that tractor.
“Lou had it in Florida for years, using it to move airplanes around,” Horn said. “He would never sell it. After he passed away, it was sold and got hauled back up here. I lost track of it.”
Through the farming community grapevine, Horn recently found out who owned it.
“A guy named Kyle in Valparaiso,” Horn said.
The tractor had certain modifications done to it by Horn’s family, according to his uncle. This is how Horn knew it was “the one.”
“I’ve been tracking it down most of my life,” said Horn, a field technician for Konecranes, an overhead crane company.
With help from a friend, Alex Leman, Horn finally tracked it down.
“And, by golly, it was for sale,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the purchase but not his passion for it.
On Monday, he finally took possession, brought it home and chugged around his neighborhood in a sort of victory lap.
“I’ve never physically seen it before now,” Horn said. “Runs like a top!”
His mother, Janet Becker Schweizer, also took it for a spin, for nostalgia sake. As did Blake Werner, the 22-year-old great-great-grandson of the late Lawrence Becker.
Somewhere, Becker has to be smiling. He likely paid $1,900 for that tractor in 1952, brand new, equivalent in purchasing power to about $18,000 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index.
Horn paid $3,400 to get it back into his family.
“Most expensive antique tractor I’ve ever bought,” he said.
Horn and his cousin plan to restore it, again. Someday.
The old tractor’s farming days are over.
“It’s just gonna be a preserved heirloom for our family to enjoy,” he said.