Finding the Family Farmall: One Nephew’s Search for his Uncle’s Tractor

Relentless search for 1944 Farmall Model H tractor pays off

The late Gennadiy S. Dudin with his 1944 Farmall Model H tractor.

The late Gennadiy S. Dudin with his 1944 Farmall Model H tractor.

courtesy Sam Sayeed

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My uncle, Gennadiy S. Dudin, used a 1944 Farmall Model H on 40 acres of land he homesteaded.

His farm was in the quaint and beautiful northern border town of Littlefork near International Falls, Minn. He tried to grow anything he could in the harsh northern Minnesota environment and his Farmall H was an invaluable partner. He also used it to plow fields in the summer and snow in the winter, put it to work during hay season and ran a log splitter with it. The H became an essential part of his survival in the border country.

I grew up on Long Island, N.Y., but paid annual visits to my aunt and uncle. At their home, I learned about farming, enjoyed the beauty of northern Minnesota and adopted Littlefork as my second home. One of my fondest childhood memories is of my uncle’s Farmall H. I had never been on a tractor in my life, but during a visit when I was 8, my uncle put me on his lap and put my hands on the tractor’s steering wheel. “Now you are going to learn how to drive a tractor and be a farmer,” he said.

It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. Within a few days, my uncle let me drive the tractor on my own. He taught me how to plow with it, pull discs and split wood. At the end of each day, we’d ride the tractor together through meadows and over wooded trails looking for wildlife and enjoying the sunset. I loved driving the Farmall so much that I hated to leave Minnesota at the end of my vacation.

In late 1997, my uncle suddenly passed away. Soon after, my aunt – distraught and beset by financial troubles – sold most of the farm equipment. The Farmall went to a neighbor who soon sold it to a buyer in another part of the state. There was no record of the sale or the buyer’s name and address. Unfortunately, as a college student with no income and no resources, I was in no position to buy back the old H.

Years later, I had completed my education and became a doctor, but memories of the Farmall remained clear in my mind. I vowed to find it one day. I placed ads in newspapers throughout Minnesota, hoping someone would recognize the tractor. My uncle’s neighbors and friends in Littlefork also searched for the tractor but with no success.

Then, several months ago, a friend in the North country heard a rumor that the tractor might be near Grand Rapids, Minn. No other details were available, but that scrap of information was enough to rekindle the search. I purchased a plane ticket and flew to Littlefork in June 2009. I gathered several old photos of the tractor, and joined by several of my uncle’s old friends and neighbors who remembered the tractor, set off for Grand Rapids, a three-hour drive from Littlefork. We spent eight hours driving around the Grand Rapids area that day, stopping at dozens of farms to ask about the tractor, to no avail. After nearly 12 hours of continuous driving through the area, we were about to give up.

At what we agreed would be our final stop, the farmer we spoke to referred us to a local tow truck operator, an avid tractor collector. We sped over to his shop, showed him the pictures and told him the story. Unbelievably, he recalled helping the buyer haul the tractor down from Littlefork. Even more incredible, he knew where the tractor was. After several phone calls, he tracked down the current owner, who let us come see the tractor.

I was in a state of shock. I never expected to see my uncle’s tractor again. In a few minutes, we pulled into a driveway and there stood the tractor that had been so much a part of my childhood. I just stared at it, so excited that I could not speak.

The new owner had been using the tractor in parades and at shows and had become very attached to it. Although it was not restored, it was still in good condition. I figured it would be nearly impossible to convince him to part with it. We talked for many hours. I told him all the stories of my uncle and me with the old Farmall and showed him pictures of the tractor when my uncle owned it. Ultimately, he was so deeply moved by my quest that he admitted he did not want to be the one standing in my way and agreed to sell me the Farmall.

Before he could change his mind, we closed the deal. After 12 years, my uncle’s H was back in the family. My friends and I returned to Grand Rapids with a trailer the next day. Everyone in Littlefork was happy to hear that I finally found the old H and got it back. I drove it around for hours that day and the next, and took hundreds of pictures and several videos of it.

The Farmall will remain in Minnesota, as I feel it belongs there, in my second home. When I return to Littlefork for visits, I’ll enjoy using the tractor there. Eventually I’ll have it fully restored as a reminder of my uncle and all the good times we had. FC