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Waverly Tractor Display Honors a Major Breakthrough in Farming

Ed DuBois

August 12, 1998

This article originally appeared in the Wright County Journal in Buffalo, MN and is reprinted with permission. Click here to visit their website:

Standing on a pedestal of earth supported on each side by low retaining walls, Dan Borrell’s Farmall tractor attracts attention in a field near his home. The display was set up in a field on the north side of the Borrell farmhouse in November, 1997. His father owned a tractor just like it in the 1940s. Dan remembers sitting on his dad’s lap as he drove the tractor while cultivating the fields. (Photos by Ed DuBois.)

Waverly tractor display honors a major breakthrough in farming

A crank was used to start the engine of the Farmall tractor. The machine on display at the Borrell home has metal wheels.

About six years old when this picture was taken, Dan Borrell grasps the wheel of his father’s tractor.

     There was a breakthrough in farming when tractors began to replace horses in the fields. Machinery revolutionized the agriculture industry. A tribute to the early development of the farm tractor – and to those who saw the potential of the machines and decided to invest in them – has been attracting the attention of passersby in Woodland Township just southwest of Waverly. Dan Borrell, who was only about six years old when his father bought a Farmall row-crop tractor in the early 1940s, has set up a display in a field on the north side of his boyhood home.

     Illuminated with a pair of floodlights for a few hours after each sunset, a repainted Farmall tractor stands on a pedestal of earth supported by two small retaining walls.

     Spotted easily from the road in front of the house, the exhibit causes motorists to stop, turn around and have a look. Area residents are now quite familiar with the antique, which has been seen in Borrell’s field since November 1997.

     Spotted easily from the road in front of the house, the exhibit causes motorists to stop, turn around and have a look. Area residents are now quite familiar with the antique, which has been seen in Borrell’s field since November 1997.

      “People mention it when getting directions. They will say, ‘Oh, that’s the place that has the tractor.’ It has become a landmark,” said Dan’s wife Mary Jane.

     Dan has a picture of himself in 1942 seated at the wheel of his dad’s Farmall. The one on display was found at a vehicle compound in Eau Claire, Wis. Dan’s occupation as a bid bond agent for contractors has him on the road quite a bit. He just happened to drive by one day and saw the Farmall behind the fence of the compound.

      “I always had a love for (antique tractors),” he said. “When I was a boy, I sat on my dad’s lap as he drove the tractor while cultivating the fields.”

     Dan mentioned his father cultivated with horses before he bought the tractor. He was part of the great conversion from horse-powered agriculture to tractor-driven farming.

     The International Harvester Company, the manufacturer of the Farmall tractor, was a major contributor to the great change. Dan did some research and found out the Farmall was introduced in 1924. As farmers began to buy tractors, they went into mass production. By 1930, IH was producing 200 Farmalls a day, Dan said.

      “There was a breakthrough in farming, and my dad was part of it,” he said.

     Altogether, 134,954 Farmalls were built during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

     The land on which Dan’s father drove his Farmall is still being farmed today. Dan and five relatives who now own the land are renting it to a pair of local farmers. Dan’s cousin Charlie farms part of 80 acres near Dan’s house. Steve Tussing farms part of 55 acres to the west. Tussing is also working on 40 acres to the east.

     Dan mentioned that Tussing is into organic farming. He doesn’t use herbicides and pesticides.

      “Back when I was growing up, that’s what everybody was doing. There were no herbicides and pesticides,” Dan commented.

     He delights in the willingness of Tussing and neighboring land owners to allow families of beavers to build a dam in Eleven Mile Creek. The dam, which is now about 40-50 feet across and approximately 6-7 feet high, has flooded a valley to the west of Dan’s house. He said U.S. Fish and Wildlife representatives told him the water covers about 88 acres of land.

     The small lake created by the beavers is a beautiful sight from a hilltop in an area where Tussing has been growing crops. Flooded trees have died and now form a ring around the water. The leafless trees have become a nesting area for blue herons, which have become a common sight in the area.

     Dan said now and then he has caught a glimpse of a beaver. They are not visible for very long. As soon as they realize there is a human nearby, they dive under the water.

     Watching the wildlife and enjoying the green fields has brought back many good memories for Dan. He has been away a long time. He served in the military, and then his career took him to Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Wausua, Wis. But, eventually, he came back to Waverly and Woodland Township.

     His brothers Donald, Gerald and Clayton also live on the old farmstead.

      “We all came back,” Dan said.

     His grandfather George Borrell established the farmstead in 1900. Dan’s father Joe Borrell took over and made it bigger in 1925.

      “I was always interested in doing something like this,” said Dan as he pointed toward his Farmall display.

     He initially spotted it at that Eau Claire vehicle compound in 1984. The owner did not want to part with the tractor at first.

      “I finally convinced him to sell it in 1996,” Dan recalled.

     The price was $950.

     He could probably sell it for a few thousand dollars more, but that is not likely to happen.

     The tractor was in great shape when he brought it home. George Chap of Chap Equipment in Howard Lake, who painted the Farmall for Dan, told him the engine ran right away.

      “Chap said all he did was put water in the radiator, change the oil and put fuel in the tank. The engine turned over after just a few cranks,” Dan said.

     The engine is started with a crank handle located on the front of the tractor, like the crank on a Model T.

     The tractor engine hasn’t been started in a while, but Dan said it would probably turn over just as easily now as it did a few years ago.

     One reason Dan wanted the Farmall he spotted in Eau Claire is because it has metal wheels both on the front and the back. Tractors with rubber tires came later. The early models had metal wheels.

     He placed a metal plaque on the tractor. It reads:

      “This is McCormick-Deering’s (later became International Harvester) first row-crop tractor sold to its customers in 1926. It is the grandfather to the ‘H’ and ‘M’ and fathered the F-12 and F-20.

      “Joe Borrell bought one like this in the early 1940s to lighten the farm work, particularly cultivating and plowing.

     The tractor pulled two fourteens with relative ease.

      “This tractor gave rise to the big strides in farm production in the 1930s and 1940s as featured in the Kraft presentation at Walt Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.

      “We want to take this opportunity to commemorate our Dad for the wisdom in having the foresight to move forward in his agriculture. At the time he bought his Farmall, most of his farming friends around here were still farming solely with horses and the standard wide-front still wheeled 10-20.”

     The day we visited Dan and Mary Jane, the sun was beginning to set in a cloudless sky. The air was still, and the evening light was enhancing the green of the alfalfa and the surrounding trees.

     The sky was a darker blue and Dan’s floodlights automatically switched on with the disappearance of the sun beneath the western horizon. Two bats appeared and silently swooped down in the vicinity of the tractor, snatching flying insects out of the cool air.

At the wheel of the Farmall tractor, Mary Jane poses with her husband Dan on a beautiful evening just before sunset.

     You can’t miss the tractor, shining in the middle of the field just a few hundred feet from the road.

     Serving as a monument to a major turning point in the history of agriculture, it is also a tribute to the people like Joe Borrell who saw where the future was heading and decided to go along.

     The tractor also represents fond memories of a former farm boy who left one day and saw the world, only to return later to the place he loves the most.

Early tractors, had metal wheels like those on Borrell’s Farmall.

Not far from Dan’s home, a family of beavers have constructed an immense dam in Eleven Mile Creek and formed a small lake in the creek’s valley. The dam is about 40-50 feet across and 6-7 feet high. The water it holds is covering about 88 acres, Dan said.

The Farmall tractors were built by McCormick-Deering, which was later known as International Harvester.

The driver’s seat of the Farmall tractor was a welcome sight for many farmers who had previously done their work with horses.

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