John Wickre of St. Paul, Minn., could aptly and accurately be dubbed 'The Father of Minnesota Tractor Information.' In the span of a decade, he researched almost every Minnesota tractor company that ever existed and compiled a folder of information on each one. Even more amazing, he did it on his own time.
'For a number of years in the 1970s and early 1980s my family (wife and three children} all lived in Cumberland, Wis., and I commuted there on week ends, leaving my evenings free to do research,' explains John. 'It was about 10 years of work, maybe five years of active work, and not all the time, but whenever it worked out and whenever I felt like it, but someone like me felt like it a lot of the time.'
His day job from 1970 to 1990 was as a manuscripts cataloguer at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. His interest in tractors and gas engines emanated from that work, for among many other materials that he cataloged over the years were the extensive records of the Minneapolis-Moline Company.
When he began the tractor companies information project, John knew little about tractors, though he had a working knowledge from growing up in agricultural Cumberland, and helping farmers at haying time - 'although I had no great contact with machinery.' His lack of detailed information didn't hinder him, though. 'I didn't come to it with any preconceived notions, so I could see it with fresh eyes.'
And once he got into it, he got to know a lot about tractors and small gas engines in Minnesota very quickly: 'You look through all those pages of ads and get thousands of images in your mind.'
Many evenings John sat down at a desk in the historical society's library with Farm Implements magazine and its successors spread out around him. The periodicals had been bound into heavy books that often ran to 180 or more folio-sized pages. John poured over every one, searching for mentions of Minnesota tractor companies and gas engines.
'Sometimes it was as simple as one line that said the sales manager from Pioneer Tractor Company was in town talking to someone or other, and though the information might not have been that great, that one clue might be the information that started you checking a company out, or finding out that all the references to a Minnesota tractor company were really for a company outside of Minnesota. That's why every little thing was important.'
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