A Piece of Hansen Family History is Restored

posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2018

“Our dad is the hardest working guy I know, and he taught us a lot about farming,” said Jeff Hansen of his father, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday.

Laurence and his wife, Shirley, were second-generation farmers, taking over the reins of the homestead farm established by Hans Hansen in the late 1800s.

That crop and livestock farm in northern Hardin county is where Laurence and Shirley raised their three boys—Larry, Jeff and Steve.

Laurence’s sons have a tradition of celebrating his birthday each year, bringing together family and friends to honor the retired farmer.

This particular birthday marked a special surprise, with a group of family and friends working “undercover” to restore a unique piece of Laurence’s farming history—his first brand new tractor, a 1976 John Deere 4430.

“I remember dad was always so proud of his tractors, and this one was a Cadillac in its time,” said Larry Hansen, Laurence’s oldest son. “Everyone remembers it coming down the driveway and being unloaded like it happened just yesterday.”

“Back in the day, this tractor was a big deal to farmers,” said Larry. “It was introduced as the first tractor to have a quiet cab with heat and air conditioning.”

The 4430 was one of 36 new models introduced by John Deere in the 1970s. In 1972, John Deere launched the Generation II tractors, which offered farmers the Sound-Gard cab and body style.

“The 4430 was a big step up from the John Deere 4020s we were using,” said Jeff. “We had two diesel and one gas powered 4020, and both had ‘cozy cabs’ to help with weather, but they were by no means a comfortable or quiet ride.”

The 4430 also featured windshield wipers, a dome light, a red interior lamp to illuminate the gearshift levers and hydraulic controls during nighttime operation. And because farmers could finally hear the radio, an AM/FM unit was part of the standard package. “I remember the old speakers hanging from the back window of the old 4020, with nothing but static and crackling coming out of the AM radio,” said Jeff.

Purchased at the local John Deere dealership owned by Arnold “AC” Benton, Laurence’s order was actually for two 4430 identical tractors. He liked the model so much a third one was added a year later. “He was a die-hard John Deere fan,” said Larry. “We didn’t farm with any other color but green.”

Laurence owned three acreages—fields of 160, 80 and 50 acres, and rented another 600 acres. According to Steve, there were pigs in every corner of every barn and shed they could find on their own land and also portions of the rented land. At the time of the purchase, all three sons were active in the family farming operation. Larry, Jeff and Steve were 20, 18 and 17, respectively.

“I remember that Saturdays were made for scraping and moving manure, and spring and fall meant time off from school to farm,” said Steve. “That’s how it was back then.”

The pigs were feeders, and were raised on straw bedding in the barns. “All of us fondly remember being dad’s skid steers, shoveling and pitching manure,” said Jeff.

Laurence finally purchased his first Bobcat in the late 1970’s after the tractors. “You can look back now and appreciate all of the technology and equipment that made farming get a little easier,” said Steve.

“The 4430 that was restored was a planter tractor for most of its life,” said Larry, “and it also did some cultivating work before the introduction of today’s weed control technologies.”

Larry said the mid-1970s also marked the time period when herbicides became available to farmers, helping increase yields by controlling weeds.

The other two tractors planted, cultivated and also pulled the manure wagon. Back then, manure was hand “pitched” into a rotary spreader and broadcasted across the field. “We incorporated with a 5-bottom plow with 18-in lays,” said Jeff.

Just 10 years after the tractors were purchased marked a somber time for Iowa farmers. The 1980s saw a farm recession where the financial crisis caused farmland value to drop 60 percent in some parts of the Midwest. Like many farmers with similar plights, Laurence and Shirley retired from farming in 1988.

Laurence’s three JD 4430s were also retired during that time; two were purchased by Jeff while one stayed with Larry.

Both Steve and Larry have retired from careers in farming. Jeff continues as President and CEO of Iowa Select Farms, an Iowa-based pig production company owned by his family.

This idea to restore the tractor was Jeff’s, who had been storing the 1976 JD 4430. Larry Huff and Kevin Haase—two of Jeff’s employees—restored the tractor. “We were proud help breathe life back into this piece of Hansen family history,” said Kevin.

Both Huff and Haase have always enjoyed “tinkering.” “It’s the pride in taking something old or broken, seeing the potential of what it could be, chasing down the parts and then working through all of the details that goes into restoration,” said Kevin.

Larry (Huff) said that being involved in restoring this tractor for the family was rewarding. “It was not without its challenges, though, as the tractor was in really tough shape when we took it on.”

Van Wall Equipment in Indianola dug in right away to fix the mechanics, and then Bret Halls with Mid-Iowa Restoration in Milo took on the paint restoration.

From there the tractor went to Huff’s shop for the final detailing—tightening bolts, fixing leaks, installing lights and all of the final cleaning and polishing of the interior, glass and exterior. The entire project was accomplished on an aggressive three-month timeline.

There were many lessons the three boys learned from Laurence. “My dad was always ready to get in the field and get the work done,” said Steve. “He was anxious to get the crops in, and then get it harvested, as he knew there could always be delays that were out of our control.”

“Dad loved the challenge of farming, he was just cut out for it,” added Larry. All of Laurence’s sons remember how meticulous he was about his farming equipment and the pride he had in his tractors.

“I remember dad would get up at 5:30 a.m., get the tractors ready and do the first round of chores, and then come back in at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast,” said Jeff. “He would work a full day, and never quit until the work was done.”

And how did Laurence react to the well-kept secret? “I loved it,” said Laurence, with his big grin and sparkling eyes. “Although I remember farming as being a pain in the rear most of the time,” he chuckled.

Like so many farmers, Laurence said he enjoyed the flexibility, challenge and changing seasons. “It was a new day every day,” said Laurence. “Planting, harvesting and taking care of feeder pigs and cattle—there was always something different to do.”

Laurence looks back at his time as a farmer with both pride and gratitude. “I recognize how hard it is for young farmers to get a start today; I wish it wasn’t so tough,” said Laurence. “I’m grateful for what my father gave me and being able to farm with my sons.”