BETWEEN THE BOOKENDS

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The new Classic Tractor Fever video

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Videos to Tide You Over until Show Season

In late winter, show season is tantalizingly close. But if you just can't wait another minute, three new videos are available to tide you over.

For the antique tractor enthusiast, the Classic Tractor Fever video is a companion piece to the Classic Farm Tractors Calendar for 2000. The calendar features a unique and handsomely restored tractor each month, and the video expands on that.

John Harvey, creator of the Classic Farm Tractor Calendar, has dispatched a first-rate film crew to nearly every corner of the country to visit the owners of just over a dozen one-of-a-kind tractors. The resulting hour-long video gives an inside look at what motivates collectors and restorers of vintage classics. The way old iron bonds generations, for instance, is an ever-present theme.

Wendell Kelch is among the film's subjects. When Kelch bought a 1917 Titan 30-60 at the Oscar's Dreamland auction in 1998, the Titan was immediately tagged as 'the most expensive tractor on the face of the earth.' Kelch paid $126,000 for the Titan, which he set to work restoring. But when the film crew visited with Kelch's father, he wanted to talk about his son's first restoration project-undertaken when Wendell was 10!

Bill Montgomery, whose 1927 Farmall is featured in the video, noted that he and his son, Billy, 'caught the fever together' (although Billy prefers the harvest gold of Minneapolis Moline tractors). And then there's the Oliver 70 owned by William K. Cover. The Oliver is rare in its own right (more on that later), but family ties make it special: it was originally Cover's grandfather's tractor; the grandson tracked it down and purchased it years after his granddad had sold the rare classic.

Family ties like those wrap around this video like ribbons around a special gift. But the film also captures the beauty of the rural American countryside; the simple and enduring architecture of the farm; the pride each of these owners take in their farms, their tractors, their restorations.

And then, of course, there's the tractors: Kelch's stately Titan, restored to a deep gleaming finish ... Ron Miller's 1913 Rumely Oil Pull, solid as a rock ('Everything you grab hold of on it is heavy,' he says)... Bill Cover's red - yes, red! - Oliver (it was one of six Olivers painted in atypical colors as part of a 1937 contest: farmers cast 'votes' on their color preference) ... and Big Bud, which is, simply put, the largest tractor on the face of the earth.

Brian Baxter, who acts as a combination tour guide/emcee, sets a comfortably brisk pace as he visits with these collectors. He's done his homework ahead of time, so the interviews are natural and relaxed, yet generous with facts, history and plain old fun. The video shifts effortlessly from discussion of different fuel systems, to the particulars of wartime tractor production, to details on original components. You even get a bit of Hollywood gossip (Clint Eastwood may be one tough customer, but he struggled at the wheel of a '65 Deere during a shoot in Iowa...)

Two films produced by Trails West Productions take a different look at farm classics. 'Grandpa's Tractor' (60 minutes) meanders lesiurely around the country, taking in the different venues in which farm classics are preserved for the future. 'Oscar's Dreamland' (30 minutes) captures the final days of the nearly indescribable collection of Oscar Cook in Billings, Mont., before the collection was sold at auction in 1998. 'Grandpa's Tractor' warms up at a show put on by the Camp Creek Threshers in Waverly, Neb. Scenes of horsedrawn implements at work, steam whistles blowing, gas engines chugging, decades-old washing machines spinning give a glimpse of a typical tractor and engine show. Interviews with collectors trace the evolution of farm equipment and machinery in the past 100 years.

From Nebraska, the video moves on to the Heidrick Ag History Center in Woodland, Cal, where collector/founder extraordinaire Fred Heidrick revisits the days of steam engines; to Nevada, for a tractor pull featuring vintage tractors; and to Oscar's Dreamland in Billings, home (until 1998) of what was generally regarded as the top collection of farm classics in the world.

The values and rewards of farm life are celebrated throughout. 'A good day on the farm is when I can look around, see the crops, see what we've raised, and think of what we've accomplished,' one young farmer notes. His elder counterpart all but harrumphs when asked what was fun about fanning over the course of five decades, and it's easy to imagine the thoughts going through his mind at that question. But true colors come through: 'I always liked the neighborhood, the people,' he said. 'Farm life has always been good.' Simple words, but words that speak volumes.

Volumes could be written about the collection of farm equipment amassed by the late Oscar Cooke. But the treasures are gone now; scattered almost literally to the ends of the earth. In Trails West's second film, 'Oscar's Dreamland,' Cooke's collection and his legacy get a close look.

Cooke's daughter and son-in-law, Marcie and Rick Limpp, offer unique insights into a collection amassed over the course of four decades. Cooke's enthusiasm for vintage iron knew no bounds, his son-in-law noted. 'He was a hard man to follow,' he said. 'Even in his 90s, he'd go all day long.' The collection was always in the forefront: Cooke once cut a vacation trip to Hawaii short when he learned of a treasure waiting to be snapped up.

Cooke's collection was noteworthy not only because of its mammoth size, but also because of the rare pieces in it: a massive 1906 Best steam engine, a 1910 Olmstead (one of just 28 made), the IHC Titan. It was a collection so unique that many people attended the auction just to see it. 'I had to come,' said one collector. 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this collection.' And more than a few would-be buyers at the auction came hoping 'just to get something that was Oscar's.'

Buyers and bids came from all over the world, meaning, of course, that Oscar's collection has scattered as well. It was hard for the family to see the collection broken up, Marcie Cooke Limpp said. But there was satisfaction in it, too, she added.

'These things will be preserved forever,' she said. 'They're going to good homes, where they'll be loved. These things will never see a scrap yard.'

For more information:

Classic Tractor Fever 2000 video, Classic Tractor Fever, Box 437, Rockland, DE 19732; (800) 888-8979; $25 plus $4 shipping/handling.

Grandpa's Tractor ($24.99 plus 55 shipping/handling) and Oscar's Dreamland (priced separately; call for details) videos, Trails West Productions, 1005 Terminal Way, Suite 118, Reno, NV 89502; (877) 488-8875; www.trailswest.com

'These things will be preserved forever. They're going to good homes, where they'll be loved. These things will never see a scrap yard.'

Marcie Cooke Limpp