The Landlord’s John Deere A

When the Wilson family became tenant farmers near Minburn, Iowa, the spring of 1939, they hadn’t had a car since late 1934. (That was the Model T truck which became their “roadster“–and is on the cover of Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.)

Their son Donald was in the Navy, aboard the crew of the USS Yorktown (CV-5). Four sons moved to the farm with Clabe and Leora. Delbert had already served his four years enlistment in the Navy. Dale graduated from Dexter High School that May. Danny and Junior were in high school. Dale, Danny, and Junior had never had a chance to learn to drive. 

The landlord was delighted with all those big sons to help farm. He had an old truck but he farmed with horses.

One of the Wilson brothers cultivated with the tractor, while his father’s cultivator was pulled by horses. Minburn, Iowa, 1942

By 1941, he had bought a John Deere A tractor, which the brothers enjoyed learning to drive and take care of it. Then the war broke out.

Delbert rejoined the Navy and Dale enlisted in the Army Air Force to become a pilot. In this 1942 photo, Danny Wilson is cultivating corn. Their mother Leora is at left, and Junior behind the tractor.

A year later, Junior wrote one of his brothers in the military that the John Deere was “in its summer dress,” meaning the cultivator. Before Junior left for the AAF, Clabe finally got to drive the tractor.

The John Deere Model A was the first true row crop tractor and the first tractor to come from the factory in Waterloo, Iowa, with rubber tires. These John Deeres were called “Johnny poppers” because of their distinctive sound.


  1. Love the sound of those old Johnny Poppers, and it is such a distinctive sound. A friend of mine who lives in Minnesota has a 1940 John Deere Model A. And it runs great, although the exterior is a little rough looking. Neat post, thank you Joy!

    • Uncle Bill Neal (flew C-47s over the Hump in WWII) had a Johnny Popper. He’d leave our place with 3 and 4 wagons, etc., behind it, standing has he watched everything make the turn onto (gravel) Old Creamery Road!

  2. The rubber tires were the first thing I noticed on the John Deere tractor-something the other tractors you posted about didn’t have. Clabe must have been resigned to cultivate with the horses until he could have a turn on the tractor that his sons apparently found easier to cultivate with!

    • Yes! They enjoyed anything mechanical. Same when they got a car. After taking their youngest to Des Moines to join the Army Air Force, they made sure their dad was comfortable with the car and the route. He didn’t have many chances to drive when those sons were around. (That’s why I was amazed at their trip to Omaha for Mother’s Day 1946. That would have been a big trip for both him and Leora!)

  3. I love that–in its summer dress!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I love the word roadster. It gives me a little jolt of excitement every time I read it. Reminds me of Nancy Drew :).

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