Antique tractor enthusiasts meet in Pa.
LANCASTER, Pa. — Jesse Knaub as a child played on an area rug with miniature John Deere tractor toys that he could control.
He grew up around two-cylinder John Deere tractors on a small York County, Pa., farm that grew cattle and sweet corn, and he developed a liking for the manufacturer with beginnings that date to 1837.
These days, Knaub exhibits and rides a mid-1940s John Deere Model LA in the Strasburg Memorial Day and New Holland Farmers Fair parades.
His farm toys on a miniature scale are stored on a shelf and in boxes, he said. Knaub’s daughters Ellie, age 7, and Cora, 4, now play with their own miniatures and, with some help from dad, ride full-size John Deere garden tractors, he said, noting that he doesn’t expect them to grow into farmers.
The 37-year-old pharmaceutical research and development employee himself doesn’t farm, and yet he is among the half-million or so people who attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Lancaster County on Jan. 4-11.
Knaub and other members of Lancaster County’s Waterloo Boys collectors club exhibited farm vehicles that have according to the U.S. Census Bureau influenced the agricultural industry more than any other factor — and often, they increase in value.
Knaub’s Model LA, a family heirloom, is known as a “Johnny Popper,” and its origins date to 1913 and the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company.
John Froelich, the 1892 inventor of the first gasoline-petrol “tractor,” shipped his creation to businessmen in Waterloo, Iowa. They formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company, and John Deere purchased the company in 1918.
While many Americans were fighting World War II between the early and mid-1940s, John Deere introduced the two-cylinder Model LA, one of what Sotheby’s reported was among the first “compact tractors” for small farmers.
The Model LA was distinguished from its L counterpart by its slightly larger size and cast iron rear wheels, according to the auction house.
“As farms got bigger, they needed bigger equipment to run it,” Knaub said.
The population between 1900 and 1950 had doubled, and the increased use of mechanical power by 1950 grew greater in value than farm land and buildings, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Farm vehicles helped 20th century farmers speed up work and increase production.
International Harvester, launched by James Deering, in the 1950s introduced its Super Letter series tractors and upped horsepowers to as much as 61 in the Farmall 560.
The 20,000-pound John Deere 8020, built as one of several four- to six-cylinder New Generation 1960s machines, began as an 8010 that Mike McNessor in a July 2017 Hemmings Motor News article said set out to be the “mightiest” machine. The model was part of a class that included a 1010 and increased with 2010 and 3010 models and so on.
The 8020 also was rarer than many other farm vehicles, according to Knaub.
Transmission problems resulted in a recall of 8010s that were redesigned into the 8020s. Only 85 of the 8020s were built, according to TractorData.com.
An 8020 tractor from the 1960s baby boom era in 2019 sold for $170,000 at a Mecum auction.
The $170,000 is only slightly less than beginning manufacturers suggested retail prices for new John Deere 7R Series tractors and lower than MSRPs for newly introduced fixed frame two- and four-track 8 RXes with suspended cabs, standard precision ag technology and the ability for customers to choose the machine configuration, options and horsepower.
The $170,000 is also some $140,000 more than the then-pricey $30,000 cost of 8010s when they were introduced in the 1960s, according to McNessor.
Modifications, like supply and demand, can add to or detract from the value of farm vehicles, Knaub said.
“Collectors also have specific vehicles they like to save,” Steve Lewis, president of the International Harvester Collectors Club Chapter 8, in Lancaster County said.
Lewis inherited a 1961 B120 International Harvester pickup truck that he said he rode in before he could see above the dashboard. He also inherited an IH 3444 backhoe loader tractor that Tractordata.com shows was made between 1970 and 1973.
The world food situation according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was during those years “more difficult than any time since the years immediately following World War II.”
Food production, because of a severe drought in Russia, was slightly less than 1971, when there were 75 million fewer people to feed, according to the UN report.
Federal legislators in in 1973 also passed the the first U.S. Farm Bill that included a nutrition title, a 2019 Congressional Research Service report shows.
The Farm Bill has steadily grown since, the report noted.
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