Realized Dream of Working on Old Tractors, Farm Equipment and Cars

A reader shares the story of his interest in old tractors and farm equipment, and anything old, including an Allis Chalmers B.

Tractor

A 1947 John Deere model B tractor still in use today.

Photo by Dennis Merlau

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I was born and raised in Barry County, Michigan. My family had a small hobby farm of about 6 acres. We were a simple working-class family living in a rural setting, the same as a lot of folks back then.

Where and how we lived impacted and molded the way I grew up. Since our neighbors were mostly retired farmers, my brother and I spent a lot of time under the tutelage of older people who had many years of wisdom and experience behind them, and who were willing to share what they knew if we would just sit and listen, or work around them as they did their chores – which I did quite often.

I’ve always had an interest in and an eye for farm machinery of just about any type, especially if it was old. This interest has always remained with me, and an interest in all things mechanical grew as well. My parents were always behind me, and they encouraged me to follow my interests, even if it meant them losing an old chicken coop or part of the basement so I could have a shop area.

As I got older, my interests advanced to different areas. I had a good collection of old horse-drawn things as a teenager, including an elaborate and rare cutter I bought from an old farmer in the area, a working sleigh for use with logs or hay or anything you would use a wagon for in the summer months, and a two-row and one-row riding cultivator.

Then, at age 12, came the opportunity to buy a 1938 Allis Chalmers B tractor from a neighbor – I actually traded a garden tiller for it. The tractor didn’t run, but I had visions that it would. About that same time, I also bought my first truck – a 1949 three-quarter-ton Chevy. It was 21 years old, and had been forgotten back in the woods. With help from my dad, we hauled it home, and after some work, I had it running. I used the truck for many years, and then handed it down to my youngest son, who still has it. On a similar note, I’m still using the old 1947 John Deere B that belonged to my parents when I was just a boy.

During my growing-up years, I always wanted to work on equipment, machinery, engines, anything mechanical. My father took his vehicles to a local dealership for service work, and I always got under the car with the mechanic and asked questions. Although I’m sure it drove the mechanics crazy, they were kind and entertained my interest.

Always a bit of an odd kid, my thought process when I was a teenager was to dream and think about my future and what I would do. All I really wanted was to work on equipment of some type, and have a home, a family, some livestock and gardens, and a shop.

I landed a shop job with the local John Deere dealer in late summer the year I graduated high school. What an opportunity! I was so excited, because I knew I was on my way to fulfilling my dreams. I had a great group of guys to help teach me the trade, and with my desire to learn, I took off and did well. I worked there for several more years, before joining another company that also had an excellent reputation. Eventually there was an opening on the company’s research farm, and I landed the job, which entailed maintaining a fleet of equipment and doing a good amount of fabrication. It was a lot closer to home, and it was out of the city, which made me happy. I worked at this site for 25 years. I always went to work with a smile on my face, and I enjoyed and took pride in what I did.

Now that I’m retired, I have even more time to devote to collecting old equipment that I can add to my never-ending collection of stuff, mostly machinery and old vehicles. I’ve been a very blessed man, and as you can see, I started with a dream that never changed, and one that is still going strong today. What a life!

Dennis
Delton, Michigan

Read more stories of reaching childhood dreams in Heart of the Home: Childhood Dream Careers.