Books About John Deere Books About International Harvester Other Brands and Farm Tractor Development Small Farming and Rural Life Restoring Tractors and Engines Trains
The Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery.   Deere and Company.

Published between 1927 and 1957 by John Deere, these old vocational agriculture textbooks are still excellent references for anyone interested in small farming.  The books provide detailed descriptions and black and white photos of basic tractor maintenance, setting up a plow, plowing a field, using and maintaining harrows, planters, mowers, hay balers, combines, etc.  All of the equipment pictured is made by John Deere, but the concepts and many of the details apply no matter what brand you have.  Early editions focus on horse-drawn equipment; later editions on tractor-drawn equipment.  My copies are of the 27th (1955) and 28th (1957) editions.    A variety of editions are often available on eBay.



Successful Small-Scale Farming, An Organic Approach.  Karl Schwenke, 1991. 

Another excellent book for anyone new to small farming, with clear and detailed descriptions of crops, equipment, farming procedures, and more.  Some of the material is similar to parts of the Operation, Care, and Repair of Farm Machinery series (above), but this book also touches on soil chemistry, soil conservation, plant biology, marketing crops, managing a woodlot, etc.

The American Family Farm.  Hans Halberstadt, 2003. 

Sentimental and historical look at farm life, organized by season, with good descriptions of a lot of basic farm tasks—plowing, planting, threshing, etc—and many first-person anecdotes from people who've grown up on farms, including some brief quotes from my father.   New color photos and many vintage black and white ones illustrate the story, but in some cases don’t seem to add much.  This is a nice coffee-table browsing book—if you need a how-to book, several of the other books on this page would be better choices.

The Contrary Farmer.  Gene Logsdon, 1995. 

A genuinely enjoyable and thought-provoking look at living a more pastoral life, with lots of concepts that would work as well in my suburban back yard as they would on the farm I hope to have in the future.  As much philosophy as how-to, although there are quite a few simple and practical suggestions that could help any "cottage farmer," whether you're working on a tiny garden bed in the yard or on a hundred acres.

Five Acres and Independence: A Handbook for Small Farm Management.  Maurice G. Kains.

Some sections of this 1940 book aren't as relevant as they used to be, but a lot of it still makes good sense and applies to small-farm life today.  I particularly enjoyed the chapters related to understanding and caring for soils and various plants--there's some practical science there that's well worth not having to learn the hard way.

Forty Acres and a Fool; From Tinkering to Torquing - A Beginners Guide to Tractors and Tools.  Roger Welsch, various publication dates.

Part philosophy, part practical guide, these books are sort of like an advice column for moving to the country and working on old tractors, aimed at folks who didn't grow up with those experiences.  Roger offers some useful food for thought, and his humor shows itself now and then, but as with any other advice column I'd caution readers to use their own judgment before taking assertions as facts.


The American Barn by Randy Leffingwell, 2003; and Barn:  The Art of a Working Building, by Endersby, Greenwood, and Larkin, 1992.

These two similar books, by different authors, each provide a beautiful look at barn history, styles, an Amish barn-raising, and more.  Both are thoroughly researched, flawlessly written, beautifully photographed.  The American Barn was originally published in hardcover in 1997.

Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them; Busted Tractors and Rusty Knuckles; Love, Sex, and Tractors.  Roger Welsch, various publication dates.

Roger Welsch takes a fun look at the old tractor business in these and other books, recounting his adventures in learning about and rebuilding old machines while simultaneously navigating other aspects of life.   His observations include nuggets like "Old tractors are good tractors because they have only forty-six parts," and "You don't pound on old tractors. You beat on old tractors."  My favorite is The Magneto Principle:  "Certainly one thing women and tractors have in common is whatever it is that makes magnetos work.  When they work.  Thing is, no one knows what makes magnetos work."

Roger seems to play well the part of a curmudgeon, but in addition to liking these old machines and writing funny books about them, he goes to places like Greenland and Bosnia to offer a bit of Midwest Americana to GIs far from home.  Doesn't get rich doing it but goes anyway.  Thanks, Roger.  More on Ol' Rog.


This Old Tractor; This Old Farm; 100 Years of Vintage Farm Tractors.  Edited by Michael Dregni; various publication dates.

These books are beautifully illustrated collections of nostalgic and entertaining essays about farming, threshing, old machines, rural themes, and so on.  Each includes about 15 essays, some from authors with names I recognized (C.H. Wendel, E.B. White, Don MacMillan, Roger Welsch, Randy Leffingwell, Garrison Keillor, Ralph Sanders, Robert Pripps, Bob Feller) and some not, some written recently, some not.  Many great vintage and recent photos, and a sprinkling of classic illustrations such as the paintings Walter Haskell Hinton created for Deere and Company.

Thanks for visiting!  E-mail me at if you have any comments--I'm always glad to talk tractors and such. --Dean Vinson
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