Russ' Vintage Iron

Clean Your (Planter) Plate!

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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One of my uncles, after a long career in various roles in the dairy industry, decided to get into the antique business in his "retirement" years. I suppose this was a result of him attending farm/household auctions over a lifetime and always wheelin' and dealin' on items.

He rented a spot in local existing antique business before purchasing an antique/pawn shop in the his adopted hometown of Decatur, Nebraska, right along the banks of the Missouri River in the northeastern part of the state. If you are ever there, his shop is right on the main street; you can't really miss it.

One day he called my dad, his younger brother, and asked him if he had any old planter plates as he wanted to buy them and then sell them in his shop. I guess there must be some demand for them in the antique biz, perhaps as home decorations.

We have MANY planter plates in several bundles hanging on the wall in our one machine shed. There are old ones and newer ones and even metal ones and plastic ones.

My knowledge of planter plates and plate-type planters in general is fairly limited but I do know the plates were placed in the row unit and metered the correct amount of seed dependent upon the size of the seed. I remember many discussions between my dad and a different uncle about flats, rounds, large and small seeds to plant.

I never really studied all the plates but I would guess some of the metal ones are older International plates while others are John Deere. My grandpa bought a new Farmall M and had various IHC implements to go with it, including a planter.

He purchased these items toward the end of World War II and farm equipment was rationed, as nearly everything was during the war. The story goes he only got the yellow-painted tractor because his brother had a sandpit business and only he could buy it.

The IHC implements he bought for the M were purchased later on the so-called "farm equipment black market" from a neighboring town because there was no new implements available for farmers at the time because of rationing. How scandalous!

I know he also owned a John Deere two-row, loose-ground lister from probably the 1950s as we still use it to plant our sweet corn most every year. During the 1950s/1960s he probably had a few John Deere planters but I couldn't tell you the models.

I do remember my dad and uncle having a 494 or 494A planter in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. I remember the distinct round seed boxes and they may have even had a couple of these planters.

Then they bought a John Deere 1240 planter on a farm equipment auction in the mid-1980s. I would have to ask my dad for sure, but I am pretty sure that 1240 was not a plate-type planter but instead it had the finger pickup planting mechanism. For me as a 10-year-old kid, the most obvious difference between the 494 and the 1240 was the newer planter had rectangle-shaped seed boxes.

The planter plates outlived all of these old planters -- well minus the two-row lister. The old IHC planter was probably gone long before me and the old 494 and 1240 planters were cut up for scrap iron many years ago.

Incidentally, I googled 494/1240 planters while researching this column and I found a site that had several 1240 planters for sale, including one for $2,300 although most were closer to $500 to $600. I guess we shouldn't have taken the torch to the old planters.

I don't know much about the other types of planters during this time but I would guess other manufacturers also utilized the planter plate during the mid-twentieth century. What was your last plate-type planter?

If you have any knowledge about planter plates and/or stories about using these vintage machines, please call, email or drop me a letter. I will run your stories in future columns.

Happy planting!