A couple of years ago John Deere restorer Bob Terrell had a friend who appreciated his old tractors - but it wasn't someone from the Kansas and Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Club. It was a wood duck drake who adopted him. Bob tells how their relationship started: "I went out to the mail box one day. When I got back to my front porch I heard wings flapping and there he was. He stayed for about six weeks."
Terrell lives in a newer home on 17 acres northwest of Belle Plaine, Kan. The acreage has lots of large trees and a small pond. "In spring there are usually two or three ducks - often wood ducks - on the pond every morning," he says. "The other ducks would often run him off. Maybe that's why he stuck so close to me. Sometimes he'd be gone for a couple of hours, but usually whenever I stepped outside there he was. He loved to perch on my shoulder or on one of the tractors. I've got an old John Deere horse-drawn manure spreader near the pond and frequently that was his perch."
With the duck decorating the radiator of his 1935 John Deere "D" - straight pipe, no muffler - Bob started the tractor for the author. The duck continued to sit on its prominent perch, unfazed by the noise. One of Bob's human friends, who came to see the duck, remarked, "There's only one letter's difference between 'pet' and 'pest.' This little drake is underfoot so much he's a nuisance, but you can't help but love him."
One day Bob wanted to take a picture of himself with the duck. He placed his digital camera on a tripod, aimed it to where the duck was perched on a lawn chair, and set the delay-timer for 10 seconds. As he went back to pick up the duck, he noticed it had made a deposit on the chair. Faced with a quick decision, he picked up the duck and sat down. A close examination of the photo reveals a strange look on Terrell's face.
Noting the close bond between Bob and the wood duck, one would assume the unnamed creature was raised by someone as a very young duckling, but its history is an intriguing mystery. Unlike many ducks, woodies don't quack. Their low-volume call is somewhere between a chirp and a squeak and this duck seemed to always be talking to you. It's common knowledge male wood ducks are highly colorful. And since this duck allowed a close inspection it was surprising to learn there are five colors on its bill alone - yellow, red, gray, black and pink.
The little drake made a good adoption choice. Bob loves animals. He's raised chickens, had several dogs and cats, and still has 11 peacocks. When an elderly friend died, it was Bob who adopted his cats. He even raises an acre of milo, harvests the heads to feed the peacocks, and leaves an ample amount for birds, squirrels and rabbits. He uses his restored 1944 John Deere "B" to plant and harvest the crop with a restored rubber-tired, two-bottom, trip plow; an 8-foot disc; a two-row lister; and a mounted cultivator.
Terrell, a graduate of Wichita State University, spent his professional life working for the United States Postal Service. Before retiring in June 1995, he was postmaster in Belle Plaine for two years. When one of his rural carriers needed someone to operate a tractor and grain cart during harvest, Bob volunteered. One day he spotted an old John Deere "B" at their farm and asked what it would take to buy it. "Finish the harvest and it's yours," was the reply.
After he had the "B" looking and running good, Bob began searching for a John Deere "D." Upon finding one, he meticulously restored it. Next, he sought an unstyled "A". With the help of the author, he purchased a 1936 model from Paul Mayfield of Mulvane, Kan., who had used it for years in his Christmas display of John Deere tractors - complete with elk antlers - pulling a sleigh. The "A" is on rubber with round spoke rear wheels and now runs like a top - or a Deere.
Terrell usually displays his "A" and "D" at the annual K&O Steam and Gas Engine Show in Winfield, Kan., on the third weekend in August. He also parades them at local festivals including Belle Plaine's Tulip Time.
There are many mysteries in life. Why do people love to collect and restore old tractors? Why does a past postal employee get interested in this challenging hobby? Of what importance are nostalgia and tradition? And, why does a wood duck decide to adopt an old restorer?