Red Power Round Up Features International Harvester

Red Power Round Up celebrates International Harvester with comprehensive museum display.

1953 Farmall Club

A 1953 Farmall Cub restored by Larry Matalas, Kenosha, Wis., was a people magnet at the RPRU. Over the course of 20 years, Larry has draped the tractor in stainless steel bling. A machinist, Larry made or repurposed all of the tractor's unique additions, from the distributor base to the dual exhaust and carburetor to the air cleaner (recycled dog dish) to the fan assembly and air cleaner.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

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In the old iron hobby, the Red Power Round Up is known for being the biggest traveling show in the U.S. The 2014 show, held in Huron, South Dakota, added an asterisk to that record when South Dakota Chapter 21 unveiled what was surely the biggest temporary museum ever.

Occupying a 96,000-square-foot cattle pavilion at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds, the museum did banner business … for about 72 hours. “We moved in the first tractor Sunday afternoon (before the show opened on Thursday),” says Show Chairman Steve Masat, Redfield, South Dakota, “and we finished putting it together three days later. Nothing like this has been done before, and we did it here, in South Dakota.”

Displays in the museum — tractors, implements, equipment and much more — showcased the evolution of International Harvester landmarks of the past century. A smaller but equally beefy exhibit in the same building presented six decades of dealership displays from the early 1900s through the 1960s. It was, as one visitor noted, like visiting a Smithsonian museum.

“We had a lot of help from a lot of people,” says Howard Raymond, Wellfleet, Nebraska, who chaired the undertaking. “But when some of the things that had been promised didn’t show up, we went out to the tractor display area and started ‘shopping.’”

Because of the museum’s artful yet compact layout, those who agreed to contribute an item to the display gave up the opportunity to participate in the daily parade at the Round Up: Once a piece was placed, removing it — even for a short time — would have been highly problematic. But 99 percent of those asked didn’t hesitate before agreeing, Steve says. “Several said they were honored to be invited,” he says.

Reaper was the key

“We wanted to tell the history of this company,” Howard says, “and show the diversity of the products International Harvester produced. But we also wanted to highlight the innovative ideas that came out of International Harvester.

“IH was a unique company,” he notes. “McCormick’s original reaper was a very innovative tool for the farmer. Now we can’t give McCormick all the credit for development of the reaper, but he was able to market the reaper and get it produced in large numbers.”

Production was underway by the late 1840s. By the time soldiers left to fight in the Civil War, the reaper was gaining ground in the marketplace. As the war pulled men from the farms, it became even more essential. “The reaper truly was the tool that put us where we are today, in terms of mechanized agriculture,” Howard says. “If it wasn’t for the reaper, every one of us would be out grubbing our own food.”

For the farmer 100-150 years ago, harvest was the bottleneck. “One man could sow hundreds of acres of grain,” Howard notes, “but there was no way one man could harvest more than 1 or 2 acres. Plus, there was a short window of time for harvest; it really limited what one man could do.”

Seed of an idea

At IHC, the next step in technological progression was the Farmall. In the 1920s, that meant a sudden stunning leap forward in development of a mechanical planter and cultivator. “In my great-grandmother’s diary of 1885,” Howard says, “one entry reported that they borrowed a neighbor’s marker so they could check-plant corn.” Check planting demanded vigilant weed control. In an era before herbicides and mechanical cultivators, it was a never-ending job.

“The old horse-drawn cultivators were steered by the operator’s foot,” Howard says, “so he could only do one row at a time. When they came out with the Farmall, I don’t think even International’s engineers realized what they had done. All of a sudden, there was linkage so that when the front wheels moved, the cultivator shovels moved.”

Fast forward to 2013, as members of Chapter 21 were in the thick of planning for the 2014 Round Up. “Originally I had the idea of restoring a 2-1/2 hp Famous gas engine during the show,” Howard says. “Then we decided to build an International dealership dating back to 100 years ago. Then we decided to have a blacksmith shop. Then we figured, as long as we were building dealerships, we might just as well do six of them.

“You know,” he says with some understatement, “how things get out of hand.”

In the museum, dozens of tractors were nestled in with antique wagons, trucks, mowers, drills, pickers, diggers, plows, feed grinders, hay rake and press, end gate seeders and spreaders — all carefully grouped to show the evolution of technology. Vintage signs, banners and promotional pieces were scattered throughout. The “first and last” — the first Fordson built and the final tractor to roll out of the Farmall plant in Rock Island, Illinois (a 5488 built in 1985) — were a prominent feature, as were massive combines and TD-18 and TD-24 dozers. Several important early pieces — including a 1906 Auto Wagon — served as reminder of the company’s origins.

Tracing technology

Back when the plans were small and manageable, the club planned to station one vintage tractor at each dealership display. “It just grew,” Howard says, with a shrug of the shoulders that suggested this was not his first rodeo. “As it turned out, we have a really good assortment and we’re really able to showcase International’s key innovations in the 100 Years Exhibit.” Among the innovations: Electrall, Fast Hitch, Torque Amplifier and gas-start diesel.

The Electrall system used a mechanically driven generator off a tractor engine, providing standby, mobile and portable electric power. “The concept was to use an electric engine on implements that needed power,” Howard explains, “eliminating the PTO shaft. Was it a success? No. It wasn’t developed until 1954, at about the same time the independent PTO became increasingly perfected and easy to use. Plus, it was a real expensive option. It just fell by the wayside; it was probably only built for two years.”

The Fast-Hitch system was unique to International Harvester. A late challenge to Ford’s 3-point hitch launched in 1926, Fast-Hitch provided an easy means of attaching and detaching rear-mounted implements. Coupling, uncoupling, depth control and leveling of implements could all be done from the tractor seat.

“Ford made an agreement with Ferguson for the 3-point hitch,” Howard explains, “but the other manufacturers didn’t want to pay royalties to Ferguson.” Hence, International’s home-grown solution. “Fast Hitch wasn’t a bad idea,” he says, “but it was a little mechanically complicated. Case had a modern 3-point; Allis-Chalmers’ system was upside-down. When all the patents expired, everybody went to the 3-point system.”       

International’s Torque Amplifier allowed for a quick downshift using the hand lever, without using the clutch, to gain torque at the drive wheels. “IH developed it in 1954,” Howard says. “Nobody else was doing it yet. It was unique; you could shift on the go; step down on the transmission and gain a little horsepower.”

Gas-start diesel, another IH innovation, added extra decompression and a separate carburetion system to a diesel engine, allowing it to start on gas. Once the engine was warmed up, a lever was used to switch it back to diesel. “Back then, there was no battery-start system,” Howard says. “And diesel engines were hard to turn over.”

Dealership displays

Dealership displays spanning a period from the early 1900s through the 1960s gave visitors a different look at International Harvester. Six “false fronts” were erected in the pavilion. Each portrayed an actual South Dakota International Harvester dealership, each of which still exists in some form.

The 1920s dealership presented the history of the Farmall tractor and background on Adolph Ronning, inventor of the ensilage harvester. The 1930s dealership gave visitors an up-close look at a parts counter true to the era. At the 1940s dealership, the focus was on company promotional materials and Raymond Loewy’s influence on industrial design at International Harvester. Displays in the 1950s dealership focused on International refrigerators and dairy equipment. Heavy equipment repair, diagnostic units and tractor cutaways were featured in the 1960s dealership.

Other activities at the Round Up included daily parades, extensive displays of collector tractors, engines, equipment, trucks and memorabilia; a ranch rodeo, anvil shoot, live music, tours, and activities for women and children. Proceeds from a raffle, steak fry and chicken dinner were targeted for a new 4-H building at the fairgrounds. FC

For more information:

— The 2015 Red Power Round Up will be held in Sedalia, Missouri. Visit rpru2015.com for details.

Want more from the 2014 Red Power Round Up? Read Memories of an International Harvester Dealership.


Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector magazine. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com or find her on Google+.