Don Javers will celebrate a golden anniversary this year, but it won't be a wedding anniversary: 1998 marks the 50th year of his passion for Cockshutt tractors.
"In 1948 there was a demonstration of Cockshutts over at Sioux Falls," he said. "My friends said I ought to go see them. I'd never heard of a Cockshutt until that day. So I went, and I was impressed with that tractor."
The Cockshutt had an image problem in those days, he said.
"My brothers both thought I should be taken to the insane asylum when I bought that tractor," he said. "But they both got one themselves within two years."
Don – and other original buyers – were impressed by Cockshutt's forward thinking.
"They were the first with live power take-off and live hydraulics," he said.
Since that first Cockshutt, Don has slowly picked up one here, another there, until now, five decades later, he finds himself with more than 20, representing every model in the line. For a period of time, though, he had to give up on farming with Cockshutt.
"We had awful good luck with those tractors," he said. "But when the White Company bought out Cockshutt in 1962, they took all the parts back to Canada. Well, you can't wait a week for a part when you need to be in the fields. So we got rid of all that machinery." The collection began after that, when he started having second thoughts.
Don has worked on engines since he had his first car.
"When I was young, there wasn't much money," he said. "I had a Model A Ford, and if it needed work, you either fixed it yourself, or you didn't go."
Later, he'd work 17 years on-and-off for a Cockshutt dealership in Sioux Falls.
"I knew those tractors inside and out," he said. "And I had a little shop where I was kept pretty busy by the neighbors and friends. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I've learned a lot working on tractors over the years."
Don's son helps with the restoration projects, and his wife does the detail work. His most obstinate project was a Golden Eagle.
"It had a Perkins engine, made in England," he said, "and that was hard to find parts for."
"It's a challenge to find parts. I always like to have two tractors of the same model, so I can use one for parts," he said. "Cockshutt's different: It's no challenge to restore John Deere or International tractors ... those parts are all easily available."
He relies upon a network of friends. Contacts like those led him to the prizes in his collection: a Golden Arrow (just 150 were made) and a 540, also made in small numbers. He's gone as far as Oklahoma, the Ozarks and the Canadian border. He's discovered tractors in a grove of trees, and picked up a trail in casual conversations. What he hasn't done? Bought at auction.
"They're just too expensive at auctions," he said.
Economy was always the Cockshutt's claim to fame, he said.
"We just never spent any money on them," he said. "They really gave you good service. They just never had a good dealer organization."
Don's not quite a purist. His collection includes an Avery A, an Allis-Chalmers, and a Co-op B2 made in Shelbyville, Ind., in '41, just before the federal government ordered the factory to cease production of tractors, and start building tanks for the war effort. And he even has a few more Cockshutts tucked away, awaiting restoration. Now that his collection of all models is complete, he's looking at some of the model variations.
"Unless there's a funeral or a wedding, it's pretty hard to get me out of the shop," he said. "But I really enjoy it." FC
For more information: Don Javers, Route 1 Box 77, Harrisburg, SD 57032; (605) 743-2249 (evenings).