Russ' Vintage Iron

Vintage Iron and Uncle Jim

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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My late uncle, Jim Quinn, standing in his Iowa cornfield. (Photo courtesy of Quinn family)

OMAHA (DTN) -- If you read my column regularly, you might remember just a few months ago I wrote about my late uncle Jack and his longtime love for Oliver tractors. While my other uncles farmed with John Deere machinery, my dad's oldest brother liked the darker shade of green for his brand of tractor.

Unfortunately, about seven months after Jack passed away, my dad's next oldest brother, Jim, passed away suddenly at the age of 79. This was who my dad farmed with most of his life, and he was almost a second father to me during my childhood.

Jim was the third of my grandparent's seven children. My dad is the fourth. They all grew up on the family dairy farm just outside of Omaha. My grandpa and his sons would often split the daily milking duties -- he and one son in the morning and the other two sons in the evening as they grew capable of completing this chore.

After high school, Uncle Jim worked for the local phone company (Northwestern Bell) and continued to help on the family farm. He and my dad started farming together in 1968 as my grandpa "retired" -- well, as much as any farmer does retire because he still helped quite a bit.

Among the first things they did when they took over the farm was trade for a tractor with more horsepower. My grandpa had a mid-1940s Farmall M and a 1957 John Deere 620, so they traded in the M for a used John Deere 730.

This was their first diesel tractor on the farm. They did most of the tillage work with the 730 while the 620 became the planter tractor, as well as the corn-picking tractor.

Then in the mid-1970s, they traded the 730 off for a 1967 John Deere 4020 tractor. Following the pattern of trading in the oldest/smallest tractor, the 620 should have been traded, but for some reason, the 730 went. I asked my dad once why they did this and he said neither one of them could trade in their dad's tractor, so they traded in their first tractor.

I guess there was something about not trading the 620 as we still have it today. My dad and uncle repainted it about 25 years and it's retired to light duty on the farm. This tractor has been in our family for 65 years now -- all but the first two years of its life.

Now, don't take this to mean they did not like the 730. I think they both had a soft spot for this tractor and always kind of regretted trading it. So much so, both of them would purchase a 730 diesel tractor on their own much later in their lives.

When I was a teenager and began to help on the farm, every once in a while, I had to drive the 620. As I have written before, the 4010 and 4020 were easy for me to drive, but the 620 was more of a challenge for a skinny 12-year-old kid to handle.

Uncle Jim would playfully pick on me and say I needed to "lift some weights" to drive the 620 as it took some force to push the hand clutch in. It might have taken my entire whole-body weight, but I got that clutch engaged and disengaged.

And then they would tighten the clutch to make it even harder to push in or pull back. I think they did this on purpose to see if I could still drive it.

My uncle would hire me and my twin cousins (his sons) to walk soybeans in the summer. My cousins didn't have much to do with the farm, but they would usually do this every year. Those were fun times with all of us walking beans in the warm, summer evenings together during my teen years.

Later in life, Uncle Jim sold his farmland outside of Omaha and moved to central Iowa as his second wife was from that area. He farmed by himself there for a few years before renting his ground to a local farmer.

While I didn't see him every day like I did as a kid, we would usually see him a handful of times a year when he would come back to family functions. My own family stopped over there a few times over the years as well.

I heard someone say one time your cousins are your first friends and I believe this is certainly true. I never had any brothers; my 1-year-older cousins were more like brothers to me growing up than cousins.

The rest of this saying should be something to the effect that your aunts and uncles are your bonus parents when you are growing up because, for some of us, they really were. And you don't realize how fortunate you were until they are all gone.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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