By Bill Stork, DVM
This is the letter I never thought I’d have to write.
They say “Nothing runs like a Deere”.
It was a John Deere B
With a row crop front end
Hand crank and a flywheel,
The original paint
It won’t work another field,
Or farm another farm
Some restaurant up in Omaha’s
Got it parked out on its lawn
Fred could have been singing about the 1935 my Uncle Con used to plant 240 acres of popcorn in Christian County clay and loam, halfway between Stonington and Taylorville, Illinois.
Don Walser sang:
I work an old John Deere Tractor ever-a-day
Plowin’ plantin’ crops and balin’ hay…
You know John Deere tractors break down from time to time
But Old Shade Tree Slim'd have her runnin’ just fine
Rest in Peace, Gentleman Don, aka “Pavarotti of the Plains”.
My dad started working in Kilborn’s John Deere implement dealership his junior year of high school, in 1952. He could have been Ole Shade Tree Slim. He tells stories of fetching tractors from the field and taking them back to the shop for service. There came a call for a ’37 John Deere A that didn’t sound right. The farmer drove it out of the field, rattlin’, back-fartin’ and blowing black smoke, onto the single axle trailer behind a 1-ton Chevy dually, with one bolt holding the carburetor, and one holding the cylinder head on the block.
Well there’s nothin’ like the smell of fresh plowed ground.
There was twice as much fresh plowed ground to be smelling at the end of every day when the 50s and 70s replaced the As and Bs a few years later. With 45 horsepower “at the drawbar”, they could handle a 4-bottom plow.
After sunset and a couple tablespoons of Talisker, Dad may tell you about going to Lake Shelbyville fishin’ with his cousin Jim. Three times. In a row. Show him a picture of an old car, truck, or tractor. He’ll tell the make and model and that it was made during the first shift, before noon. I’m not prone to challenge his rolling stock recollections, but I swear the first tractor I ever “drove” was a 4020. At 5 years and 50 pounds, I didn’t weigh enough to get on top of the clutch. My legs weren’t long enough to straddle the console, so all my toe could reach was the pedal for the inside wheel brake. We lurched, blew black smoke, and headed down the field road. The lugs slow-drummed over hard pack and crunched through gravel as the hundred-horse stalwart rolled with every rut. Leaning on Dad’s lap, it felt like I was nine feet in the air, going 50 miles an hour.
Dad swears it was one of Uncle Con’s B’s (Johnny Poppers) he used to run when he was home on leave from the Navy.
The “put-put” of the Johnny Poppers gets in your blood like the Pox virus. When the kids were young, a favorite feature of the early incarnations of Storkfest was a hayride through the backside of Wallace’s, all the way to the Muck Farm and back. Dave Strasburg was just on the other side of the alfalfa field and always happy to oblige, with an old Red or new Green tractor, but I figured I’d surprise the old man. I didn’t want to come right out and ask Ed Schulz, so I looked at my boots and kicked the gravel, “Y’all wouldn’t have an extra 2-cylinder we might borrow for an afternoon?”
The buzz was that he and his son had driven all the way to Canada, and traded a good start at an undergraduate education in American cash dollars for a 75-year-old, 15-horse tractor. They pulled it home behind a Chevy S10 that I wouldn’t take to Walgreens for a bottle of Pepto Bismol.
“Aw, heck, you’d be welcome to it,” his John Deere A, serial number 10, was hitched to a spreader in a corn crib, “but I got the PTO tore out of it.”
It’s probably best. Though he is famously collected, the old guy may have lost his mind right then and there. The rumor is the John Deere Pavilion has since offered “significantly” more than what he paid for it. Ed probably thanked ‘em for the offer, but he needed it to clean barn.
My neighbor Rich likes to get his 2-acre pumpkin patch planted before Memorial Day. My friend Ned rents the 10 acres downwind from Applegate Estates, and just across Wolf Road from “Stork Hollow”.
Michael Perry likens writing to pitching box stalls: “Just keep at it ‘til you got a big enough pile someone will notice,” says the poet laureate of flannel shirts and work boots. A charming metaphor, but by spring thaw we’ve got mounds of the real thing.
Though we all may be the same in the eyes of the Lord, all horse shit is not created equally. It gets sorted into three piles.
The hand-sorted pile mixed with pine-shavings that Sheila hauls out in muck buckets I call “garden gold”. It gets loaded on the trailer and meticulously distributed one wheelbarrow at a time to Jeff and Sharon, Mittsy and Barb, and Nancy and Matt. Sometime after spring showers and the summer solstice, bags of fresh tomatoes, peppers and sweet corn begin to appear on the passenger seat of my truck.
They’ve got five acres, but Santana and Boom Truck stand just outside the stalls. By spring the fence gets pretty short, and there is a mound of pure manure that gets spread four inches deep on a pumpkin patch across Hwy 18. By Halloween, Rich has Jack-O-Lanterns the size of a VW microbus.
The third mound is a nasty mat of wasted hay that gets spread on Ned’s corn stubble. Therein lies the fine art and timing of it all: I look for a day with a gentle breeze. Though we are not opposed to wafting a little country potpourri through the cul de sac, they are friends, potential clients, and Dr. Rob from the Jefferson Vet Clinic. A poorly timed gust of prevailing northwest wind as you lift the endgate and you’ve got Benny’s breakfast wedged behind your earlobes, and organic chunks the size of silly-putty cemented in the mesh of your Packers hat.
Not to mention, I don’t need hecklers. Seems every year I find an original and creative way to overload the spreader. At the first smell of burning clutch, I reach for the lever to disengage the PTO. Before turning around to face the inevitable, I’ll let fly with a colorful diatribe that’ll surely get me a couple extra Hail Marys and a chuckle from Father Bob, if I ever get back to confession. There will be 25 yards of naked stubble and the beaters swinging like Ernest T. Bass with Andy’s hand on his forehead. The apron will be stuck to the floor of the spreader, like a flip-flop in stale beer on Sunday morning.
In doing so, I earn an hour and a half’s worth of fork-handle-fitness and a bloody blister in my palm. “I can just use the broken-handled fork in the jack stand. It’d take too long to walk back to the barn, and all I have to throw off is just that little bit…"
For most, the International vs John Deere rivalry lies somewhere between Cardinals vs Cubs and Bears vs Packers in intensity. On this day, I had six hours before dark, 17 loads to haul, and Ned was planting corn on Monday. I didn’t care if it was Red, Green, or Orange, so long as it had four wheels and a PTO. Sheila’s dad usually sends me with the 4020, but the spreader was hooked on the 1937 International “M”.
I checked the fuel and oil and dropped ‘er into road gear. It’s eight miles from farm to farm. By way of Hwy J to Scheppert Road, you go left onto Perry at the Clampett farm, which will get you all the way to Hwy A. By taking Ripley Road you can avoid the traffic on State Hwy 18 and get to wave like Huck Finn at the flatlanders opening up their lake cottages, gawking awkwardly as you pull a manure spreader past.
I don’t fancy myself all that sensitive. Sheila has gone so far as to say oblivious. I only passed five cars, but three of them had noses pressed to the windshield. Another rolled down the window and pointed.
I started to get a little self-conscious.
Once home, I was able to get a notion what the spectacle may have been. I must have been in full-on git-er-done mode. I’m no Scott Clewis, but I fancy myself as fashion forward as a man in the country can be. I was still in Pella Green coveralls and yellow boots from the last farm call, driving a rust red International, while sporting a faded John Deere hat and black shirt. Sheila had forgotten a few things at the farm, so I had her dark brown leather purse, with silver and teal trim, flung over my shoulder.
Folks around Jefferson County, Wisconsin, are cordial toward ag vehicles, though you’ll occasionally have a Prius Pete. Apparently, however, when no two pieces of one’s ensemble match, folks are far less tolerant of slow-moving vehicles.
When Paige and Calvin were enrolled in the Cambridge School District, I launched a search for a permanent place to hang my coveralls. I hoped for a spot on the bus route, with a little elbow room. Stork Hollow is seven acres of mosquitoes, marsh grass, multiflower rose, and burdock. According to Google Maps, we are at the same elevation as New Orleans.
Sizing up the land restoration project that lay before us, Dad stood on Wolf Road and surveyed the property. “Son, I do believe a guy could walk through there in a brand new pair of Levis, and he’d be buck-nekkid ‘for he got to the other side.” Translated: better get some goats.
Aside from a patch of pasture big enough for pickup football or pond hockey, the only flat spot big enough for a pup tent is on the black top in front of the garage. After the first snow, the driveway is only slightly less treacherous than the Khumbu Ice Falls.
Paige had begged for a horse since she was five. Aunt Sarah said, “Wait until she’s eleven”. Just in case, we had four box stalls and a small arena. Her “horse fever” broke just days before her birthday, but we had plenty of room for four Nubian goats and Bambi the Jersey heifer.
"Family realignment" is a term coined by family practice lawyers. I abhor it, and explained that to my lawyer. We moved my press-board dressers and secondhand couches from the exclusive “St Vinny’s Collection” the day after Christmas 2005. Backing the 30’ Smith Racing Team car hauler down the bunny hill on solid ice was barely controlled free fall. By the time we unloaded the last box labeled “Blues CD’s/Bedroom”, the nausea of signing 200 pages obligating me to 30 years at 4.8% had not begun to relent. I kept a gallon of Kaolin Pectin in the truck.
No less prolific or profound, the only thing Mark Twain had on my dad was a measure of eloquence. Though I bet Sam Clemmons woulda laid claim to “Son, you can work hard enough to get over stupid; you can’t be smart enough to get past lazy” any day.
Dad was not opposed to the classics, “Son, that back of yours has got to last the rest of your life”, and “You know, son, you’re not getting any younger.”
Frugal to a fault, he was no less insistent: “You need to find yourself a little tractor”.
Dad had thankfully emerged from his period of P.O.A.D.S (Pubertal Offspring Associated Dementia Syndrome); I didn’t doubt him for a minute. I searched Craiglist and the Tractor Trader magazine from the wire rack by the diesel pump. As it turns out, good used utility tractors are harder to find than quinoa at a Kwik Trip, and cost twice as much as a signed copy of “Born to Run”.
Worse, they’re all orange. The Japanese mastered small-plot farming and have engineered amazing compact tractors to make them efficient. With all due respect, the only Kubotas in Stork Hollow will be borrowed, and as a last resort.
So, until my budget was stronger than my back, snow removal, fence building, and brush clearing would be accomplished by way of a shovel, post- hole digger, and the Stihl Super 028 (*diesel) chainsaw on long-term loan from Dad, fueled by cortisol, testosterone, and bachelor cooking.
A straw could have been when I was dragging brush and neighbor Wally brought over his Kubota.
When Sheila showed up with her flaming locks of auburn hair, razor wit, uncommon kindness, and a trailer full of Quarter Horses and a Clydesdale, well, Dad was not willing to bank his chance of scoring a dream DIL on his son’s wit, wisdom, and allure.
He made tracks to Sloan Implement in Assumption, Illinois.
Word came by way of text from Gary that The Mudhens were having a reunion concert on a Saturday night in Champagne. I called Dad to ask if we could rack at his place after the show.
“Sure, what d'you want for breakfast?" he asked, and “Make sure you bring the truck and trailer.”
I left the University of Illinois with a BS, a DVM, and not a nickel’s worth of debt. After Dick Bass and donuts at 6:00AM, I pitched box stalls and spent “Happy Hours” bleaching rat cages for a diminutive Korean named “Boon”. All of which barely paid for Sunday night pizza and a five-dollar pitcher of Budweiser at Mabel’s.
My college education was funded by sweat and sacrifice, and not all mine. Dad worked roughly 6000 hours of overtime, went on no vacations, and Mom pinched pennies into copper wire. They didn’t know “new car smell” from jasmine tea. The first thing with four wheels Dad ever made payments on was a 2011 John Deere 2520 with a hydraulic bucket, 6-foot mower deck, and four-wheel drive. He welded up a four- foot job box that mounted on the draw bar, and painted it JD Green to match the rest of the rig.
Blue collar dollars do not leave Bill Stork’s wallet without a hundred hours of hard thought.
The little diesel ground pounder that now sat in his garage was in hopes of preserving his son’s carcass, and a way for an old heavy equipment operator to get his “fix”.
“When my time comes, I hope they take me mid-stride.” The way it’s looking, that’s the way it’ll have to be. When Dad’s caught his last crappie, he’ll come to rest at the North Fork Cemetery in Decatur, next to Mom. In attendance there will be retired construction workers, machinists, carpenters, farmers, and at least one doctor, lawyer, and Chief Indian.
Long after the eulogy, communion, and Church Lady Food, I’ll think of Dad. Every time I clear snow or scrape shit, I’ll wing it wide and scrape it tight. Before I start it, I’ll check the oil. When the work’s done, I’ll idle-‘er-down, back it in the shed, grease it, scrape the bucket.
It’s just the way it’s done.
Our John Deere 2520 will be around long after Dad. ‘Little Johnny’ is his “Statue outside the Stadium”.
The third commandment is, “If you break it, you pay for it”. So, John, there begins what could become a fatal flaw in our relationship.
In medicine there are what we call nebulopathies. Nebulopathies are illnesses in which the clinical signs are infrequently seen, unpredictable, and can’t be reliably reproduced. They may be associated with multiple organ systems and etiologies, but are not directly attributable to a specific pathology. They drive us to spend countless hours cross-referencing cases in The Journals of Veterinary Medicine or the Veterinary Information Network, which is occasionally followed by a two-finger pour of Scotch, and Van Morrison.
We’ll hear, “he was limping all day yesterday, and now he’s running around”.
Some of our clients are accomplished actors and actresses. They’ll bring their hands to their throat, stretch their neck, and emit a guttural “hack”, then bend at the waist and spread their arms, connoting the phlegm on the floor that terminates the event. It could be kennel cough, heart failure, garbage toxicity, or hairballs.
Mechanics have it tougher.
“I swear the thing goes thucka-thucka-thucka every time I roll down the window,” Tom the Roofer tries to describe. Before he gets around to fixing stuff, Steve always has to grumble, “Schuman, you’ve fallen on your head too many times. Roll up your window and turn up the radio”.
We’ve all had that pickup truck that won’t start, dies unpredictably, or loses power when anyone drives it but an ASE certified mechanic.
In both veterinary and human medicine we have a distinct advantage: “Put two halves of a sick cat in the same room and they’ll get better”. The Father of Medicine is Hippocrates. His oath is long, confusing, and written in Greek, but roughly translated it says, “Stay out of the way and we’ll get better”.
Whether you believe in evolution, creation, or divine intervention, animals are of superior design (the M.S.R.P. of a new Mercedes would lead us to believe otherwise). We can become infected by and exposed to rogue viruses, bacteria, GMOs and MSG. Just imagine how many times each day we shake hands, share doorknobs, and use public restrooms, and how relatively infrequently we get sick.
The defense mechanism of the upper respiratory tract is just one example. It is a system of exquisite design involving fluid dynamics, mechanics, immunoglobulins M and G… and mucus. We can function on only 30% of our kidney and 25% of our liver function. The redundancy of the circulatory system to the brain is so complete and intricate that we can function perfectly normally with both carotid arteries ligated. Nerves can slowly regenerate and nearly aligned broken bones can heal!
Mechanics have no such luxury.
If it’s broken, it’ll stay that way until someone replaces the broken parts, sells it, or set it on fire.
One weekend a year we host a down-sized, southern Wisconsin “Woodstock”. The horse pasture becomes a parking lot. In anticipation of Storkfest 14, I climbed aboard Little Johnny to scrape a few months' worth of used hay. Our Chicago friend’s footwear is more suited for the sideline of a soccer game or the 18th green at Medinah; I actually saw a pair of Muck Boots in the tray next to the front door, of Kish’s house. A good tromp through Boomer and Benny’s paddock, and I guarantee Anita would relegate them to the garage.
I pulled the bucket-lever back and to my knees to lift and curl… nothing.
Brow creased, I reached for the three-point lever, and slid it back. The collection of T-posts, fencing pliers, and scrap wood in the job box just sat there. Thinking that Little John was one big hydraulic machine, I wiggled the steering wheel and touched the travel, and he did both.
Having an extensive understanding of hydraulics and a socket set, I took a drink of the afternoon iced coffee in the cup holder, and dismounted. I rubbed the dust off the little lens next to the PTO to check fluid levels, ran my hand through the sand searching for leaks, and checked couplers and fittings. Finally I remounted, revved the little Japanese diesel to 1800 rpm, and tried the levers again. Nothing.
I have a friend who is a Rolls Royce mechanic. He explained that a Rolls doesn’t break down. If ever it should not function, you just make a phone call. I didn’t read the fine print, but I suspect John Deere has no such language in the warranty.
Having exhausted my mechanical chops, I dumped down to Plan B: Denial.
After feeding the horses, filling the water tank, and digging the manure away from the posts where the tractor bucket won’t fit, I tried again. Success.
Having spent 23 years of practice chasing nebulopathies, I was not so delusional as to believe the problem would go away. Old Timers used to take a horse with colic on a therapeutic trailer ride. A couple miles bouncing over a broken down county blacktop and he’d let fly with enough methane to power Brookstone Meadows on Super Bowl Sunday, and a pile of manure.
I’d bet a broke-in pair of Redwings that Johnny could sit there with the bucket on the ground for a week. I’d load it on the trailer and drive to Watertown, and it would work perfectly. They could unplug the quick couplers and drain the hydraulic fluid, and it would still lift a round bale. Load it on the trailer and drive it back home, and it wouldn’t pick up a recycled 6-pack of Squatters Hop Rising Double IPA and an empty milk jug.
I hoped not to be that guy who tries to tell the techs, “Well, this is what it wasn’t doing at home”.
The service manager at Mid-State was an amiable, if not athletic, slightly aged gentleman named Dennis. He rubbed his brow deeply and repeated the history, “So, Little John starts ok, steers ok, and travels ok?”
“Yes, sir”, I said, though my head nodded side-to-side, deliberately leaving silence for thought.
“But the rock shaft and the bucket, he can’t get ‘em up at all?” he asked without a hint of smirk.
“Sometimes,” I shrugged, palms turned toward the ceiling.
It is a well-documented fact that cold things contract. Mechanicals, and especially hydraulics, are famously temperature-dependent. “Dennis, how about this,” I proposed, "in order to ensure he will be symptomatic when we get him to you and Jeff, we wait for a big snowstorm." According to Brian Olson on Channel 15 there was to be a certified Midwestern Nor-Easter the second week of January. He predicted a foot of snow, temperatures approaching zero, and wind gusts up to 30mph.
Finally a smile, “Yeah, Bill, that’s gotta work”.
Snowmaggedon arrived on-time and as promised. I had backed Little John into the garage. If Johnny was feeling good, I could pull straight out of the garage and take the snow between the monument oak and the white picket fence. If not, there was a workout in my immediate future.
I waited patiently for the first four inches to accumulate on the black top bunny hill and threw open the garage door. In a click of the ignition, the brief whine of the starter was replaced by an authoritative staccato tenor growl. The smoke curled past the sodium halide yard light and disappeared over the soffit. I pulled my phone from my pocket to check the time. Uncertain what I was praying for and to give Johnny a few minutes to warm and me a few minutes of hope, I lofted the snow from around the garbage cans and recycling bin. Token attacked and eviscerated every shovelful.
I climb aboard, and reached for the bucket lever.
As the onslaught of the storm waited just beyond the garage door, Little John sat, rattling, revving and blowing smoke. I reached for the lever and slowly pulled it to my knee. Like a eunuch at Hedonism during swinger’s week… nothing.
Pleased with my prediction and resigned to my fate, I carved a line from the garage to Hwy 18 and back down. In 90 minutes of Wisconsin cross-training, I had the hill clean, flared wide at the road. In a race against the ongoing storm and the west wind defiantly building a brand-new drift, I backed the trailer and lowered the ramps at the front tires of poor Little John. I had the presence of mind to store the tractor with the bucket six inches in the air. Betting OSHA would not make an impromptu inspection, and anticipating a weather and need-dependent equipment failure (a sentence that a 50-year-old author must ensure is never cut-and-pasted into his Match.com profile), I could drive right up the ramps.
I left Little John running on the trailer for the ride to Watertown, rather than endure another cold start. I took a lap around Mid-State Equipment and parked next to the “Any equipment left outside of business hours is not the responsibility of Mid-State Equipment, Inc.” sign. I positioned the ramps behind the wheels and climbed into the cockpit.
If the Powerball, the stock market, and women were as easy to predict, then Paige and Calvin could have a free ride to the Ivy League college of their choice and I’d be happily married and retire at 62. So predictable was the “Route 26/Interstate 94 Underpass Cure”, that my heart rate and blood-pressure did not raise a tick, and my diction didn’t descend past PG. As soon as I pulled the lever, the bucket rose and curled and the job box hoisted the 200lbs of split oak I was using for counterweight with ease.
Jeff and Dennis were unfazed. Little John was not the first nebulopathy to cross their shop floor. Their plan was to leave him outside in the cold. Surely, he couldn’t get it up, and they could diagnose the issue. Alas, like a high school boy at a pool party, every time they fired him up, Little John rose to the occasion.
Options were discussed. Little Johnny always works in Watertown. I offered to look for properties north of I-94. But rather than build an ark to relocate five horses, a goat, four cats, Remmi, Token, and Sheila, Dennis offered to engage the expertise of the John Deere Technical services team.
Under the direction of “The Green Team”, Jeff checked for leaks, performed flow and pressure analysis, radiographs, ultrasound, and blood work. Jeff fed the results of the diagnostics into the computer. According the erectile dysfunction algorithm for John Deere utility tractors, the first differential diagnosis was a faulty tricuspid valve. It would cost the equivalent of open heart surgery, but Johnny was sure to return to full function.
Prepared to relinquish my truck, equity in the clinic, and my son, I approached the cashier. The itemized invoice detailing parts, service, and time looked like the title for Johnny Cash’s Cadillac. I winced and turned my head like the little brother in the dodge-ball game. “You know Bill, since this is something we’ve never seen before, I was able to write off a portion of the bill as ‘research’”, Dennis spoke slowly. I opened one eye and relaxed a sphincter. Whether it was generosity or good marketing, I was nevertheless relieved to get out of a John Deere dealership for less than a pair of Super Bowl tickets. I loaded Little John and headed south, grateful, and full of hope.
Looking to preserve the feel-good, but still skeptical, I hedged. As long as the weather stayed cold, I stored him in the attached garage and always found something to do for 10 minutes while he warmed up. I had no doubt that Jeff had done the best he could. Whether you’re a doctor or a mechanic, we try and fix things for good. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Little John moved a mountain of manure in the spring, and mowed grass, and augured holes for corner posts all summer. Then came winter. Like a sugar daddy with an expired prescription, by December 2015, Little John was no longer able to get it up.
As a kid, my favorite Saturdays were going to H.H. Donnely’s for parts. Dad was usually rebuilding a carburetor or replacing an exhaust system for the neighbor who had helped pour the concrete driveway or swirl the living room ceiling. Little did I know the smell of wood floors, wheel-bearing grease, and parts cleaner would cement a respect for men and women who ‘could’, that would last a lifetime. The chrome stools at the parts shop were polished by overalls and Levi’s, and the pastel swirls on the Formica counter were worn through by exhaust manifolds wrapped in shop towels. Long before computers, parts were listed in a four foot wide assembly of books and binders on one end of the counter. Dad would always flip me a quarter for the “nut hut” that dispensed a handful of warm cashews with a turn of the crank.
Old habits don’t die. Forty-five years later you can call, email, or text to make an appointment. I’d rather stop by.
Assuming I’m able to stay out of range of Mike Perry’s celebrated sneezing cows, Kevin Griswold’s Monday morning herd check usually lends just enough organic cred to my coveralls. I don’t leave a trail, but won’t be mistaken for the white-lab-coat-and-khaki DVM.
Not only did I fear the finance, but I also didn’t want to disappoint the team who had worked so hard to get Little John back to full function. I was surprised to see a full beard and a young face as the quarterback of the service department. I was daunted at the notion of having to recount the medical history, hopeful that a new set of eyes might be able to resolve the issue.
Evidently, Little John’s deficiencies had made it around the break room. Looking at the floor, then the “Payment Expected at the Time of Service” poster hanging above the parts desk, I began “You may be familiar, I was in last winter with a little 2520…” Like a urologist with excellent bedside manner, John spoke the words, "Can’t get it up, Bill?"
When I hauled John home last time it seemed we had exhausted the collective expertise of the entire Green Team. I was cautiously encouraged by his familiarity with my case. “Bring ‘er in, I’ve got some ideas,” he said with confidence. Once out of sight, I raised up on the ball of my foot and skipped half-a-step through the vestibule.
In 24 hours he called back with a diagnosis and treatment plan. “Bill, we’ve taken off the secondary hydraulic pump and found an area that looks as if it got too hot, scarred, and is allowing fluid to back-flow,” with the confidence of Donald Trump on the campaign stump. He continued, “I can’t really order parts for the pump; it’d be about $600 for a new one, and the same for the labor to replace it”.
“What are our options?” I asked.
“I’ve got a good lookin’ new 270 on the showroom floor; 0 down, 0 interest, and a full warranty,” he said with a smile.
My friend Scott thinks quickly on his feet. He was a high school debate team champion, and has been a very successful lawyer for 25 years. I chose to withhold the obvious question and build my defense. When I picked up little John, I left my wallet in the truck.
John showed me the offending part. There is a wafer-thin shim the opposing gears seat in, separate from the cast-iron housing. It looked like a glass candle with the flame blown out. “See how it’s discolored,” he pointed, rearranging his hat.
The service department at Mid-State had worked hard to help; I did not want to make enemies. I asked, “John, from the beginning, the problem Johnny had was that he could travel, he could steer, but he couldn’t get it up.”
He smiled beneath the bill of his faded green Deere cap and seemed to know exactly where I was going.
“So now, a year later, you tell me there is a separate pump for those functions?” John has soft eyes and an easy manner. "Yup,” he nodded.
“Why was that not the first thing we did?” I asked with the composure of the clean-up hitter; down by a run, bottom of the ninth, 7th game of the World Series.
His response was as sure as my question, “Because we did what the Green Team told us to do, Bill.”
Channeling Scott R. Clewis in a Mayberry RFD vernacular I asked, “John, how many John Deere 2520’s do you reckon y’all have in your dealership?”
Getting on board, the office manager called up the file. “181,” she replied.
“How many other machines do you figure have this same part on them?” I continued. She started to look that up, but it quickly became complicated. “Too many to count,” John agreed.
“Have you ever seen this problem before?” I asked the question for which there was no safe answer.
“Never,” he replied definitively.
“You and Jeff have dissected this tractor twice. Is there any evidence it was not maintained properly?” “Not at all, filters were clean, fluid was clean, fluid was full,” he responded.
Knowing a little bit about bypasses and being trained to expect less than your machine is capable of by the best in Operating Engineers Local 965, I continued, “Is there any way I could have used that tractor improperly, and caused the pump part to fail?”
“Not that I can think of,” John hedged.
“Well, if Little John has been maintained properly, used gently, and you have never heard of this problem before… then, doesn’t this have to be, by definition, a faulty part from the get-go?” I rested my case.
There was a pause. “Yeah,” he lifted his cap revealing the beginnings of “crop failure”.
I re-acknowledged the tractor was out of warranty. It also had but 221 hours on it, barely a warm up. If it had been maintained and used properly, I needed a plausible explanation as to how it failed before I would have accounting (me) cut the check.
Dennis, John, and Jeff were great. The verdict would come down from above. There would be regional managers and Marvin, in the customer service, warranty department in Moline.
When I sat down to write this piece nearly a month ago, the court of John Deere had not yet ruled. Deere and Company started as a blacksmith’s shop in Grand Detour, Illinois. In their second year, they made 10 horse-drawn, self-cleaning plows. Last year they produced nearly 40 billion dollars in revenue. I have one 25-horse tractor, two hats, and a T-shirt. I had as much a chance at making an impression on John Deere as the Big Bad Wolf blowing down the Biltmore.
I’m not sure what the original ending was going to be. I’m as likely to Go Red, as Brian Zabel nudged, as becoming a Bears Fan.
Last week I got a call from John at Mid-State. “Bill how’s about if you pay 1/3, we pay 1/3, and John Deere pays 1/3?”
I reckon you can’t get any more fair than that.