The John Deere Century, by Randy Leffingwell – a book review by Cindy Ladage

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When I received the opportunity to review the book The John Deere Century by Randy Leffingwell I jumped at the chance because the book is so timely with the John Deere tractor turning one hundred this year. The book is written by Randy Leffingwell, an acclaimed author and photographer.  This book is hot off the press, it was just released on March 27, 2018, and is published by Motorbooks.

The book opens with the story of the Dain tractor and early Deere tractor history.  Since I have seen and followed the some of the tractors mentioned in the opening this book  is a reminder of the beginnings of a legendary giant that Deere has become in spite of depending on the ups and downs of the farming economy for their fate.  Leffingwell  states this, “Farming was a risky business and that made tractor manufacture risky as well.  The conditions affecting agriculture were mercurial; fortunes had been lost in a single bad season. Bad weather followed by bad weather could doom a manufacturer who sold products on credit.”

Words that are still true today.

I like the fact that Leffingwell interjects what is going on in the world at the time and how it affects Deere.  He mentions how when Henry Ford cut the price of his Fordson tractor in 1921, that International Harvester followed and Deere after watching and hesitating then dropped prices as well.  Then six months later Ford dropped prices again.  This information really tells the story of the economy and the battle for the farmers tight dollars.

The book also includes great photos which explains much more that words can ever do, like the photo of the introduction of Deere into the construction market in 1936.

Leffingwell includes the war years in his coverage of the Deere century keeping a nice flow of personal messages like a note Deere employee diary about the war  – to the technical side. It was interesting to me that during the war, Charles Wiman insisted on continuing civilian production and this kept plants operating along with putting plans ready for action once WWII was over.  This forward thinking kept the labor motion flowing during and after the war.

As the years progressed Leffingwell notes that Deere started including more comfort into their tractors for the farmers.  Using JFK’s back doctor they fashioned a comfortable seat.  Touring Deere plants, I have seen some of these wonderful innovations.

In Chapter nine Leffingwell approaches the New Generation which is especially interesting after recently being at Gathering of the Green and hearing Deryl Miller, a retired engineer from Deere talk about his years developing the ill-fated 8010 which many think was used to divert attention from the announcement of the New Generation.  It was neat to see the picture in the book of the “D” Day in Dallas where Deryl was actually present.

Leffingwell also mentions that Deere allowed engineers to delay introduction of the New Generation until it was ready, an experience that the late Harold Brock , a former engineer with Henry Ford, had not had been allowed when he worked for Henry Ford.  I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Brock speak once and interviewed him, he was a wonderful man. In the book Leffingwlll states, “Harold Brock, Deere’s new director of research, knew that experience personally.  As chief engineer for Ford Motor Company’s tractor division, he had watched his engineers slave frantically to complete their Select-O-Speed shift-on-the-fly transmission.”

The Select-O-Speed was not ready and Brock told Ford that, but he didn’t listen.  Leffingwell nicely intertwines theses stories into his coverage of Deere over the years.

From the beginnings, to tractor safety to global coverage, Deere’s expansion is well covered.

To get your own copy, The John Deere Century by Randy Leffingwell is available through Motorbooks  online and at local stores!.