Welcome to the third installment of Antique Power magazine’s weekly writers blog series. Brent Frankenhoff and other contributors will rotate throughout the month with blog entries on a variety of tractor-related subjects. Brent is a farm boy from birth we have asked to share his memories of growing up in an agricultural community.
Growing up on a 400-acre farm in the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin provided me with a fertile field for my memories.
I was born in 1966 in Boscobel, Wisconsin, and lived on our farm on Hwy. 61 between Boscobel and Fennimore. From an early age, I was fascinated with the equipment on our farm. My parents say that among my first words was “ba-to” (for “tractor”). They put me in my baby seat and stored me in an unoccupied calf pen in our barn while they milked cows.
My very first tractor was a John Deere pedal model. Since I had limited access to smooth cement surfaces on which to ride, I was more fascinated with watching the chain go around when I turned it upside down and spun the pedals. My maternal grandfather bought an umbrella for the pedal tractor, but my mechanical tinkering would have bent the metal shaft the umbrella was mounted on, so my mother put it away for safekeeping. I still have that umbrella in almost perfect condition. The tractor itself stayed in pretty good shape, compared to others whose young owners actually rode them for years.
Before I was allowed to drive any real tractor by myself, I remember the thrill of steering the John Deere 3020 and 530 while standing on the platform with Dad seated right behind me. He traded the 530 in the mid-1970s for a 2640 Utility model, since it was a safer model on which to learn to drive solo. Among my first jobs were moving the fertilizer wagon from one field to another at planting time and, later, raking hay. I surprised Dad within a few years when I figured out how to drive the 3020 by myself. (He hadn’t thought I was big enough to do it yet.) When I was old enough to work in the field unattended, Dad preferred to milk, while I preferred to keep working in the field. Chore time, in short, became amicable.
I participated in 4-H for a number of years, showing cattle from our Registered Holstein herd and tackling an assortment of other tasks, including the tractor maintenance series of programs. Our John Deere 3020, 2640, 2520, and 4240—along with our other equipment—never had it so good as during those years, when we adhered to nearly all the maintenance schedules. It was really fun when it came time to complete the book that accompanied each project. I would sit down with my great-uncle Raymond Brewer, who worked on a variety of John Deere tractors in his shop in Monona, Iowa. If I got stuck, he would help me find the answer, especially when the project book delved into older bits of tractor lore. Needless to say, those projects annually brought me blue ribbons. (Thanks, Uncle Raymond!)
Those tractor maintenance projects led to my attending State 4-H Congress in Madison, Wisconsin, just after I entered high school. We toured power plants (coal and nuclear), visited tractor dealerships to see what was new, attended lectures, and performed other mechanically related activities. (It also let me get a glimpse of what college life would be like in a few years.)
After high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, about 30 miles from home. Mom and Dad could not wait for me to come home on many weekends, since the extra set of hands made the farm work go easier. In the spring of each year, near final exam time, Dad would call to see what my schedule was like. If I was not studying and had a day or two free, I would drive tractor for him all day.
I worked on the farm and in local, small-market radio until I moved to Iola, Wisconsin, in 1992 to take an editorial job at Krause Publications. It was a real switch to move from the rolling hills and rich soil of southwestern Wisconsin to an area where the fields were flatter, sandier, and peppered with hills of potatoes, cabbages, green beans, and similar garden crops. There were (and are) plenty of farms to see, but these farmers preferred to fill their silos and make big round bales and square bales rather than fill their barns with the thousands of smaller square bales I had handled just a few years before. (I could not believe how many of these farms still loaded the hay on wagons behind the baler.)
My relocation brought me to several antique tractor shows and thresherees. I had heard of such events but had never before had the time or interest to attend one. After the move, though, Dad visited me in Iola a few times and we had a lot of fun at such events. Now, I take my teenage son to them, and he and I drive the otherwise-retired 3020 in Boscobel’s annual July Fourth parade.
I have a wealth of memories and stories to share and am eager to share them with you, in hopes of stirring your own nostalgia—or just putting a smile on your face. See you next month!