Jack McCall

My boyhood days of growing up on a farm will forever be linked to an old John Deere tractor. Some people in these parts referred to the John Deere tractors of that era as Poppin' Johns.

Out in the Midwest, they called them Johnny Poppers.

I'm sure the name came from the chit-chit-chit popping sound made by their powerful diesel engines. The sound of those John Deeres was unmistakable.

Ours was a 1948 Model A John Deere. In my first book,

"Fireflies in Winter," I mentioned a 1941 model John Deere tractor as being the one I remembered. Actually, the 1941 model came and went before my time. The 1948 model arrived on the farm before I was born in 1951.

I have no memory of that John Deere tractor ever having an electrical starter. A neighbor explained how he saw my late father, Frank McCall, take the starter off the tractor one day and disgustedly throw it under a shade tree. For the remainder of the tractor's working life, my father either rolled it off to start it, or he started it by hand.

As we lived on top of a hill overlooking the river bottom, it was easy for my father to park the tractor in a spot where he could roll it off to start it. He could take one step up on the tractor's drawbar, and with his next step, he would glide effortlessly on to the tractor seat, releasing the brake all in one motion. Then, he and the tractor were off and running. It was as if the two, man and tractor, were one.

The Model A John Deere was equipped with two fuel tanks. A small gas tank was available to make starting the tractor easier. The larger tank held diesel, or what my father always referred to as tractor fuel. Starting the tractor on level ground was not an easy task. But my father went about it in a matter-of-fact manner.

First, he opened the pressure release valves on each side of the tractor. Then, he switched the fuel line over to the gas tank.

Next, he crouched beside the tractor and took the tractor's flywheel in his big hands. He rotated the flywheel clockwise until he felt it catch. Then, with a burst of energy, he reversed the flywheel counter-clockwise, turning the tractor's engine over.

It usually resulted in the John Deere's engine coming to life as it hissed through the release valves. I observed him starting that old tractor hundreds of times.

I never remember that John Deere having two new rear tires at any one time. I figured it was for reasons of economy. But my brother Tom informed me that a smooth rear tire sat lower in the plow furrow, and my father preferred it that way.

Over the course of his working life, my father overhauled the engine on our John Deere twice. That engine, when broken down, exposed two massive pistons the size of gallon-sized milk jugs. My father literally knew that old tractor inside and out.

And nobody could handle that John Deere like Frank McCall. He was like a magician when it came to maneuvering it in tight places.

His specialty was backing a four-wheel hay wagon. He could back a wagon into, and all the way down, the narrow hallway of a barn with relative ease. I will not explain the degree of difficulty in doing so. Only the old-timers would understand.

That Poppin' John Deere was one of the two workhorses employed on our farm in the days of my youth. And until we replaced our plow horse -- Ol' Charlie -- with a Super A Farmall in the late 1960s, it was the centerpiece of our farming operation.

I suppose that every boy or girl who ever grew up on a farm in the latter part of the last century has some fond memories of an old tractor. Whether it's a blue or grey Ford, an orange Massey-Ferguson, Allis Chalmers or Case, a red Farmall, a green John Deere, or some other fine tractor, all provide snapshots of days gone by.

And in those mental snapshots, we see people ... people whose memories we hold dear.

I can still hear that Poppin' John Deere coming up the road.

Copyright 2017 by Jack McCall