North Wilmington Resident John Harvey Starts Classic Tractor Fever Business After DuPont Layoff
Tractor beam: A former DuPonter has tractor fever.
In September of 1993, the DuPont Co. executed one of its periodic layoffs. This one was particularly severe, with 6,000 employees receiving termination notices.
While it may have proved devastating for many, the layoff propelled John Harvey into a lucrative entrepreneurial career that tapped into America’s surprising love for the farm tractor.
Harvey had worked 16 years for DuPont’s public relations department, specializing in agricultural products. “Being downsized, right-sized, chopped off—whatever euphemism you want to use, I was humiliated and feeling sorry for myself,” says the resident of Delwynn, a North Wilmington development.
But a few days later, he had an epiphany. “As I was taking my morning shower, it suddenly struck me: This was the opportune time to start my own business. So I did.”
He already had the basis for that business: the Classic Farm Tractors calendar, a promotional tool for DuPont’s classic soybean herbicide. Harvey had created the calendar in 1990 after successfully test marketing it at a farm show. When he left DuPont, his manager allowed him to maintain control of the calendar, which had become wildly popular.
He converted his two-car garage into an office and formed his own company, Classic Tractor Fever. With the calendar as the flagship, he developed a product line. It began with Classic Tractor Playing Cards—standard cards, but each with a color photo of a restored tractor and information about the owner. The first edition sold out. Then came Classic Tractor Fever apparel—caps, shirts, jackets. Harvey wound up selling nearly 75 different products, including bumper stickers—“A boy never forgets the first girl he kissed and the first tractor he drove.”
Harvey grew up on a farm in northwest Missouri, but he decided early on that he lacked the mechanical abilities required of a farmer. He enjoyed writing though, and got a degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri. With this background, he had some idea of how farm families valued their tractors, but even he was amazed at the passion of people—not all of them farmers—who collect and restore antique tractors.
“These folks have a sense of history, a sense of family and a sense of humor,” he says. “And tractors are pure 20th century Americana. People depended on tractors; they saved them a tremendous amount of work. They became like the family dog; farmers would often name the tractor.”
The machines trigger memories, Harvey says, even for those who leave the farm and succeed in other careers. “They become doctors or dentists or whatever, then years later they see a tractor like their family had, and they think, ‘I’d like to have one of those,’ so they buy it and restore it—as much for their father or grandfathers as for themselves.”
Next year will mark the silver anniversary of the Classic Farm Tractors calendar, and among those featured will be the Rev. Dr. James Olsen, who owns seven John Deeres. He is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Kennett Square, where 24 tractors showed up at the second annual “Bring Your Tractor to Church” Sunday in April. Olsen incorporated a farming theme—“harvesting souls”—into his sermon.
The pastor struggles to explain his tractor fever. Then, speaking for thousands of people across the country, he says, “How do you explain why you fall in love?”
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