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The Beast That Runs on Biodiesel

Editors note: The following is based on a story by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Faribault, Minn. – A young farm boy in 1964, Jerry Groskreutz was disappointed when his father brought home a clunky used 1958 John Deere 820. He wanted a new 4010-series tractor with a cab.

But today the 820 is still running, powered by 100 percent biodiesel, and Groskreutz is showing it off at parades and tractor pulls across the state.

In the 1960s, when Groskreutz and his siblings plowed farm fields near Wells, Minn., the two-cylinder 820 was a big chunk of iron with a hand clutch that was difficult to handle. They not-too-fondly dubbed the tractor, the “Beast.”

His father purchased a new John Deere 4020 when Groskreutz was in high school and the Beast was retired. “Think about it,” Groskreutz says. “When you’re kids, are you going to drive the newer tractor with a radio and a cab, or are you going to drive the Beast?”

Several years ago, Groskreutz, still an active farmer and KDHL-radio farm director in Faribault, started having fond thoughts about the old tractor. The two-cylinder tractor craze was emerging and Groskreutz wondered if he could fix up the Beast for local parades. It wasn’t long before the tractor was back in operation.

An avid fan of biodiesel, which he says can benefit the environment, U.S. energy security and the rural economy, Groskreutz asked staff at the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council if it would be possible to run the classic tractor on pure biodiesel.

“They said there wouldn’t be any problem with the pure biodiesel,” Groskreutz says. “They warned me that … it will initially clean out the fuel system and as a result, I’d probably have to replace a filter. Once biodiesel helps clean out all the petroleum gunk and residue, engines run cleaner and much more efficiently. I found that out for sure.”

Last summer, Groskreutz made more than 15 parade appearances and participated in three tractor pulls with the 1958 John Deere 820 running on 100 percent biodiesel. He placed first in two tractor-pull competitions and third in another.

“Thousands of people saw the tractor … and were fascinated, surprised and extremely interested in every aspect of biodiesel,” especially the power and low emissions, he says. “They couldn’t believe it when there wasn’t any smoke coming out during a pull. I had people wanting to smell the fuel and learn more about using it everywhere I went.”

“There’s still that misconception out there that modifications are needed to run on biodiesel. I told everyone that no engine modifications are needed.”

Groskreutz says he reminds people that “when Rudolph Diesel invented the diesel engine at the turn of the century, he ran it on peanut oil. Now we’re running diesel engines on soybean oil – from the soybeans we produce right here in the Midwest.”