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The experimental International Harvester gas

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Rarest of the Rare

One-of-a-kind tractors featured at Historic Farm Days

Darius Harms remembers well the first time he set eyes on International Harvester's experimental gasoline turbine tractor in 1961 at the Illinois State Fair. 'It fascinated me to no end,' the Flatville, Ill., old-iron lover recalls.

Forty-two years later, others can share his excitement and see that famed tractor at Historic Farm Days, held July 10-13, 2003, in Penfield, Ill. In fact, organizers say, the event offers not one, but two of the most rare tractors in existence: the International Harvester gasoline turbine-powered HT-341 and the Hart-Parr #3 gasoline tractor.

Both are on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History to the show's sponsor, the I & I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club, based in Penfield. 'It's something we never dreamed could happen,' Richard Fourez, club president, says. 'As the club grew, we always wanted to add something extra special every year.'

The HT-341 will certainly draw crowds who crave International Harvester equipment, as in 2002 when the 500-member club hosted the annual IH Collectors Association's national show. Yet, with the presence of that unique Hart-Parr tractor, it's no wonder that this year's show is paired with the 13th annual national gathering of the Hart-Parr Oliver Collector's Association.

Although many people helped with the effort to display both tractors, Fourez credits Harms' persistence to coordinate the equipment loan from the Smithsonian. Harms worked with Larry Jones, museum specialist for the Smithsonian's agriculture collections, to arrange the tractor loans.

Such loans are routine, Jones says, but museums and historical societies must comply with specific stipulations to ensure the equipment is properly cared for. The tractors must be stored in a climate-controlled environment with constant 55-percent humidity, the facility must be locked tight with daily inspections, barriers must be erected to prevent visitors from touching the machines and knowledgeable people must handle the tractors.

Both tractors are on a three-year, renewable loan to the club, which helps the Smithsonian share its collections outside Washington, D.C. 'There are many people who never make it to D.C,' Jones says. Even if they do, he adds, they aren't likely to see the tractors because less than 5 percent of the museum's 3 million objects are on display at any given time.

One look at the tractors and there's no doubt that they're special machines. The HT-341 - owned by the Smithsonian since 1976 - was designed by International Harvester in 1959 and built in 1960 when many farm equipment makers were experimenting with gasoline turbine power, Jones says. The engine uses a jet-like turbine to mix fuel and air, which achieves an amazing amount of power for its size, he adds. The engine produces 90 hp and is only 13 inches long, 20 inches in diameter and weighs 85 pounds.

Although some call the turbine tractor the HT-340, Harms points out that it's actually the HT-341. The first number was assigned to the prototype tractor, but it was damaged in transit when the trailer that carried it wrecked. After some repairs and a few minor design modifications, it was dubbed the HT-341, he explains. 'It's amazing,' Harms declares.

The gas turbine engine never caught on, and the real legacy of the HT-341 came from its unique hydrostatic transmission, Jones says. That technology used on most modern tractors, combines and other gasoline-powered farm equipment is based upon the HT-341, he adds.

Perhaps equally important is the Hart-Parr #3 tractor. Built in 1903 during the age of prairie giants, and when gasoline tractors were still in their infancy, Harms says, it represents the first successful production model powered by gasoline instead of steam or kerosene. It was also the first tractor off the line, and the last remaining example of only 14 ever produced.

Although the Smithsonian obtained the tractor in 1960, Jones says, it was never restored. Thus, the Smithsonian asked that experts restore the machine before it's displayed in July to guarantee the public sees an accurate piece of farm history, not just another piece of old iron. That work began last fall, led by Oliver Schaffer, Doug Strawser, a Hart-Parr historian, and Todd Stockwell, curator of the agriculture collections at the Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis. The distinct-looking tractor will sport a new canopy and exhaust pipes, as well as repaired sheet metal and authentic paint colors, Jones says.

'That tractor is a very important piece of history,' Harms says. 'It's a golden opportunity for our club.' FC

- To learn more about the Hart-Parr #3 tractor or the HT-341, or Historic Farm Days, contact Richard Fourez at (217) 569-2143 or (217) 260-7056.