Chuck Pelly: The guy who ran over a Volkwagen and became a legend at Deere…

John Deere 4430 at auction
For this week’s story, this 4430 plays a supporting role…keep reading to find out why!

See the details on this tractor

 

I know what you’re thinking…

“Ugh…another SoundGard??? This is getting real old, Interesting Iron-guy…”

Yes, I know I’ve written about the 4430 before. Stick with me. The 4430 is kind of a supporting cast member for this week’s Interesting Iron. There’s a Volkswagen involved too, but we don’t have one of those listed on Tractor Zoom right now. 😏  (Believe it or not, we’ve had a few…)

This isn’t just a story about a guy named Chuck, either. There’s a very strong connection to the history of ag. He wasn’t just some random dude.

He was Chuck Pelly, the guy who designed the SoundGard cab. Pretty important to modern farming, right?

The Life of Chuck

Before we get to the story of the Volkswagen, let’s talk about Chuck for a minute. He’s a super-talented (and pretty darn famous) industrial designer. In fact, I’m just about certain that he (or his company) designed stuff that significantly impacted your life, at one point or another. More on that in a bit.

Chuck Pelly was born in the early 40’s, and spent most of his life in Southern California. He studied design at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and even as a young student, showed tremendous promise. In fact, before he’d even graduated, he’d designed two of the most beautiful race cars you’ve probably never heard of!

Scarab race car chuck pelly
Chuck Pelly designed the Scarab race car at only 18 years old! Click the photo to learn more about the Scarab – it’s a great story, and Petrolicious does an outstanding job telling it.
Chaparral MkI prototype chuck pelly
Chuck Pelly designed the Chaparral MkI race car for Jim Hall. This is the prototype car. Click the link for more photos from the RM/Sotheby’s 2016 auction catalog. She’s a beauty!

So how did a guy go from designing race cars in SoCal to designing tractors for Deere? Simple. He took a position with Henry Dreyfuss Associates.

Henry Dreyfuss Associates

HDA was a design firm founded by another noted industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss, back in the 1930s. They took the term “long term relationship” pretty seriously, too – especially when it came to John Deere. Deere’s working relationship with HDA spanned (get this) 7 DECADES! HDA designed most of the two-cylinders as well as the New Generation tractors too. They were essentially Deere’s in-house design team.

When Pelly joined HDA in the mid-sixties, one of the projects that he led was the design of the replacement to the New Generation tractors…i.e., the SoundGard tractors. Specifically, his involvement was with designing the cab, but he also submitted some sketches for the actual tractor itself. I’ve seen one of them – imagine a six-wheeled 4430 with a stretched-out cab, and you’ll be fairly close. It was pretty wild!

At any rate, Chuck Pelly worked for HDA and John Deere up until the early 70s, when he struck out on his own, went back to Malibu and started his own design firm, DesignworksUSA, in his garage. Designworks has become a massive success since then, too, eventually being acquired by BMW! (They still own them, too.)

Like I’d mentioned earlier, Pelly and his team designed lots of things that you’ll recognize pretty quickly. Here’s a short list…

Ever drive a Steiger Panther? His company designed that.

Steiger Panther Concept
Chuck Pelly’s firm, DesignworksUSA, came up with the concept for the Steiger Panther tractors in the early 80s!

Take a ride in a dentist’s chair? He designed one of those, too.

Unitek Orthodontics Chair
Unitek’s line of ergonomic dental chairs was also a DesignworksUSA project.

Remember the old Nokia candy bar style cellphones that we all played Snake on way back in the day? Yep, Chuck managed that project too.

Chuck Pelly DesignworksUSA Nokia 5125 cell phone
I can almost guarantee that within five minutes, you can find somebody who had one of these phones back in the day!

…and the list goes on and on. Everything from Corvette seats to minivans and snowmobiles to mouthwash bottles – heck, Designworks even styled the Olympic team’s bobsleds for the Winter Games in Sochi, Japan a few years ago!

So what does all this have to do with a Volkswagen?

Well, that’s where we get back to the John Deere connection. One of Chuck Pelly’s projects in the late sixties was to design the SoundGard cab. He’d put months and months of hard work into the styling and layout, too. Designing something from scratch is hard work even for simple things, let alone complex things like the cockpit of a tractor!

The pressure was mounting, too. I mean, Deere basically said, “Look, we’re changing the way we think about tractors. Open stations are out, integrated cabs are in, and our next models need to change the way farmers think about tractors, too. You’re in charge of making sure that’s successful. Good luck, buddy! We’re all relying on you!”

I can’t imagine that kind of pressure. Can you?

At any rate, Chuck was adamant that when the SoundGard mockup was first presented to Deere’s top brass, it had to be in motion. It couldn’t just be a clay model sitting on a stand, or a scale model. They really needed to see what it looked like moving down a dirt road, y’know?

So, for this demonstration, Pelly and his team at HDA created the first model of the cab out of paper, cardboard, and plastic. They mounted it on a test mule, which Chuck was to drive out in front of all of Deere’s executives. But there was a problem…

Demonstration Day and “the incident”…

The problem was that while Chuck Pelly could do lots of amazing things…he wasn’t real skilled with driving a tractor. This was probably one of his first times driving anything bigger than a lawn mower, if we’re being honest. But since he wanted to present the concept in motion, he sucked up his nerves and pressed on.

And right there, with all of the head honchos from Deere watching, Chuck brings the concept out…and that’s where it all goes wrong in spectacular fashion. Somehow he lost control of the tractor, and before he knew it, he’d gone off the test track…where he promptly hits a Volkswagen Beetle in the parking lot.

It wasn’t a fender bender, either. He put one of the right rears up and over the hood of the Beetle! He utterly destroyed this little car…even punched a hole in the gas tank! (Which sent everybody running for the hills…)

Chuck Pelly Sketch Octanepress
Chuck Pelly later doodled a picture of what that fateful day looked like, and it appeared in Octane Press’s excellent history of farm tractor development. It’s called TRACTOR. If you haven’t got a copy, you need to order this one. It’s full of great stories like this one about interesting tractors, and the photography is GORGEOUS. Well worth the purchase!

I don’t know about you, but at that point, I think I’d have put that test mule in road gear, never to be seen again! 😂

The Aftermath

Chuck figured that his career with Deere and Henry Dreyfuss Associates was pretty much done. Later on, while he was cleaning out office waiting for the inevitable…the inevitable never happened. Instead, the head of engineering popped his head in the door and made a verbal job offer.

The position? Rollover test engineer. 😂

It was all in jest, and thanks to some pretty level heads and good senses of humor, Chuck was able to keep his job.

In fact, even after leaving Deere & HDA to start his own firm, he maintained a relationship with the folks in Waterloo. And when BMW bought Designworks in 1995, who came aboard as one of their first clients? John Deere.

The two companies have worked together ever since, too. Designworks has been heavily involved in everything from construction equipment like the giant 1050K dozer to small stuff like the 1025R. They just celebrated 25 years of a successful partnership last year! 

John Deere 1050K Crawler Dozer 02
The 1050K Crawler Dozer is the biggest, baddest piece of equipment Deere has ever built! At 94,000 pounds, it’s a beast! Click the pic to read Motor Trend’s review of it!
John Deere 1025R at auction
Designworks was also heavily involved in the 1025R – one of Deere’s smallest machines.
John Deere 8RX410
The latest Deere/Designworks project is the newly re-styled 8R line. Here’s a prototype unit testing the sled safety settings at a tractor pull in Mound City, MO last year.

The 4430 you can bid on…

Brad and the team over at Tony Montgomery Realty & Auction up in Plainview, MN are sending this tractor off to a new owner at an auction on Tuesday, July 20, and it’s a pretty nice one! It’s a two-owner 1977 Quad Range with just under 5700 hours on a working tach, fresh Michelins on the back, duals, LED lights, a quick hitch, and a fresh oil change! The interior (which I believe is original) is nice and tight, and pretty clean too! Overall, a pretty clean example of one of the thousands of 30-series tractors that have farmed the midwest for 50 years!

John Deere 4430 at auction

The farmer who currently owns it has put about 1500 hours on it since he picked it up a few years ago. I talked with Brad this afternoon for a few minutes and he told me that this gentleman was really proactive in his maintenance, and if it ever needed anything more than the standard stuff, it always went to SEMA Equipment’s dealership there in Plainview where he lives.

What’ll it bring? 

Based on what we’re seeing in the market these days, I don’t think $20-22K is out of line at all. There’s always be a market for clean, well-maintained equipment that farmers can work on – even when it’s 44 years old. This one checks off all of those boxes, as well as selling with new rubber and lighting upgrades. It’ll be a great tractor for somebody…maybe you!

Auctioneer: Tony Montgomery Realty & Auction Company

Click here for the auction details!

One more thing…

If you’re a John Deere fan, you need to check out John Deere Evolution, the new book from my friend Lee Klancher and Octane Press. It’s 350 pages chock-full of John Deere’s history, and some utterly jaw-dropping photography! It’ll end up being a permanent fixture on your coffee table! It’ll be available on October 15, 2021!

John Deere Evolution 3d
If you’re a John Deere fan, this will be the coolest thing to ever sit on your coffee table!

Montana Monsters: The Case 4894

4894.1

4894.4
Beneath this pretty red paint are a pair of Case 4894s with great big Swedish hearts…the last hurrah for JIC’s 4WD lineup. They sell next Tuesday, April 27!

See the details on these tractors.

That’s right, kids…not one Case 4894, but a pair of ’em this week!

In the late 70s and into the 80s, big 4WD power was where it was at. The idea itself wasn’t new; the Steiger brothers had been building 4WDs for nearly 20 years at this point. But, with farm expansion in the 70s, farmers needed more power to pull bigger implements, and the industry was really starting to take off.

The typical 4WD of the 70s followed a pretty basic formula. Build a big tractor that bent in the middle (or have Steiger build you one…), let the marketing & advertising people do their thing, and voila! Well, the people at J.I. Case thought that was pretty much the most ridiculous thing ever. How do you keep a tractor that BENDS IN THE MIDDLE going straight?

Seems like a pretty legit question, right?

J.I. Case’s approach

Ever since the factory in Racine turned out their first 4WD (the 1200) back in the early sixties, they felt a straight frame with axles that could pivot did a better job. That was their story, and they were stickin’ to it. Honestly, they’d had pretty good success with their 4-wheel-steer setups, too. They were complex systems, and they took a little more TLC than a center pin. Man alive, though, they sure could turn a tight circle! Less than 19′ even with duals! Good luck doing that with a Steiger! Additionally, the crab steer was a big help on hillsides. It all but eliminated side draft!

082620Deanco1200TK
JIC’s first entry into the 4WD market was the 1200. Neat tractors, and they’re become pretty darn rare these days!
1470TK Copy
An early 70-series Case…again, with a face that only a mother could love. Plenty capable, though!
Case 2670
The later 70-series tractors showed a more refined design and addition capabilities for Case’s 4WD tractors.

So in August of 1979 when Case launched the 90-series tractors, they touted them as “the most advanced 4WD tractors had ever built”. They were impressive tractors, too. The new “Silent Guardian” cab was a game changer for sure; it was roomy and quiet – even quieter than a SoundGard!

4890
The predecessor to the 4894 was this one, the 4890. (It’s missing side shields.)

In 1984, they updated the 90-series tractors to the 94-series. Fundamentally, they were the same tractor (save for one all-new tractor at the top of the stack – the 4994), but where the 90 was pretty analog, the new model incorporated more electronics and a digital dashboard. They still retained the same transmission and powerplant…which for the Case 4894, came from Sweden.

Wait…what? Sweden? Why?

Yep. Sweden. Home of meatballs, IKEA, the northern lights, and an unintelligible Muppet.

Scania was (and as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen today, it still is) a major player in the diesel industry, and they’re a driving force in the global trucking market. They build semis and city buses, as well as lots of motors for various applications. They’re a big deal!

JIC partnered with Scania for motors for the top tractors in the 70, 90, and 94 series. The 2870, 4890, and 4894 used Scania’s DS11 motor, a 674-inch inline six that made about 300 horse. The 4994, Case’s biggest-ever tractor, used the DS14, an 866-inch V8 that made 400 horse! They were stout powerplants that performed very well in the field.

Partnering with a Swedish company, no matter how beefy the motors, though…it seems…well, a little strange, honestly. I’ve wondered why Case chose Scania for a long time. Never found a really reliable answer to the question, either. I’ve heard theories as to why Scania got the contract, though.

Theories

Steiger & Versatile were pretty heavily involved with Cummins at the time. There could’ve been a clause in their contracts that Cummins wouldn’t sell to anybody else. It wouldn’t be the first time a company had negotiated a contract like that.

Interestingly enough, the last five or ten 4994s built left Racine with an 855 between the frame rails. I believe one of them actually sold at a Canadian farm sale in October of 2019. I also know of one 4894 living in Minnesota that has what appears to be a completely factory-installed L10 Cummins in it. I’m not sure what the serial number is, though, so I don’t know if it’s early or late. I’m guessing it might be a late one.

I do know that Scania made a push into the US market with a small contract with Mack over the road trucks earlier in the 70s. That might’ve caught JIC’s eye, especially if the big motors were a cost-effective option. Case could’ve been taking a gamble on Scania’s success in the States.

It could’ve also been a case where the top brass at JIC & Tenneco were just huge ABBA fans, too… ?

In the field…

In the field, the 4894s were monsters. They were very popular in the west as well as in the Canadian wheat and canola fields. Hilly country was where these tractors made their mark. They might look a little funny when they crab-steer, but man alive, it sure is effective!

They were powerful and capable, but as with most complex systems, they did need maintenance. The crab-steer system had a lot of moving parts, and if the owner didn’t look ’em over and address issues, consequences could be costly. An ounce of prevention definitely saved a pound of cure, in the case of the big crab-steer tractors!

Even though they sold relatively well, the factory only churned out 872 of these big tractors. Part of that was due to the merger between Case and IH, just a year after the 4894 rolled onto the market. Once the merger happened, the 94 series was scrapped because IH was already in a pretty strong partnership with Steiger. The remaining tractors were all painted red and rebadged as Case Internationals. Once they were gone, they were gone.

The ones on next week’s sale…

With tractors like the 4894, proper usage and preventative upkeep is definitely the key. If you’re looking at one on an auction or a classified ad, etc., check for service records. The key is to get the story.

…and that’s exactly what I did.

I called Clint Mullins, the man who owns these tractors. He lives just southwest of Williston, ND, just across the Montana state line. Until fairly recently, Clint and his son Zach farmed a fair amount of grain out there (wheat, I think?). They’ve decided to downsize their operation by a fair bit, and the team over at Musser Bros. is handling the sale.

At any rate, Clint told me that he bought the pair of 4894s in the late 90s to restore and use. He’s been completely through the tractors from stem to stern. Rebuilt both of the big Scania motors, been through the transmissions, differential, planetaries…the whole works. While he had them apart, he also repainted them IH red and re-decal’d them.

Once they’d been redone, they went to work on the farm. One of ’em pulled a 45′ air drill in the spring and served on grain cart duty during harvest. The other spent its life pulling a sprayer.

4894.3
This is the grain cart tractor. It’s tuned up a little bit from the way it left the factory, making about 360 horse. Click the photo to see the details and a bunch more photos!

The hours are accurate. The grain cart tractor has 3300 original hours, and it’s got a bit more grunt. Clint turned the motor up to about 360 horse. It’s got dual 20.8x38s on it and a full rack of front weights go with it. The sprayer tractor has 7600 hours on it, and he left it set at 300 horse. It also sports dual 18.4x38s, a nearly full front weight rack, as well as being outfitted with Trimble EZ-Steer!

4894.5
The sprayer tractor is set at 300 horse, and has a little less rubber under it, but no less capable! Click the photo to see the details and a bunch more photos!

What’ll they bring?

Honestly, I expect they’ll bring quite a bit. I checked our Iron Comps database for prices on the Case 4894, and of the few listed (they don’t change hands very often), they’ve been hovering in the $8-10K range. That said…these are a LOT nicer tractors, and they’re selling in area where these were well-regarded. If they don’t bring between $20-25K each, I’d be very surprised.

Will they set all-time records? No. The all time record is somewhere in the $45K range at least 10 or 12 years ago. But, for the “modern” era that we’re living in now, these will set a very high mark!

Well-maintained equipment sells, folks!

See the details on these tractors.