Russ' Vintage Iron

A Recent Look Unveils Many Years of Different Vintage Iron Owner's Manuals

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Two of the oldest vintage farm machinery owner's manuals on the Quinn farm. The left one is for a John Deere loose ground lister and the other is for a John Deere Van Brunt grain drill. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn.)

OMAHA (DTN) --- Someone I follow on X, formerly known as Twitter, recently posted a photo of an old owner's manual for a John Deere 494 planter. The farmer mentioned they had not owned this planter for many years.

My first thought after I read this tweet was, "Hey, we also had a 494 planter when I was a kid."

I think my grandpa and then later my uncle and dad had a couple of these plate-type planters as we still have several buckets full of metal and plastic plates. At some point, probably in the early 1980s, they bought a John Deere 1240 planter, which was their first plate-less planter.

My second thought was wondering how many owner's manuals we have for farm equipment we don't even own anymore. My guess would be there were quite a few as we never throw anything away.

I took all the owner's manuals out of the cabinet in our shed to see what we had this weekend. To my surprise, all the manuals belonged to machinery we still actually had. I'm guessing maybe my dad at some point took some of the old manuals and put them in another cabinet in his garage in town.

I know there is a very tattered, probably close to a century-old owner's manual, for a Fordson tractor, my great-grandpa and grandpa's first tractor. I'm sure there is also one for the last 494 and 1240 planters as both were cut up for scrap iron in the 1990s.

The oldest owner's manuals I could find were for a John Deere Nos. 6 and 7 loose ground lister planter and a John Deere Van Brunt Model R grain drill. Originally owned by my grandpa, we still have both pieces of vintage machinery.

I'm not sure what number the lister planter is but it is a two-row version. My dad figured it probably was from the late 1940s or early 1950s. This lister was his last piece of equipment that featured two rows as he bought a four-row planter after this.

I can remember my dad and uncle took one of the row units off the lister and they used it to go back and replant skips after they planted in the spring. In recent years, we put the one-row unit back on it and planted sweet corn with the two-row lister.

From what I have read, the difference between a loose ground lister and a regular planter was a lister created a deeper furrow and was used in dryland situations. This furrow would hopefully catch more rainfall when it rained.

The Model R grain drill is probably from that same period. I guess my grandpa seeded various small grains -- mainly oats and alfalfa -- with that drill over the years.

My uncle and dad bought a newer John Deere Van Brunt at their older brother's farm equipment auction in the 1980s, and that was the drill I remember my dad seeding alfalfa with over the years. Occasionally he would even plant soybeans with it.

The old Model R hadn't been used in many years until this past spring when my dad seeded down an area we use as a spring calving pen to sorghum Sudan grass. This was probably the first time it had been used for a good 40 years.

These two owner's manuals did not have any of my grandpa's handwritten notes in them, which was a little disappointing. I know we have marked various notes about setting the implement in other manuals. Obviously, my grandpa did not do this.

Other manuals included one each for the John Deere 60, 520 and 620 tractors we own. I believe we have had the ones for the 520 and 620 since we have owned the tractors -- 65 years for the 620 and around 25 years for the 520. I bought the 60's owner's manual at an auction probably a good 10 years ago now.

It was interesting to look through these manuals for machinery we still have. I think it would be even more interesting to look at the owner's manuals for farm equipment we don't even have anymore.

Do you have manuals for vintage farm machinery? Do you have them for equipment you don't even own anymore? If so, send me a photo, story or both about why you still have these manuals. We will use these photos and stories in future columns.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @RussQuinnDTN