Proving once again that you can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy, Ken Hinman has written a children’s book about “Jimmy John,” the John Deere tractor that his father purchased when Ken was a youth.
Although the story is quite short - about 1,000 words - it covers a lot of years. The story tells how Jimmy John arrived at the Hinman farm in the Dalton area in 1944, and continues some 50 years later when the green tractor with yellow wheels was rediscovered and restored, making both Hinman and the tractor very happy, according to the book.
The story is a true one, and both Hinman and Jimmy John are alive and well. Children who participate in reading programs in libraries in Bridgeport, Alliance, Chadron and Scottsbluff heard the story last week when Hinman remained in the Panhandle for several days after returning to western Nebraska to attend his 60-year high school class reunion in Dalton.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with this,” said Hinman, 78, and a 1961 graduate of Chadron State College who now lives in Henderson, Nev. “I never forgot that tractor because it meant so much to my family. I was really happy when I found it again, even though it was in really bad condition. I also enjoyed restoring it and now I like to start it up and show it off whenever I get a chance.”
The tractor is a John Deere Model A. Hinman said his father, Verner Hinman, purchased it in 1944 to use on the farm they operated five miles north and three miles west of Dalton in Morrill County for more than 40 years. The 1,400-acre spread was owned by Virgil Boyd, once an Alliance Buick dealer who became president of Chrysler Motors.
“Our family lived there from 1930 until Dad retired in 1973,” Hinman said. “Dad needed a new tractor and had to get permission from either the ration board or a similar board to buy it because of this was during World War II and there weren’t may tractors available.
“The tractor was manufactured in Iowa and shipped to Sidney, where Dad picked it up. I think he paid $1,300 for it.”
It was the tractor Ken learned to run when he was a teenager and helped with the farming and haying. After graduating from Dalton High in 1953, Hinman served in the Army for several years, and then enrolled at Chadron State. While attending college, he met and married Carol Williams, a Chadron native.
After he graduated from CSC, the couple moved frequently while he spent 35 years working for the Veterans Service.
As he was nearing retirement, he began thinking about the tractor. He knew his father had sold it before leaving the farm, but had no clue who bought it. Whenever he returned to his old stomping grounds he looked for it and alerted friends and relatives that he was trying to find it. Finally, in 1995 or ’96, he received word that there was an old John Deere tractor on an out-of-the way place near Northport, close to Bridgeport.
“I knew I’d be able to identify it because Dad had drilled four holes in the left side of the hood to attach a grease gun-holder,” Hinman said. “When I went to look at the tractor, that’s the first thing I checked. The holder was no longer there, but the holes were in the hood.”
Hinman said the tractor had obviously not been used for many years. A Farmhand loader was attached to it, but the muffler had rusted and fallen to the ground, the tires were flat and the paint was badly faded. Still, he paid $500 to the widow of the farmer who had bought it from his father.
With the help of his brother-in-law, Russell Freeburg, and his nephew, Steve Hopkins, Hinman moved the tractor to their farm east of Dalton. During the next two winters, Hinman began restoring Jimmy John.
“There were 50 years of dirt and grease on it,” he recalled. “One cylinder was stuck, I put new rings on them and put new bearings in the transmission and differential. In 1998, I took it to Mississippi where Carol and I were living. That’s where I painted it and got it running. When we moved to Nevada nine years ago we took it with us. I said, ‘Where I go, it goes.”
But the idea of condensing Jimmy John’s story into a children’s book, started in Mississippi. Hinman said one Sunday while telling a friend in church how he happened to own a bright green tractor, the friend said, ‘That sounds like a great idea for a children’s book.’
Like finding and restoring the tractor, getting the story printed also proved to be quite a process. Hinman said he sent the script to several publishing companies that promptly returned rejection notes. But unbeknown to Hinman, his daughters Gale and Krista, who also live in the Henderson area, took up the cause. They also enlisted their cousin, Trish Gename, who lives in nearby Mohave, Ariz., and is a professional artist and illustrator, to add her touch.
Early this year, Hinman was told they had found a publisher who would print the 34-page book. It may now be obtained through Amazon and beginning next month will be available in some Barnes & Noble locations.
Now, Hinman is in the height of his glory as he takes the book to libraries and wherever else children gather to hear stories that generally have happy endings.
Long before the book was printed, Hinman was already having fun with Jimmy John.
“I’m sure it doesn’t have the power that it once did, but it runs well,” Hinman said. “I’ve driven it in the Christmas Day parade and the Heritage Day parade in Henderson, taken it to the county fair and every once in a while I fire it up and run it down the streets in our neighborhood. It attracts a lot of attention. Our grandchildren love to ride on it.”
Hinman continued: “I keep in our garage and every once in while if the door is open, somebody will stop and want to look at it. They’ll often say that their grandfather had one exactly like it.”
Hinman added that he has a rule or two pertaining to the tractor. He makes sure everyone in the neighborhood is awake before he starts it up and he always removes his hearing aids before he starts it.
“It’s noisy,” he noted.
—Con Marshall, CSC Information Services