The Farmall tractor of 1944 holds a significant place in agricultural history. Produced by International Harvester, it was part of the Farmall H series, which revolutionized farming in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1944 model, like its predecessors, featured a narrow front end and was designed for row-crop farming. It played a crucial role in increasing farm productivity during World War II when there was a heightened need for food production, particularly potato farming on Long Island.
Potato farming has deep roots on Long Island, dating back to the 18th century. The region’s fertile soil and favorable climate made it ideal for potato cultivation. Long Island became a prominent supplier of potatoes to New York City and beyond. Over time, the potato industry diversified, but its historical significance remains.
John and Angela Robinson share a little piece of that farming history, proudly displaying their acquired collector’s piece, a fully restored 1944 Type A Farmall tractor, on their Foch Avenue home in Mineola.
“My grandfather and great grandfather were potato farmers here on Long Island,” John said. “My grandfather, Henry, had a farm on Shelter Rock Road and my great grandfather had one out in Dix Hills.
His mother, Jenny Van Derlaske, was born on the Shelter Rock Road farm. She was one of 10 children born to Henry and Mary (nee Janosick) Van Derlaske.
“Ever since I was a kid, people would always ask if I was Jenny’s son and then say things like, ‘We used to own a grocery store in Manhasset and we used to buy all of our fruits and vegetables from your grandfather’s farm,’” John recalled. “I had such fond memories of my grandparents and of their farm.”
The Long Island Expressway (LIE/I-495) was constructed in stages starting in 1939, when the Queens Midtown Tunnel was built, until approximately 1972.
John said the LIE was built right through the Van Derlaskes’ farm.
“My grandfather lost a lot of property when that happened and eventually sold off the remaining land,” John said.
One day John was driving through Centereach with his wife, Angela.
“I said to Angela, ‘Look at that; a beautiful red tractor and it’s for sale,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s go look and see what the story is with this thing’, and I ended up bringing it home and using it for a storefront decoration when I owned John’s Variety Store in Williston Park.”
That was 23 years ago.
“The first day I got it, I brought my mom over to see it; you should have seen her face,” John said. “Her and my Uncle Pete came to see it; they had sweet memories reminiscing about their old childhood farm.”
Each year after, John would decorate it, show it off and put it in the street fair.
“People would love to come and take pictures of it,” John said. “My wife actually encouraged me to put it on our front lawn when the store closed; she always said that it’s good for people to see because it’s a piece of history.”
The Robinsons met with Bruce Young, president and fellow member of the Long Island Antique Power Association in Riverhead shortly after purchasing the tractor. Young did all of the work to fully restore John’s 1944 Farmall tractor back to its original parts and specifications.
“People are shocked that this thing starts right up and runs like new,” John said. “Occasionally, people ring my doorbell and ask to take pictures of the tractor or ask to sit on the tractor. Once someone stopped by to even tell me that they had one just like it when they were growing up and it is how they learned to drive a car, by operating their own Farmall tractor.”
“Once when Lou [Santosus] was mayor of Mineola, he received a complaint from someone that there was a tractor parked in someone’s front yard in the village,” John remembered.
He said that Santosus and one of the then-trustees took a ride over to Foch Avenue to see what all of the fuss was about.
“They expected to find some old beat up, rotting farm equipment that had been dumped carelessly,” John said. “When Lou saw for himself what a magnificent piece it was and how well it had been cared for, his response to anyone who ever mentioned the tractor was, ‘Go take a ride over to Foch and take a good look at history.’”
John joked that if nothing else, the tractor gets people to stop at the stop sign on his block with meaningful purpose.
“I have had plenty of offers from upstate landowners and collectors,” John said. “Honestly, I have no plan to ever sell it; it means that much to me.”
Last summer, John was crowned winner of Jonathan Green’s “Show Us Your Lawn” national competition for the month of June 2022.
Jonathan Green is a leading supplier of grass seed, soil enhancers, fertilizers and organic lawn and garden products, all available at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury.