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Farmer on quest for dad's old John Deere with .22-caliber ding

CARLOS, Minn. - Classified ads for tractors are nothing unusual in smaller Minnesota newspapers, but Roy Thesing's ad in the Morrison County Record was as eye-catching as a two-headed calf. First, it's his dad's old John Deere Model D he's lookin...

CARLOS, Minn. - Classified ads for tractors are nothing unusual in smaller Minnesota newspapers, but Roy Thesing's ad in the Morrison County Record was as eye-catching as a two-headed calf. First, it's his dad's old John Deere Model D he's looking for, last seen at an auction about 25 years ago.

Then there's the terse description: "Approximately 1928 model with .22-caliber dent in backside of magneto."

Mom had a funny way of getting Dad home for lunch? Dad was tractoring moonshine into Stearns County?

"Oh, no," Thesing said, chuckling as he checked late the other night on his cows - it's calving season - on the family farm near Carlos, northeast of Alexandria, Minn.

"Here's how I heard the story . . ."

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Well, hold onto your horsepower just a minute. First, why spend good money and time - it is calving season - looking for a nearly 80-year-old tractor with a possibly defective-by-gunshot magneto?

And what's a magneto?

The Model D John Deere began its production run in 1923 and lasted 30 years, the longest of any line the company produced. Early versions ran on steel wheels, no rubber. Farmers liked the Model D because of its low cost and its simplicity, which made it easy to repair. It pulled a three-bottom plow in most field conditions.

"Dad and two brothers bought it together in 1928, new," said Thesing, 62. "When Dad bought a Model B in 1952, one uncle took the old D.

"I remember seeing it at Uncle John's place. It sat along a fence line. I was probably 15 or so, and at that time it didn't mean anything to me. But as you get older, different things come to mean a little more."

The .22 dent?

"I don't know who was running the tractor, but I'm told they usually had a .22 rifle lying around. It gets boring when you're out plowing, and they'd stop and shoot at crows.

"Well, those old tractors vibrated quite a bit, and evidently it discharged and put a dent in the magneto."

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(Magneto: an electric generator run by an internal-combustion engine, producing electric current to provide a spark for the ignition.)

"It happened before I was born in '44," Thesing said, so if his father was helping his uncle plow (and shoot) that day, a different outcome might have ended the George Thesing line before Model Roy came along.

"I suppose," Roy said.

Uncle John sold the tractor in the early 1980s to a Deere dealer in Little Falls, Minn., who apparently sold it at auction.

"It could be around Little Falls still, or it could be anywhere in the United States."

Many farmers, including Roy Thesing, have become collectors of antique tractors, which they restore and show at old-time agricultural fairs. Thesing has several old Deeres, but he'd really like to find that one special Model D.

"They were such simple-made tractors, very easy to work on," he said. "And when it's a family tractor, it means a little more."

But in the week his ad ran, he didn't receive a single call.

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"I knew it was a long shot," Thesing said, "since I don't have the serial number."

But he has forensic evidence: the .22 dent.

"I might just wait six months and run another ad," he said. "You never know."

His wife, Connie, is not so keen on the search. It is, she keeps reminding him, calving season.

"She thinks it's a waste of time. And I'm not kidding about that."

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