Around when Guitar George started back up his evening music videos, I mentioned on twitter the possibility of concurrently starting up an occasional tractor blog series. I had a lot of ideas but ended up in a state of paralysis due to overthinking what I wanted to write.
Today, an exchange about nostalgia in musical preferences inspired me to finally do my inaugural post.
both of these points are true but also people listen to only the good older music vs the full range of current music https://t.co/wwSRobIsaJ
— Stephen Ray Sutton-Brown (@srbrown70) June 28, 2021
Whether it’s in music or sports or politics, you don’t have to look far to find old curmudgeons clamoring for some idealized “Good Old Days.” And while I generally stand by my tweeted point above, there’s a specific area where I do think something has been lost in the relentless march of technological progress: tractor aesthetics.
In 1947 International Harvester (IH) released the Farmall Cub. The purpose of the model was to appeal to owners of small farms or home gardens who neither needed nor wanted the size and capabilities that came with a larger IH. To the Cub you could hook up plows, trailers, or even a mower. My family owns one of these small but capable rigs (pictured above), and my grandfather then my mother put hundreds of hours on it on the three acre plot of land behind their house.
In these ways, the Cub was a precursor to today’s lawn tractors, or riding mowers as they’re commonly called. I own one of these said modern day lawn tractors, and though it’s perfect for making quick work of the lawn at my house, no one is going to invite it to be in a parade like they would a Cub. As best as I can tell, that 2018 John Deere E Series in my garage was designed by a committee of engineers who at the last minute were asked to think about something other than engine cooling and oil filter accessibility. On the other hand, those beautiful ’50s IH tractors, including the Cub, were designed by the legendary industrial designer Raymond Loewy- famous for the Lucky Strike packaging, early Coke machines, and the Studebaker Avanti. Loewy specialized in clean, streamlined shapes and eye-catching colors that stand the test of time. It’s a simplicity that makes one think anyone could have drawn it up, but as Tressie McMillan Cottom has said about Dolly Parton’s lyrics, “anyone didn’t, and you didn’t either. Because you can’t.”
In some sense, that lack of styling on my Deere is fine. There’s nothing wrong with a piece of lawn equipment doing nothing more than being a well-functioning and easily-serviceable piece of lawn equipment. But that’s one more thing that makes the Farmall designs so special: they didn’t need to look that good. No one would have faulted the executives at IH had they focused all of their investments and resources on the engineering side of the house and let some mediocre stylist slap on a basic hood, grill, and paint scheme at the end. Instead, they decided to go all out and hire a styling GOAT to create something iconic. Take a look even in the service manual. Sure, you get some informative diagrams like this:
But you also get this. Look at these fun little cartoons! You cannot possibly convince me that some goofy safety messages with a daydreaming farmer on an anthropomorphic tractor helped sell more Cubs. This isn’t business or engineering; it’s aesthetics for aesthetics’ sake.
If you’re looking to complain about Florida Georgia Line while ignoring Tyler Childers, or to lament the loss of sac bunts while missing the excitement of an Acuña bat flip, I’m checking out. But if you’re talking old tractors, you know where to find me.