Old Iron in the Wild, Wild West

Apache Junction spring show serves up classic old iron.

1950 Oliver 77

This 1950 Oliver 77 spent its entire life in an Arizona citrus orchard until Lowell Schauer bought the relic a few years ago. “Those trees are all gone now,” Lowell says, “and I’m sure this is the only 77 Orchard tractor in Arizona.”

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

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Set in Apache Junction, Arizona, the Arizona Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. (EDGE&TA) spring show has a built-in audience. “This is the retired farmer capital of the world,” says Show Chairman Leon Lawson with a friendly grin. “They get down here and find out they need something to keep them busy, so they start coming to the tractor shows – and then they start bringing displays.”

Held in March, the show generally offers limitless sunshine and warm temperatures, and for a snowbird that’s incentive enough. But the show also delivers a fine selection of antique farm equipment. Now in its 23rd year, the Apache Junction show is well established as the biggest old iron show in Arizona; tractor displays have been known to top the 300 mark.

Classic Arizona tractors

At the 2015 show, Case tractors were featured, and a 1929 Model L Case “restored” by Jeff Suter, Tucson, was the granddaddy of them all. Rescued just as the scrap man was about to close in on it, the Model L is a classic Arizona tractor – but one that keeps its own counsel.

“We honestly don’t know how it was used,” Jeff says. “An old-timer remembers it being used on a ranch near Sonoita, about 30 miles from the Mexican border. But that’s not farm ground – it’s rangeland.”

As found, the tractor’s cylinders were completely worn and the engine had no compression. Fenders and sheet metal were long gone; welded extensions on the rear wheels were not going anywhere. Cylinder sleeves and piston rings were replaced, but the real job came in cleaning the tractor. “Black walnut hulls were packed in every void in the engine,” Jeff says. “It took a considerable amount of time to fish those out.”

After eight months of near constant work, Jeff – a machinist – had the Case running. “Once I get started on a project, I am obsessed,” he says. Today the tractor starts on one crank.

Lowell Schauer’s 1950 Oliver 77 Orchard is another Arizona classic – but one that almost got away. Lowell, who lives in Glendale, Arizona, rescued the tractor from a citrus orchard near Laveen, Arizona. After he got it home and began to pencil in restoration costs, he opted to sell it to friends up north who would restore it themselves.

“But about the time I got it up to Brookings, South Dakota,” he recalls, “I began to catch heck from people back home. ‘You’re letting an Arizona tractor get away,’ they said.” Eventually, restorers Roy Hope, Sinai, South Dakota, and Ron Wik, Faribault, Minnesota, agreed to trade the fully restored Oliver for six tractors from Lowell’s collection.

A friend alerted Lowell to the Oliver, which was part of a former orchard being sold by an elderly woman. “One thing about dealing with little old ladies,” Lowell says with a good-natured grin, “you’ve got to stay alert. They’ll get your money and your clothes. I wasn’t trying to steal the tractor, I just wanted to keep from being run over.”

As found, the Oliver was very rough, but mostly complete. The engine was not stuck and the original serial number tag was intact. As part of the deal, Lowell took three trailer loads of old iron. “I about halfway promised I wouldn’t scrap any of it,” he says, “and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because the loads included the implements that went with the Oliver.”

Keith Peterman, Phoenix, displayed a 1944 Minneapolis-Moline NTX 4x4 tractor. “This was one of the first vehicles to be called a ‘jeep’ by military personnel,” he says. The NTX was built under contract for the U.S. Navy for use in the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. Produced from 1942-’44, it was used as an aircraft tug on unimproved airfields.

The innovative engine features a fully hydraulic valvetrain. “There are no push rods or rocker arms in this engine,” Keith says. “Each camshaft operated a plunger that actuated another plunger at each valve.”

Apparently used as a maintenance vehicle servicing oil and gas wells on a ranch north of Los Angeles, the NTX had been abandoned for at least 25 years when Keith found it. Pushed off into a wash, half-buried in the dirt and obscured by tall grass, the NTX was barely visible. It took Keith two trips to find it.

Keith and his son, Nick, tackled excavation and lined up a hauler. “It was a challenge to find a tilt-bed trailer big enough,” he says. “It weighs almost 7,000 pounds.” As found, the NTX was not a thing of beauty. The tires had been burned off in wildfires, the rear wheels were locked and the clutch was stuck. But other than a bothersome distributor, the engine was in very good mechanical shape – and the rig’s U.S. Navy anchor stamp is clearly visible.

Keith, the grandson of a Pennsylvania Minneapolis-Moline dealer, grew up driving MM tractors. The NTX joins a couple other MM military vehicles in Keith’s collection. Eventually, he says, he plans to restore the piece.

Legendary gas engine tradition

The Arizona Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show got its start as an engine display, and that heritage was evident in a strong display. This year’s show featured engines from all over the U.S. as well as one from Scotland.

Wayne Peters, Surprise, Arizona, displayed a handsomely restored 19 hp Allen sideshaft oil engine built by Allen Bros., Aberdeen, Scotland, in about 1903. Unlike most oil engines, this one is a 4-cycle, hit-and-miss governed unit. The Allen is headless and uses hot tube ignition. The engine has a vertical flyball governor and turns counterclockwise.

Apparently used as a power source in a shipyard in England during World War I, the 6,000-pound engine escaped the scrap drives of World War II. The Allen left the U.K. in 1985, when it was purchased by a U.S. collector. Wayne bought it in 2009. The engine was in running condition, but Wayne and his son Brennen launched a complete restoration, a project that stretched over 15 months.

The engine’s rings were shot, the piston ring grooves showed severe wear, the wrist pin was out of round and the cylinder needed to be honed. The trailer needed modifications to improve weight distribution. Brass was polished and the entire engine was painted.

The Allen is an exceptionally well-built engine, Brennen notes, and its design and castings are very well executed. “When the engine is in the ‘miss’ mode,” Wayne says, “it can go to 30 rpms without hitting.” It is the only engine Wayne owns. “This one is enough to take care of,” he says.

Tom Kelly, Apache Junction, showed a 1913 Reid 2-cycle oil field engine manufactured by Joseph Reid Gas Engine Co., Oil City, Pennsylvania. In West Virginia, where Tom grew up, Reids were commonly seen on oil wells. In Arizona, an oil field engine is decidedly uncommon, and one like Tom’s Reid is in a class by itself.

“It’s got a supercharged engine, chrome wheels and chrome stacks,” he says with a grin. “I tell people that makes it a hot rod.”

The 15 hp engine originally ran on natural gas. It has a charge cylinder on one side; one cylinder pushes pressurized fuel to the main cylinder. Among the earliest Reids produced, this one is classified as a “Sistersville” engine, a nod to uniquely skilled builders from the Sistersville, West Virginia, area who played a strong role in early development of Reid engines.

Trees were growing through the Reid when it was salvaged by another collector. When Tom got it, it was running, but in need of a cosmetic restoration. He opted for a showy look complete with a bright yellow trailer – and a galvanized water tank airbrushed to look like wood. Tom does all of his own restoration work, and dreams up the unique finishes himself. “The vision is mine,” he says.

Glenn Johnson, Wilcox, Arizona, showed a rare pair: a 1-1/4 hp Witte vertical pump dating to the late 1930s and a 1910 4 hp vertical Stover. “As far as I know, this Witte was only built in the 1-1/4 hp size,” he says. The pump jack engine has two pulleys: One runs off the crankshaft; the other off the camshaft. “You could use one to run a cream separator,” he says, “the other one could be grinding corn and you could be pumping water using the pump jack at the same time.”

He bought his Stover from a collector he met at a show in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “We camped next to this couple in their 80s,” he says. “They pulled in with a Stover in an enclosed trailer that smelled of old rank gas. I told my wife that the old guy – Del Donaldson – would crank himself to death getting that engine started, but before I finished my beer, he had that Stover running. It just ran like a dream. I asked him, ‘How did you get that engine running on old gas?’ ‘If I tell you,’ he said with an ornery look on his face, ‘I’ll have to kill you.’”

Years passed before Glenn got the chance to buy the engine from Del. “I bought it complete with Del’s old oil rag on it,” he says, “and that’s still part of the display.” When he got it, the engine was in good original condition (except for the water pump and tank, which are not original). “It’s never been painted,” Glenn says.

Strong garden tractor display

Local pieces have huge appeal for a lot of collectors, and Donald Winn, Stockton, California, is in that group. His 1950s-vintage Stockton Pull-Away is not only a hometown piece, but also rare in its own right.

“A guy built them in his garage,” he says. “He made about 25 of them and then contracted with Capps Bros., Stockton, to build 50 more. When those 50 were built, that was it; they never built another one.”

The first Pull-Aways were equipped with Wisconsin engines. Briggs & Stratton 14 hp engines were used on the 50 ordered by Capps Bros. Designed for multiple uses – farm, orchard and vineyard as well as industrial and construction applications – the Pull-Away was highly versatile. “This one was used a lot,” Donald says, “especially in vineyards and to pull tarps under almond trees.” His came with implements, including a sickle mower, turnover plow, disc and cultivator.

Tom Kelly showed a fully restored 1936 Viking Twin built by Allied Motors Corp., Minneapolis and New York City. “It’s the same as a Standard Twin except the Viking had a hood,” he says. The tractor came out of Montana, where the seller was clearing out family property. “He had used the Viking in a small orchard as a kid and the handles whacked him in the head constantly,” Tom says. “He couldn’t wait to get it in my trailer. It’s a handful, that’s for sure.”

Last used more than 30 years ago, the Viking was due for restoration. “When I got it the front end was caved in, the hood was bad and it didn’t run,” Tom says. “But it didn’t need an engine overhaul.” The tractor has crank start and is mag-driven and has steering brakes. Tom also has the tractor’s original plow and cultivator. FC


Rewriting the Laws of Mow-tion

Every antique tractor show worth its salt has its own unique twist. At the Arizona EDGE&TA show, the twist was lawn mower racing. In a meet put on by the Arizona chapter of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Assn., “Grass Car” races at the adjacent rodeo grounds drew good crowds from those attending the two-day engine and tractor show.

These mowers are not, it should be noted, your father’s Oldsmobile. Stock mowers are heavily modified for competition. “We remove all the blades and put the mowers lower to the ground so they’re less likely to flip,” explains Robert Jackson, Buckeye, Arizona, and a member of the Arizona chapter.

Steering and gear ratios are modified and tires are upgraded for traction; safety “kill” switches, steering wheel hand throttles and huge after-market brakes are standard add-ons. “It can be inexpensive or it can be spendy,” says David Calvert, vice president of the Arizona chapter. “It all depends how much of an engineering background you have.”

Drivers wear racing jackets, helmets, neck braces, gloves and boots. “It’s all about safety,” Robert says, “so we can have fun all day and go home in one piece at night.” If that seems overkill, consider this: Speeds of 55 to 70 mph are not uncommon in lawn mower racing; on a 1/8-mile oval track, some will go 90 mph.

Mower racing traces its roots to England, where it grew out of a barroom argument (“My mower is faster than yours”). The national association was established in Chicago in 1992. Today, the sport is strongest east of the Mississippi with a total of 50 local chapters and affiliates nationwide.

David is a cheerful ambassador for the sport. A national meet is held each year, he takes pains to explain, “in Mansfield, Mow-hio.” Sporting a mustache and beard painted “go fast green,” he describes the temporary tint as his mow-jo. He refers to his mower as the Mow-tivator.

David is also a competitor and one with deep roots in the hobby. “I grew up mowing yards,” he says, “and I always dreamed of making my mower go faster.” Enthusiasm like that is exactly what’s building strong, uh, mow-mentum in this fast-growing sport.


For more information: Arizona Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn., (602) 723-8651