On October 10, 1979 (my birthday) I went to work at the local Allis-Chalmers dealership in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. That was the year Allis introduced the 333 No-Till planter with the 74 series units. Both dealers and farmers were excited about this because the units were narrow enough to plant soybeans in 15” rows. The two configurations that were most popular was a 4-row (30’’ or 38’’) for corn with 7 units (15”) for soybeans or a 6-row with 11 units.
As we went through the winter months, I was amazed at how easy they were to sell. The surprising thing was I sold more 4 rows than 6. It seems the 6 row was so big you couldn’t get it in the barn. Farm shops were few and far between back then and machinery sheds were even more scarce and a real farmer refused to leave his equipment out in the weather. Another reason was it was too wide to get through gates; yes we still had fences in Kentucky back then.
Believe it or not, I could sell a 4-row with seven units and No-Till coulters for around $3,000 and make a pretty decent margin of profit provided the customer wasn’t slick enough to talk me into throwing in extra drive sprockets and seed plates. For the younger generation, back then you actually had drive sprockets on each unit to control spacing and seed plates with different size holes for the seed to fall down through. The farmer would bring a coffee can full of seed into the dealership and pour it out on the parts counter and find a plate that would work.
We did manage to sell one 12-row wing fold that year. It had 6 units on the center section and the 3 outside units folded up vertically. The farmer (by the way, we called them farmers back then instead of growers) bragged about how much he could plant in just one day. But he also complained about having to empty the outside boxes before folding because the plastic pop on lids would pop off and he would have to stop and sweep the seed off the road.
The largest tractor we sold that year was a 180 hp 2WD. If my memory serves me correctly the sale price was somewhere around $35,000. FWA tractors were just beginning to be talked about and even though no one in our area had ever seen one in person, judging by the pictures no one could understand why anybody would want one. How big a field would you have to have to turn it around in?
Four-row corn heads were the most popular although some of the older guys still used a 2-row and only the big farmers had a 6-row (in case you’re wondering, to be considered a big farmer you had to raise at least 1500 acres of grain, two acres of tobacco and a few cows) and 8-row was unheard of.
Back then GPS stood for Got Poor Stand. AutoSteer meant you had a tarp strap tied from the steering wheel to the throttle lever and a yield monitor meant your landlord was sitting in his pickup at the end of the field counting how many loads you took off.
I’m sure there are some growers out there that were farming back then and remember that the commodity prices at that time were not a lot different than they are today even though equipment is slightly higher. If you fit into this category, I have a great deal of respect for you. There is no doubt, you gotta love it.
In closing, I would be curious to know how many growers would like to go back to farming with a 4-row planter.