International Harvester Museum Brought to Life
Jerry Mez's Farmall-Land museum
This relatively simply built workhorse, an International 1206, is Jerry Mez’s favorite tractor. He is shown here with his wife, Joyce.
Courtesy Renander Photos
Few people sustain a dream for 40 years. Jerry Mez, Avoca, Iowa, is the exception.
The result of his dream is the 26,500-square-foot Farmall-Land museum, dedicated to the machines and history of International Harvester.
“I’ve had this dream of making a museum for over 40 years,” Jerry says. “I started saving tractors with an F-20 35 years ago, because my father told me I should keep one of those old F-20s to show people what he did when he first came to Avoca in 1943. It all evolved from that. I started collecting tractors slowly at first, and it picked up speed from there. My wife, Joyce, says it’s a disease, but I think it’s one of the better ones I could have.”
Building a business
Jerry’s father, Max, taught school for several years until he started working for an IH dealer in Falls City, Neb., during summers and weekends. The work convinced him he should become an IH dealer. “Avoca, Iowa, was an open territory,” Jerry says, “which meant there weren’t any dealers for a range of six to 12 miles around.”
After a stint in the armed services and college, Jerry came back to Avoca to work at the family business, Avoca Implement Co., and eventually take it over from his father. That was when he began to start collecting for the museum, which opened in 2006.
Getting tractors for the collection was never a problem. “People always ask, ‘How did you find all this stuff?’” Jerry explains. “When people know you’re a collector, you don’t have to make many calls. They come to you. The hardest part is saying no. Sometimes the tractors are right next to home.”
On one occasion, a man who lived only 25 miles from Avoca came in and asked for parts for an IH 664 utility tractor. Jerry’s parts man told him there was no such tractor. “The guy just stood there, smiling,” Jerry says, “and said, ‘OK, I’ll be in tomorrow with my parts book for it.’ And sure enough, IH had made a few of those. But we didn’t sell many in this area. It was one of those short-lived things that isn’t even listed as a tractor model in books written about IH.”
While he dreamed about the museum, Jerry stored tractors at area farms‚ fairgrounds and sheds, even parked outside Avoca Implement Co. buildings. Today they’ve found a home. “They’re all in the museum now, fully restored,” he says, 175 red tractors and Cadets, all different variations.
Restoration was an ongoing process as Jerry built the collection. “For many years when there was time in our implement dealerships in the winter and summer,” he says, “I had my people help with the restoring.” Jerry also did some of the restoration work himself.
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