Story by Dianne Edwards
What does a famous tractor manufacturer born at the turn of the 19th century have in common with a retired Navy man living and loving life in Yell County?
Absolutely everything — if that everything is green and runs like a ‘Deere’.
Born Feb. 7, 1804, in Vermont, Deere was just four years old when his father was lost at sea, leaving his mother, Sarah, to raise John and his five brothers and sisters.
James, known by family as ‘Elbert’ and by coworkers as ‘Mac,’ ironically has five siblings as well. Deere’s father was lost at sea; McConnell’s father drowned in 1963 while helping build the Arkansas Lock and Dam between Dardanelle and Russellville.
Deere, who received only the basics of education because of his family’s near-proverty life style, fashioned a polished- steel plow from an old sawmill blade in 1837. The plow allowed pioneer farmers to cut clean furrows through sticky Midwest prairie soil.
By 1842, Deere had built more than 200 plows, and by 1852, just a year before the McConnell clan settled land in Arkansas, Deere and Co. was producing 4,000 plows a year.
Production of John Deere’s most popular tractor, the Model A, began in 1934. This spawned a popular line of two-cylinder tractors including the B, G, L, LA, H, and M. Elbert McConnell, born many years later in the Ard Community near Centerville, now owns a number of those early models.
McConnell doesn’t collect them for their value, but because he “loves the way they sound.”
His “collection” includes several — among them Models A, B, H and G. They came to McConnell a variety of ways. One 1949 Model B is the tractor his Uncle Buck once owned. It sat collecting rust in a field for 21 years before it was given to Elbert. A 1940 Model A was bought locally at Yell County Gin. Another, a 1943 Model A was purchased off a used car lot in Spokane, Wash. It features a fly-wheel start. A 1947 Model G, built-up for a tractor pull, also came from Washington state.
A young McConnell left home to join the Navy and served as a paraxhute rigger. He later learned a trade, upholstery, which he has perfected and enjoys from time to time, “working when I want to on projects. I just finished boat seats for my nephew.”
When McConnell returned to Arkansas in 2003, he brought along his upholstery shop, several project cars, his black Labrador Sarah, and a collection of handmade and collectible dolls belonging to his wife, whom he married in 1958.
After she passed away in 2001, McConnell decided to leave the life they had enjoyed in Washington state and return to live near family. His five siblings — one brother and four sisters — all live close. “Except for our sister that lives in Oklahoma, but that’s a lot closer than Washington State!” he said, chuckling.
He and brother Ruben talked about the land as it was originally: “not a tree in site. This was a hay meadow we’re standing in now,” pointed Ruben. Now tall hardwood trees stand throughout.
And there are other animals to feed. Since moving back to Yell County, he has acquired some additional land, two miniature horses, five goats, three guineas, two farm cats, a llama, and a dozen or more cattle that will drop calves in the spring.
“The animals are just to enjoy, for fun and to share with the kids, the nieces, the nephews,” he adds.
John Deere’s most popular tractor, the Model A, began production in 1934. This introduction spawned a popular line of two-cylinder affordable tractors including the B, G, L, LA, H, and M.
The John Deere Model A (row crop) was produced between 1934 and 1952. The price for a new 1952 Model A was $2,400 Weight ranged from 3,525 (unstyled) up to 4,909 (1952.) Approximately 300,000 of all styles were built.
The Model B (row crop) was built between 1935-1952. The price new was $1,900. Approximately 300,000 (all styles) were built. Weight of the Model B ranged between 2,760 and 4,000 lbs.
Model G was constructed from 1938 until 1953. A total of 64,000 of all styles were built ranging from 4,400 lbs. up to 5,624 pounds. The average new price of the 1953 model was $2,600.
Each tractor in the McConnell collection runs and is used depending on the farming need, he declares. But his real working tractor is a newer cab version. (It’s the one with mud on the wheels and air conditioning and fm radio built in.) An old Farmall tractor patiently waits its turn in the barn but is a few years away from restoration, McConnell says.
John Deere continues to produce tractors today and is one of the leading manufacturers in the modern industry. The 2008 lineup includes more than 13 different models and countless configurations. One model, such as the 7430 Premium Tractor weighs over 14,594.
We’re betting that it sells for slightly more than it’s 20th Century cousin.