By Doug Ahlers
1948 John Deere Model A as I received it June 2017
One afternoon I received a phone call from my cousin Matt Brugmann who is a cousin on my mom’s side of the family. He said, Doug, I have a tractor that needs to belong to you. “Having no idea what he was thinking I said, “What are you talking about Matt.” He knew I had an interest in farming, tractors, and equipment that dates back to when I was a little boy. I grew up next to my maternal grandparent’s farm and spent many days with my grandpa, better known as “Papa”, and my Uncle Buster on the farm. Before I was legally able to drive, after school and on weekends, or on summer days, I would wait in the front yard for Papa to drive by. He would stop and I would jump in his pickup not knowing where we were going, but farming was usually involved. Sometimes there was a quick trip to town for an ice cream. When I was in high school, as soon as classes were done for the day, I would drive directly to the fields and jump on a tractor or harvester. I loved those days, and love spending time with Papa and Uncle Buster, and the equipment used in farming.
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s I can remember taking trips with my parents to North Highlands, California to visit my uncle Dale and Aunt Pat. Uncle Dale was my dad’s oldest brother. Dale and Pat owned Highland Sales, a salvage business that carried hardware, tools, building supplies and just about anything uncle Dale could find at auctions, close outs, and the like. Dale loved his business and loved purchasing boxes to see what was in them. Dale and Pat later owned the hardware store at Elkhorn Blvd and Watt Avenue in North Highlands. Somewhere along Dale’s travels he acquired a 1948 John Deere AW 42, serial number 607122. I can remember Uncle Dale using the tractor to take care of his acreage in North Highlands. Several years ago Uncle Dale passed away.
After some time, Aunt Pat started spending time with a family friend named Ray Dirks. Ray was a little like Uncle Dale in the fact that he liked attending auctions and trading to find the next treasure. Somehow along the way, Ray ended up with the John Deere A. Ray owned some property in Sutter, California that he began to divide up and sell during his retirement years. Unknown to me at the time, Ray hired my cousin Matt to build a house pad on one of his parcels. Being the trader Ray was, Matt ended up with my Uncle Dale’s A as part of the payment for building the house pad. So now Uncle Dale’s A is owned by my cousin on my mom’s side of the family. Matt spent some time working on the tractor before he decided to make the phone call to me. When Matt first received the tractor the engine was locked up. He was able to break it free. He opened up the crankcase, cleaned it thoroughly, added some fresh oil and a new filter. The mag was not producing a spark so a rebuilt mag was purchased and put on the tractor. Matt said he was able to get the old A to fire off and run.
I picked up the A in June of 2017. It was not in running condition, but not far from being able to run again. The seat cushions were missing, the tires had rotted off, and of course, the paint was in terrible condition. The first thing I noticed was a missing fuel bowl. I purchased a new authentic fuel bowl and installed it. I put some gas in the tank, and checked for leaks. I hooked up a battery and gave the starter a try. The tractor engine cranked over but would not fire. I checked for spark and there was none. I opened up the mag and gave the points a cleaning. Cranked on the starter again and all I could get was a pop. Well, it is a Johnny Popper! I took the carburetor off, disassembled it and gave it a good cleaning. After re-installing the carburetor, I cranked on the starter and the old John Deere A came to life. Fantastic! She runs! Time to make her look good again.
The disassembly of the tractor for cleaning, prepping, and painting started in January of 2018. I worked on the tractor on weekends, after work, and any time I could get to the shop. I had set a goal. I wanted the A to be at tractor days in Oregon House in May. I wanted to take my dad to tractor days, he had never been. I also wanted my dad to drive his late brother’s tractor on its’ first drive at tractor days. So off to work I went. I used a steam cleaner to clean the years of oil, grease, and dirt build up. The steam cleaner worked so well it even removed the old paint. It was a slow process but I took the time to make sure the A was thoroughly cleaned. The tractor and all of the parts were prepped and primed in John Deere Buff primer. Then came the John Deere classic green paint. Wow! Looking like a proud green John Deere again. The wheels were sand blasted, coated with Buff primer and then some John Deere yellow. Time to re-assemble the tractor.
Much care was taken during the re-assembly process. I didn’t want any scratches on the new paint. All of the parts went back together very well. New decals were installed as well as new lights, seat cushions, and new tires. A new battery was put into the battery box. The tractor looked like a brand new 1948 John Deere A. Ready to start the engine and take a drive. Or so I thought. I engaged the starter, the tractor engine fired up, and blew all of the oil out of the oil bath air cleaner. The oil traveled back up the air pickup tube, all over the hood of the newly painted tractor and all over the under-side of the hood as well. My heart sank. This is one week before tractor days and the old A has a serious illness. After cleaning up the oil mess, I went home feeling a bit defeated. I was also troubleshooting in my mind. For the oil to be pressured out of the air cleaner and back up the intake tube, there was only one possible answer. There has to be a stuck intake valve. But how? The engine was running so well before disassembling the tractor. Ah! Steam cleaning. I thought I had sealed up everything very well before steaming on the tractor. Somehow, water must have found its’ way into one of the intake valves and rusted up the valve guide. The next day the valve cover was removed and sure enough, a stuck intake valve. I was able to use some lubricant on the valve guide and some pressure to move the valve back and forth to free the valve. Didn’t take much – just enough to break the hold the rust had on the valve stem. Back together and the engine was once again running. The old John Deere A sounded really good. That
defeated feeling now turned into excitement. Tractor Days here we come!
John Deere AW 42 Serial Number 607122
Looking new again!
On the side of the tractor frame was a magnetic sign that said, “Dale’s A,” 1948 John Deere AW 42. The “W” meaning the tractor has a wide front, the “42” meaning the rear tires are a tall 42 inch tire. The John Deere A was loaded onto a trailer and hauled to Oregon House for tractor days on Friday, May 4, 2018. Saturday morning the tractor was wiped down and ready for the first drive. I showed my dad how to run the tractor with a hand clutch (which he had done before but he is 80 and it has been a long time since using a hand clutch). I drove my 1948 John Deere M and dad followed with the 1948 John Deere AW 42, wearing his farming hat and a big smile. After the drive, my dad shared with me that he thought his brother Dale would be very proud to look down and see his tractor living again. I had met my goal. Yes a lot of work, and a few frustrations, but worth every minute.