What does it take to collect antique tractors? Some would say heaps of money, ample storage space and a hefty trailer — but not the pioneers of the garden tractor area at the annual Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. According to the area’s director, Alan Buckert, those things have scarcely factored into the increasing popularity of antique lawn and garden tractors.
“So many people are already involved with garden tractors,” Alan says. “You can buy a garden tractor for a more reasonable price than you can a large tractor, and they don’t take up much room to store. A lot of collectors will pick a brand that’s important to them or their family, like John Deere, Cub Cadet, Allis-Chalmers or Case. There are lots of different brands to collect.”
It was Alan who first thought of creating the show’s garden tractor area. In the half-decade it’s been part of Old Threshers, it’s grown from three lonely garden tractors to more than 200 at the 2013 reunion.
A place for growing families
Years ago, Alan and his friends were discussing ways to get young people interested in antique tractors and collecting in general. Many of the tractor collectors at Old Threshers, including Alan, had children who weren’t old enough to drive the bigger tractors. Alan knew the garden tractor area would allow his son Austin and nephews to get involved collecting tractors they could actually drive.
Alan was brought up in a family that loves collecting. His parents, Fred and Ruth Buckert, Hamilton, Ill., and older brothers Kenny and Danny are also involved in the hobby. Fred even helped start Western Illinois Threshers in his hometown of Hamilton.
“It’s been in our blood forever and we enjoy anything related to agricultural equipment,” Alan says. “We’ve got a lot of tractors and cars, but the garden tractors have enabled us to take it in a new direction.”
Alan is one of 12 members of the Old Threshers’ board of directors, meeting monthly to ensure the show is going in the right direction, from logistics to general planning. Their main focus in the garden tractor area is sending information to exhibitors to ensure the best turnout possible. They’re hoping to have 300 to 400 garden tractors at the 2014 reunion.
“Our goal is to be diverse,” Alan says. “We like to have a lot of different models so that hopefully visitors will see the ones their families had when they were kids.”
The search for excellence
Alan also takes part in the not-so-easy task of choosing each year’s featured lawn and garden tractor, based on exhibitor’s involvement as much as the tractors they own. Each year he looks for someone heavily involved in the hobby who, ideally, displays garden tractors that suit the interests of the greater Old Threshers’ tractor show.
In 2013, Harold and Debbie Sammons’ hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Their 1962 Panzer lawn tractor with factory loader was the featured lawn and garden tractor at Mt. Pleasant — and not just because it’s fun to look at. Panzer designed and built its own loader; just 200 of that model were built, and Harold’s is one of 50 known to exist.
Harold, who died shortly after the 2013 reunion, worked alongside his fellow coordinators, and Alan, in the garden tractor area at Old Threshers from its beginning, helping others set up displays, answering questions and everything in between.
Every September after Old Threshers, Harold and Debbie hosted a “plow day” at their farm for garden tractor enthusiasts. Their other Panzer lawn tractor, a 1963 Pennsylvania, was manufactured the year Panzer’s parent company, Virginia Metalcrafters, purchased Pennsylvania Lawnmowers, which became Pennsylvania Lawn Products Inc. It was also Harold’s “all-time favorite” lawn tractor because it’s the first one he found.
Although his collection includes quite a few head-turners, not all of Harold’s pieces started out that way. Harold had a passion for less-appreciated relics.
“I’ve got one tractor I gave $25 for,” Harold said in an interview last September. “It was going to a scrap yard, but we cleaned it up, brought it in and got it running.”
People love hearing stories like that in the lawn-chair-powwows in the garden tractor area. Harold just had a knack for helping others realize their opportunity to become part of the fun, and proving that collecting tractors doesn’t have to be expensive. That sort of hospitality is simply a way of life in the hobby.
“Harold was a really good person,” Alan says. “He wanted to do everything he could for this hobby and to make our display better. He was an ambassador for the garden tractor area. His family and grandkids were involved and he was able to make them part of it. It was almost a family reunion for them each year because of Harold.”
In 2014, Oliver tractors will be featured in both Tractor Land (where full-size tractors are displayed) and in the garden tractor area. “We have two really key volunteers, Kenny and Theresa Grimm from Goose Lake, Iowa, that have a really nice Oliver garden tractor to be featured in 2014,” Alan says.
To each his own
Mt. Pleasant welcomes all kinds of garden tractors each year such as Panzer, Pow’r Pup, Montgomery Ward & Co., Cub Cadet, John Deere, Case, Allis-Chalmers and Ford. And the collectors are more than happy to share their preferences. Tim Reynolds, Harold’s fellow exhibit coordinator, started collecting lawn and garden tractors for the usual reasons — they’re affordable and easy to haul. Specifically, he’s always had a soft spot for Cub Cadets. He restored his first, a 1965 Cub Cadet 102, as a 4-H project; he’s collected Cubs ever since. Fifteen Cub Cadets made up Tim’s collection at the 2013 reunion, complete with a plow, sickle mower, loader and front-mounted chipper-shredder.
Fitted with a Johnson Workhorse loader, Tim’s 102 has a 10 hp Kohler engine and is rated to lift 300 pounds. “All the brackets are right; nothing’s been welded, cut or modified to fit this tractor,” Tim says. “Before I restored it, I actually used it to move snow and it is pretty powerful. It’s a unique piece and I’m proud to have it. You don’t see a lot of them.”
That’s not the only conversation piece in Tim’s collection. His other 102 is fitted with a 10-inch Brinly one-bottom plow. “I plow at a show in Illinois and that draws a lot of attention because people don’t think garden tractors can plow,” Tim says.
Can you guess which brand Old Threshers’ exhibitor Eddie Ward chose to collect? That’s right, Montgomery Ward & Co. “My last name’s Ward so I started collecting Montgomery Ward garden tractors,” he says.
His display includes a 1967 Montgomery Ward Squire 10 pulling a trailer loaded with a 1966 Montgomery Ward push mower with a 4 hp Briggs and Stratton motor. Having never been used, the push mower is a cherished part of Eddie’s collection. It came with the original manuals, all the hardware for the handles still sealed in a plastic bag and the original unopened quart of oil shipped with the mower.
Although they might disagree about which garden tractor brand is king, there’s one thing all the garden tractor enthusiasts at Old Threshers seem to agree on: No matter where you live, in a city or on a farm, you could probably use a garden tractor, so don’t hesitate to get involved.
“I brought a friend (to the Old Threshers’ garden tractor area) back in 2000 from Kansas City, Mo.,” Eddie says. “He brought his son and daughter and they’ve been coming every year since then. So yeah, it’s growing and I like to see people getting into the hobby.” FC
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Matt Kelly is the assistant editor of Farm Collector. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.