Editor's note: In February 2012, I spent an afternoon with Russ Alexander, who was preparing for an auction to sell off a number of his old John Deere tractors. The story was fascinating, and the photos were amazing. He is a fourth-generation farmer, and knows the fields of Ralls County, Mo., from that perspective.
As is typical of the home-town newspaper where I worked for 39 years, the Courier-Post granted me the latitude to fully develop this story and photo package. In the interest of pulling together history stories of the past into a single venue, I offer links to video and photos. The story itself follows.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Russ Alexander , fourth generation farmer in Ralls County's Spalding/Rensselaer neighborhood, collects John Deere tractors like others might collect coins or stamps.
There's the rusted Deere that had been outside since 1980, which he bought three weeks ago from a woman at his church. The caveat: He had to pick it up by 3 o'clock, before her husband got home. "Everybody had tried to buy it," Russ said. The good news:
The woman and her husband are still speaking to each other.
Russ bought one of his Deeres from his preacher, Dan Peters.
And then there's the 1960 two-cylinder 435 with a GM diesel engine:
"It's as rare as hen's teeth," according to the fourth generation Ralls County farmer.
Tucked in the back of his oversized garage is a 1947 Model D tractor. "It was built more years than any John Deere," Russ said, from 1923 to 1953.
I've collected them all my adult life," he said. His original goal was to get one each of the 20 and 30 series.
Once he reached that goal, he collected more.
Some models, he has two, three or even four. He has purchased tractors from Florida, Wisconsin, Montana, Mississippi and Indiana.
Some he purchased at auctions, some he found from ads in Green Magazine, and other he's obtained directly from individuals.
But Russ doesn't stop at collecting the green machines.
Three farm employees, David Long, Ted Broemmer and Scott Ross, spend part of the winter months restoring the tractors, relying upon parts books and owners manuals that once belonged to Russ 's dad for guidance.
"Those aren't for sale," he said of the manuals.
His dad, William E. Alexander , once operated a John Deere dealership in Monroe City, in addition to farming. "Pop died in 1997," Russ said. "I've had some of these tractors since Pop was alive." John Deere made two cylinder engines from inception, Russ said, while all the other manufacturers made 4 or 6 cylinder engines. In 1961, Deere came out with a new generation of power, and 4 and 6 cylinder engines.
"Most I collect are pre 1960," he said.
In all, Russ owns 30 John Deere two-cylinder tractors, but soon that will change. He has arranged to sell 22 of his mostly restored tractors through an auction house in Hamilton, Ill., this March. His goal is to take advantage of President Obama's college tax savings program with the proceeds, in order to provide a college education for his four grandchildren.
The tractors he will keep primarily have sentimental value. Like the tractor he first farmed with when he was 18, back in 1968. And a tractor that belonged to his Uncle Billy Bolin, who was a mechanic at a John Deere dealership in Hull, Ill., until his death.
Farm is home to all siblings Russ and his wife Rickey Alexander live on the farm that his grandfather bought back in 1919. Russ was one of eight children - three sons and five daughters - born to William and Helen Alexander .
"This is still their home," Russ said of his siblings.
"Thanksgiving is here every year."
To accommodate this large family, Russ and Rickey just completed a lake-front cabin on their farm, built for all their family to enjoy. There's a dock and swimming area on the six-acre lake they completed in 2000.
Electricity for the cabin is provided by generator, the refrigerator is fueled by LP gas, heat is provided by a wood stove, there is a 50-gallon water heater so everyone can enjoy long showers, visible nearby is a deer stand, and work will soon be complete on a fish-cleaning station on the cabin's deck. "We built the cabin so everyone can come home," he said.
While he has spent his life as a farmer, he admits he hopes his grandchildren don't follow in his footsteps. He'd rather they pursue their own career dreams beginning with the education he hopes to help support, then rent the family's homestead for others to farm.
Russ said as a child, he wore out his bicycle tires riding back and forth along the mile-and-a-half section of gravel road leading to the farm home of his life-long friend, Steve Glascock. During today's down months of winter, he putters up and down the same country roads in his John Deere Gator, stopping to pay a visit to his friend Steve's state-of the-art dairy farm, checking out the old Whaley place, which he purchased a few years ago because his daughter and son-in-law liked the house, or passing by the Salt Lick Baptist Cemetery, where generations of his family are buried. He himself manages 2,000 acres of row cops during the growing season, sells seed wheat in Mississippi and Arkansas, and operates a dozing company.