The Tractor Guy
“You can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm off the boy,” said Vern Wagner of Golden, Colo., a man committed to his hobby of collecting John Deere equipment.
Wagner searched for five entire years before he found the John Deere tractor of the make and model he so fondly remembered from riding and driving one on his dad’s farm in Mitchell, Neb., near Chimney Rock, the latter famous for the pioneers traveling the trails west such as the Overland, Mormon and Oregon and leaving their inscriptions scratched on the huge, high rock formation, now a Historical Site.
Then once he found the right tractor it took him another five years to find the parts and working on it until it was restored to its present functioning glamorous condition. Can a tractor be glamorous? If it’s Vern Wagner’s John Deere, it can.
It all started with the family’s farming. Wagner’s dad first homesteaded in 1912, moving to several more farms until finally settling on the 180-acres – very large for the times – irrigated farm in the Sunflower Community where Vern attended the Sunflower Consolidated School District 68 School.
Born in 1935, he was one of five boys, he being the youngest. He said his birth certificate had no name, no date but it said he was “white,” obviously very important then. He said his parents had wanted a girl and picked the name Verna. Surprise, surprise, so they just dropped the “a.”
His dad believed the only and best way to farm was with horses pulling the plow but his older brother in 1929 bought a 1929 John Deere Model GP with three major farming implements for the price of $900.
“My dad never sat on that tractor,” Vern said, “nor did he ever drive the 1929 Model A Ford,” which was also bought for $900. No modern “technology” for that man. He died at age 62, fortunately missing all the technology mess of today!
But Vern loved the tractor and often rode with his brother – Vern was then only 3 years old and his brother was 19. He said he loved to be with his oldest brother on the tractor but he was 10 before he got to operate it himself.
In the meantime, they went through the Depression fairly well what with a root cellar full of veggies, having chickens and cows and so on so there was always plenty to eat.
Vern helped his mother with the gardening and also gathered the eggs, performing all the chores a young-un did in those days on the farm.
When he finally got to drive the tractor he, being the lowest at the bottom of the totem pole, got the lowest job – pulling the manure spreader through the fields after hand-filling it with the chicken droppings from the chicken house. Later, after the purchase of two more tractors for plowing, he drove the 1929 model disc behind the plowing. He says, “For anyone who has smelled freshly turned earth, it is a smell you never forget and you miss.”
Like any kid in those times, he enjoyed going with the thrashing crew. His family owned the thrash machine that did the work for the neighboring farmers. He said the women were such good cooks. As the youngest he got seated first with a slice of fresh bread and butter; then around came the platter of pan-fried chicken, cooked on a wood stove in a big cast iron skillet. Hmm-hmmm. And the mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, well-cooked, then cake or pie with pure cream. Calories and cholesterol were of no concern then.
On the farm they had no running water or electricity. “I know all about outhouses,” he said, “and Montgomery Ward catalogs; the softer yellow pages always went first.”
So he said when they sold the farm it was a bittersweet experience as they loved the place but it was good to move somewhere with modern conveniences.
They bought the Lone Pine Trailer Park in Sidney, Neb., where Wagner graduated from high school in 1924. The family ran trailer courts and motels for 42 years during which time they closed the office doors only once and that was for the funeral service of his mother who died at 75. One of the motels was in Colorado Springs.
He went on into the power mechanical business and was a lineman for a number of years. He was working at the power plant in Nucla, Colo., where he met his wife, Vicki, whose parents lived there. She would go home for summer from her college located in Boise, Idaho. They were married in December 1958. Due to his powerline work they were moving constantly, living in their trailer. However, eventually he went to work for Coors in Golden, Colo., as a mechanic on the can line where he eventually became manager.
He and Vicki had three children, Miles, Stacey and Michele and now have three granddaughters and three grandsons.
Retiring in the 1980s, he and Vicki began traveling, all the while with his mind set on finding a 1929 tractor just like the one down on the farm. It took five years of searching, on the constant lookout for such a tractor until one trip through Iowa he spotted two of them sitting in a yard of what turned out to be a farmer/collector. He stopped in a flash and talked to the owner who agreed to sell him one of them so Wagner plunked down some earnest money and the following week he went back and hauled the tractor back to Golden.
In addition to the tractor he has a “museum” of John Deere items, including a bicycle, plow and more.
Known in Golden as the “tractor guy,” he runs the John Deere in every parade in Golden, gives rides at some events and appears every Saturday during the summer at Golden’s Farmers’ Market. Located on 10th Street just west of the Golden Library, the market has many vendors selling fresh produce from the fields mostly up north in Larimer and Weld counties.
Wagner and his tractor have been in the Golden Christmas parade for four years and the annual Buffalo Bill parade for 10. He believes his highest honor for the tractor was driving it in Golden’s 150th anniversary parade, hauling the 150th birthday cake.
“You are only young twice,” is another of Wagner’s favorite quotes.