I’m a Michigan apple grower’s son, so orchard tractors will always have a special place in my heart. Rare(ish) ones like this 1956 John Deere 60 Orchard with the fancy fenders are cooler still!
Orchard tractors became a thing in the early part of the 20th century. The swoopy sheet metal fenders, however, didn’t come into their own until the mid-30s. Coincidentally, this is also about the time that we started to see it in high-end luxury cars like Delahaye. I’m sure that an engineer or a designer saw this and realized, “Hey, we can turn those rear fenders backwards and put ’em on tractor wheels and they’ll get under tree branches a lot better!”
The swoopy sheet metal over the wheels and fairing over the dash were the most obvious differences. They were only one part of it, though. Orchards have low-hanging branches in the rows. Consequently, growers couldn’t afford to use a traditional Farmall with a high seating position because they’d sacrifice too much fruit! Hence, most orchard tractors had a lower, skinnier profile so they could navigate rows of trees or vines. Farmers wanted them as low and sleek as possible with nothing sticking up out of the hood. Manufacturers listened, and brought as much as they could under the windshield fairing, and made the controls accessible from lower-positioned seats. Hand clutches replaced foot clutches, exhausts re-routed out the back under the frame, and headlights were built in or made to retract.
This particular John Deere is a gasser, built in 1956. The general consensus seems to be that Deere only built 297 John Deere 60 Orchard tractors. Is it the rarest Deere in the world? Nope…but I’ll bet you can’t find another one in South Dakota, though! It definitely presents pretty nicely! The only thing it’s missing are the mesh side panels over the motor!
If I ever start collecting tractors, I can tell you that orchard models are the ones I’ll be looking for. I doubt I’ll ever find the ones my family owned when they started growing apples in the 30s. I can dream, though, right?
The team over at Hagerty Insurance (a collector vehicle insurance company) wrote a terrific piece about the development of orchard tractors.