Considering these times of satellite-guided tractors, air-conditioned harvesters, and hefty, multi-row implements, I stopped short the other day when I discovered a small booklet forgotten in a family trunk for more than 50 years.
The Farmer's Pocket Ledger, 78th Annual Edition, was distributed, compliments of Peterson Tractor & Equipment Co., a California John Deere dealer with branches in Hayward, Brentwood, and San Francisco.
The back cover shows calendars for the years 1944 and 1945, reminding of simpler times before farming entirely shed genuine horse power.
I don't recall exactly, but I suspect I may have picked up the 76-page “ledger” (actually more of a catalog and almanac) in the fall of 1945 from a Deere exhibit at the Madera (Calif.) District Fair. In the mid-1940s, we students at the Lincoln Elementary School were dismissed at noon on the opening Friday of the fair.
Once the dollar bill I got for lunch and carnival rides was spent, I usually finished my afternoon roaming new car and farm equipment exhibits. Among vivid recollections is a four-wheel-drive Jeep perched halfway up a steep ramp.
Having no photographs, the booklet must have held little interest for me at the time. I can't remember reading it, and I'm amazed it wasn't discarded. But today the 75 line drawings and brief descriptions give a glimpse of what can only be found in museums, if at all.
One example is the line of general-purpose John Deere tractors from the largest, the Model G, on through Models A, B, and H to the two-cylinder L and LA.
The G, touts the caption, “is the ideal tractor for farms of average size. Pulls two 14-inch bottoms in average soil or a two-bottom bedder in many conditions. Plants and cultivates two rows.”
Options on the A, B, G, and H included hydraulic power and electric starting and lighting. No reference to horsepower rating is made.
There's also a drawing of the metal-tired Model D, capable of pulling four bottoms in many soils, three bottoms in practically all conditions, and having ample belt power to operate a 28-inch thresher.
At the top of one page is a drawing of a John Deere Type E stationary gasoline engine, available in 1-1/2-, 3-, or 6-h.p. models, magneto equipped, and mounted on skids or a portable truck.
The drawing closely resembles the wildly-popping, crank-started, Fairbanks-Morse engine my father once used, in lieu of a windmill or electric power, with a belt to draw well water through a hand pump fitted with a jack.
The Series No. 630 heavy duty, three-row lister, reads the description, “does good work in either single listing or relisting. Row spacing adjustable to 36, 38, 40, 42 or 44 inches.”
John Deere potato diggers, either horse- or tractor-drawn, “offer you all the latest features for harvesting your crop in best conditions for highest market prices.”
Also your dealer could get you, for use with either source of power, side-delivery rakes with “floating cylinder, universal joint drive, quick-detachable curved teeth, and inclined frame.”
Two implements described in the ledger have historical significance to San Joaquin Valley farming. One, the tractor-drawn Killefer farm scraper similar to the horse-drawn “Fresno,” came in two capacities, 10.5 cubic feet and 15 cubic feet.
The other, the Killefer panbreaker, could be had in eight sizes to handle “any type of subsoil from thin, shallow plowpan to the thickest, deepest hardpan” at depths from 18 to 48 inches. Attachments were available for beet lifting, ditching, chisel cultivating, and soil drainage.
I was surprised to learn that John Deere horse-drawn farm wagons and trucks made of straight-grain oak and hickory were still available in 1944-45. “The guarantee on the front end gate of each wagon tells just what you are getting in materials and workmanship.”
Model No. 953 all-steel trucks with pneumatic tires were available too, and the description reads, reflecting wartime shortages, “For general farm use, a set of good used tires will render satisfactory service.”
The ledger gives tables of weights and measures, monthly expenditure pages, common nail and spike sizes, and steps for calculating interest, the number of board feet in a log, the tons of hay in a stack, and acreage.
Another table gives proportions for mixing calcium chloride and water to be added to rubber tractor tires and warns you to pour the chemical into the water and not vice versa.
The ledger is a keepsake, and I'm glad it wasn't thrown out. Now, if I could just find that kid who brought it home from the fair so long ago…