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Vintage Tractor Ad Rekindles Memories

A 1940 photo shoot inspired John Deere advertisements, merchandise and displays for decades.

Last fall, Angie Frank took her son Easton to the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill. During their visit, Easton was anxious to get to the tractors and ran around a corner toward one. When Angie turned the corner behind her son, she was surprised to see a picture of her grandmother, as a little girl, hanging on the wall.

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Chance Encounter

During a visit to the John Deere Pavilion, Angie Frank (left) noticed the artwork that she is standing in front of and realized it was based on a 1940s photo shoot that included her grandmother.

Angie and her sisters, including Stephanie Young, a materials engineer at the John Deere Product Engineering Center in Waterloo, Iowa, knew their grandmother was in a John Deere advertisement years ago, but hadn’t thought about it in quite some time.

It’s grandma

“Oh my gosh, that’s a picture of my grandma!” Angie remembers saying. “I went back to the Information Desk to talk to the ladies there, and told them it was my grandma in the picture. They took a picture of me and [her daughter] Violet in front of it, and suggested I get in touch with Neil Dahlstrom at the John Deere Archives.”

Dahlstrom was able to send a digitized image of what was an advertising brochure for the John Deere General Purpose tractors, Models “A,” “B,” “G,” and “H,” featuring none other than Angie’s grandma, then known as Janet Sprecht.

Mrs. Janet Fassett of Geneseo, Ill., is the daughter of George and Genevieve Specht. She was six years old, playing outside of the Geneseo grocery store in 1940 while her mother shopped inside, and a man stopped and asked if he could take her picture.

Janet told him he would need to ask her mother when she came out of the store, so he waited. The man was a photographer and he asked if Janet could be in an John Deere advertising photo shoot. Her mother was familiar with the company, as the Spechts used some John Deere equipment to farm, so her mother agreed, and they arranged to meet on another farm south of town.

Mrs. Specht put Janet in a nice dress, and did her hair. The photographer took photos of Janet taking a water jug to a farmer sitting on a John Deere Model “A” Tractor. Mrs. Specht also made it into a few photos.

“I mostly forgot about it after that,” Janet said. “Back then you didn’t boast about those things. We just got on with our business.”

Oh my gosh, that’s a picture of my grandma!” —Angie Frank

Janet married Dean Fassett in February, 1954, and they lived in the Geneseo area, where they farmed for more than 40 years. Dean Fassett was a John Deere enthusiast, and farmed with some John Deere equipment, including a 4020 Tractor.

“Just give me the 4020, I always liked that one. You could go through muddy places in the field and you could always get out,” Janet said.

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Better Farming

The Fassetts discovered that some of the photographs from the 1940 photo shoot were later used in the 1941 issue of "Better Farming" magazine.

The investigation

About 20 years ago, she mentioned to her husband that she was in some John Deere advertising materials, and he wanted to learn more. They contacted Deere & Company, and were put in touch with the advertising department.

The Fassetts discovered that the photographs were used in the 1941 issue of Better Farming magazine, and Deere & Company sent them a copy. They also learned the original photographs were illustrated and used in promotional brochures for John Deere “GP” Tractors.

Surprise appearance

Around 2000, the Fassets were shopping in the John Deere Store and purchased some licensed products with the illustrations, including a tray, some coasters, and salt and pepper shakers. When she saw the products in the store, Janet said, “I was kind of surprised. I didn’t know they’d still be going today.”

Almost as surprised as her daughter was in the John Deere Pavilion. Angie knew it was her grandmother in the illustration because it was similar to the framed magazine cover hanging in her grandmother’s house.

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Vintage Tractor Ad Rekindles Memories

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