One Step at a Time

Walk-behind implements have special appeal for Indiana collector

This nice planter line-up includes several of Herb's Planet Jr. models.

This nice planter line-up includes several of Herb's Planet Jr. models.

Content Tools

There are as many reasons for collecting agricultural artifacts as there are people who collect them. Arguably, most collectors accumulate things that they had some personal, often fondly remembered, experiences with, or that remind them of the lighter times of their youth. However, Herb Kroger, an eclectic collector from Deputy, Ind., also finds certain items appeal because he was physically unable to use them.

"The walking cultivators and implements were always interesting to me," Herb explains with a twinkle in his eye. "My legs were never strong enough (for me) to use any of them, so naturally they were attractive." At a young age, Herb was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a neurological condition that takes on many forms. One of its noteworthy characteristics is a gradual weakening of muscles, which in Herb's case centered in his legs. Today, Herb's legs often require a great deal of concentration and effort to move, and though he hasn't let the condition hold him back, he has had to adapt.

"I've lost some mobility and a lot of leg strength over the years," Herb explains, pointing out hand levers he installed on some of his tractors so that he can use his arms to control the clutches. "I like to modify and fabricate things anyway, so it (the MS) hasn't really been that bad." Herb is also quick to point out he's never limited his collection to walking tools. "I collect anything that is interesting." Today, Herb's interested in tractors, machinery, hand tools, literature, packaging and just about anything that has to do with the International Harvester Co. "There isn't much he won't drag home," says Herb's wife, Carla, with a laugh. "He has a few buildings in town that are completely full too."

A retired farmer, IH parts man and salesman, tractor repair shop owner and construction company equipment dispatcher, Herb's work experiences have been varied. Now retired, he devotes a good deal of his strength to his collections each day. "Some days I wonder how I will ever get to all of the projects I have in mind," Herb says, sitting on a stool behind a counter in his workshop that looks remarkably like the parts counter in an old IH dealership. "One thing is for sure though: I have to take it one day at a time."

Tools to walk behind

Although walk-behind implements don't necessarily anchor Herb's collections, they are among some of his most prized possessions. "I am partial to Planet Jr. garden machines," Herb explains while leafing through one of his mint condition Planet Jr. catalogs. "It is nice to find the paper that goes with the product." Herb has a broad collection of Planet Jr. items, including a U.S. Ski Team Flexible Flier Sled, several original condition Model 300 seeders and a near-mint condition Model 300 wooden shipping box. "The planter, box and catalog make a nice display," he adds.

Herb has other Planet Jr. garden planters, including an interesting model that uses a green glass Ball jar as a seed hopper. This model is known as the Jiffy Seeder, and the planting components can be removed to convert it into a cultivator called the Jiffy Hoe. Herb's Jiffy Seeder is complete and in original condition with an intact glass jar that can still be easily removed. With just a very little tweaking, the garden tool would be ready to go back to work, but in Herb's hands it likely never will.

Because Herb relies on his hands for so much, he is fascinated by the different styles of handles found on his Planet Jr. machines. "Some were bent wood, some were cut, and others used metal ends to form the grips," Herb explains. "And not all of them are that comfortable, either."

Another of Herb's favorite garden seeders is his David Bradley Model 597, which consists of a Model 400 fertilizer unit on a Model 302 seeder unit. "I like the David Bradley because it was sold by Sears & Roebuck," Herb explains while pointing out the different chains and cogs that independently drive the device's seeder and fertilizer functions. "And everybody liked paging through the Sears catalog."

Herb also has a Sears Handiman Model 980 Seeder, and a pair of seeders that were produced for Montgomery Ward & Co., including one that has never been assembled. Herb's garden planter collection also contains a few relatively modern seeders bearing the name of the Golden Harvest Seed Co., but these aluminum and plastic machines appear to be the same as those still offered by Earthway Products of Bristol, Ind.

Not all of Herb's planters are walk-behind units. "I became interested in hand corn planters and tobacco setters somewhere back there too," Herb says. Scores of those devices hang on one wall of his shop.

These planters and setters, designed to be carried and operated by a single individual, featured hoppers to store the seed or funnels to position the plants, and a mechanism that opened the soil and dropped seeds or plants into the opening.

Herb's hand corn planters are made of wood and leather in early iterations, wood and metal, and even all-metal with later models. The tobacco setters were similarly constructed of galvanized steel, and also had a water reservoir that could be momentarily opened to provide the freshly set transplant with a bit of additional moisture to help it adjust.

Herb's human-powered implements also include reel-type push mowers, reel-type garden cultivators and other dedicated cultivating tools. Brands such as Sears, Craftsman, Planet Jr., Spartan, Dunlap, Great States, Dille & McGuire, True-Temper and American Fork & Hoe are all represented in his collection. Among the mowers, one of Herb's favorites has iron wheels with "Crusader" cast in, along with a cross-bearing knight's shield. Another is a Craftsman ball bearing model with an oiler that consists of a small tank, valves and lines that extend to the vegetation trimmer's gearing. "I can't tell whether some prior owner installed (the oiler), or if it came that way," Herb says pointing out the device's valves. "But I have never seen another like it."

Many horse-drawn implements required the operator to walk along, rather than ride, and Herb has his share of those machines. He has many different one-row cultivators, plows and even corn planters in his collection with names like McCormick-Deering and Oliver. One particularly interesting single-row corn planter, a Campbell, is fully adjustable with the cast drive wheel also serving as the planter gear. The manufacturer of this single-row device was James Campbell of Harrison, Ohio. His company later became Campbell Hausfield, best known today as a manufacturer of air compressors and pneumatic tools.

One of Herb's more unusual horse-drawn implements is a New Idea No. 5 two-row tobacco transplanter. "You don't need a good set of legs to work one of these," Herb says. "But sitting on it all day in the dust couldn't have been fun." Ironically, transplanters haven't changed much over the years other than to be self-propelled or pulled by a tractor. And though Herb cherishes his walking tools, he has nothing against collecting motor-motivated machines.

Petroleum-powered passion

Herb's penchant for gasoline and diesel power goes way back into the 1960s when, as a young man, he began farming. "I farmed for a while with H and M Farmalls," Herb says. "I eventually moved up to an IH 656 and 1466." Herb chose International equipment in part because he worked at a dealership that sold the Farmall brand, but he also says he really just liked the look and reputation of the red-and-white machines. Once Herb bought a tractor to use, he was hard-pressed to get rid of it. "I kept most of them after I quit farming," he explains. "I have added a few since then, too."

At this point, Herb isn't entirely certain how many IH tractors he has in his collection, but there are quite a few. Models that he has collected over the years include most of the letter series Farmalls (A, B, C, H, M), their standard equivalents (W-4, W-9, etc.), some of their industrial equivalents (I-4, etc.) and several Farmall Cubs and Cub LoBoys. Herb also has a few F-Series (F-20, etc.) tractors and some even older and some quite a bit newer. Herb's place is also home to many Cub Cadet garden tractors, including one with a 3-cylinder turbocharged Yanmar diesel engine he installed. "I used to pull garden tractors when my legs were stronger," Herb says. "Carla still mows with a Cub Cadet, but most of them were just to play with."

Herb's garden tractor interest isn't only aimed at Cub Cadets. He has collected many different David Bradley tractors over the years, including a number of two-wheeled walking tractors and virtually all of their attachments. He also has a lovely, and quite rare, original condition David Bradley Tri-Trac. Developed in the early 1950s for Sears Roebuck & Co. by a team of David Bradley and Sears engineers, the Tri-Trac's tricycle design (according to David Bradley lore) was intended to avoid the complexities of a differential. The 6 hp garden machine was underpowered, expensive (over $600, nicely equipped) and not without its share of problems (including a tendency to tip), but it remains a very unusual find today.

Among his favorite non-Cub Cadet garden tractors, Herb ranks his beautifully restored, late 1960s Model S-24 Speedex close to the top. "I liked the Speedex because it already had a hand clutch, and you don't see that many of them around," Herb says. He also likes the Speedex brand because it was built by Harold Pond's company and provided the basis for Wheel Horse tractors, which were built by Harold's brother, Elmer. In fact, Elmer Pond assembled Speedex tractors for Harold out of the same garage from which he later sold his own tractors.

Herb has several engine-powered lawn mowers, including a very narrow 12-inch trimming mower built by the Bunton Co. of Louisville, Ky. This mower looks to be perfect for getting into very narrow places, and is able to cut to the edge on both sides. Herb also has vintage chain-saws, including a David Bradley and a Mall two-man model, both from the 1950s, and a late 1950s Hough Pay Loader.

One day at a time

Herb prefers to "just see what happens" when it comes to collecting. "I never know where I will be or what I might find tomorrow," he says. Recently he's devoted a good deal of energy to finishing a workshop addition and fitting it out. Herb created the space specifically to provide climate-controlled storage for his collection of vintage paper and packaging, and to offer his visitors a comfortable place to sit and talk.

"I worked hard to create my own IH dealer parts counter," Herb says of his new addition. "It's perfect for some of my literature and displays." Indeed, stepping into Herb's re-created dealership is a lot like stepping back in time. For visitors it is a nostalgic look at an old-time parts department. For Herb, it offers warm memories of a time and place full of goodness and opportunity. "It gives him a place to go now that he is retired," Carla says with clear affection. "He is out of the house, but close by."

- For more information: Herb Kroger welcomes visitors and can be reached by telephone at (812) 866-3651, or 4292 N. State Road 3, Deputy, IN 47230.

Oscar "Hank" Will III is an old-iron collector, freelance writer and photographer who retired from farming in 1999. He splits his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East Andover, N.H. Contact him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325; (717) 337-6068; e-mail: willo@gettysburg.edu