David Miller was chasing gas engines at a sale in a Wyoming when a funny thing happened.
"I went to the sale because I was interested in some gas engines. And I got six of them. But I also got a tractor," he said. "It was just going way too cheap."
The tractor – a 1932 John Deere GP wide tread – may not have been on David's shopping list, but it made a good companion to a vintage GP standard he already had.
"It is a rare tractor," he said, "and that makes it more desirable. They only made about 4,000 of them."
The GP in general was not a best-seller, David said.
"It was underpowered and overweight," he said. "And there were quite a few problems with the carburetion."
The bulk of his GP's career was spent mowing hay at the Taylor Ranch in northeast Wyoming. About 10 years ago, the tractor was sold. Restoration efforts had just begun when the new owner died.
When David got ahold of it 18 months ago, his work was cut out for him.
"It was fairly complete," he said. "But I had to fix the head and the radiator, and there was a slight problem with the transmission. And I had to cut a rear wheel apart, and re-weld it. Basically, I just tore it down and sandblasted the whole thing."
The restoration went well, he said.
"There's nothing I'd do different," he said. "It turned out well; I like it."
He finished the Deere in time to take it to the antique tractor exhibit at the Nebraska State Fair. But the project is not yet totally completed.
"It came with a mower that's kind of different," he said. "And I'd like to restore it. It's on my list of things to do. From what I've been able to dig up, it's one of the first PTO-driven tractor mowers built by John Deere."
David's rebuilt some implements before. But restoration of the mower would be a major undertaking, he said.
"A lot of things on it are broken and welded up," he said. "I'd at least like to make it look like it's never been welded."
He's never seen another mower like it. "So I don't even know what's missing from it," he said with a laugh.
Still, the biggest challenge of the project, he said, was getting the tractor home from Wyoming.
"I had way too small a trailer," he said. "The tractor was eight feet wide, and the trailer was six feet wide. So I had to pull the rear wheels off, and use a forklift to get it on the trailer, and then we blocked it up."
David got his start as a collector with tractors nearly 20 years ago.
"But they're too hard to haul around," he said. "I had a bunch of friends who said engines were much easier to haul."
And so a new collection was born. David specializes in Root and Vandervoort.
"I have six of them," he said, "including three 1 hp engines, all of which are different. The rarest one I have is a 4 hp upright."
All together, he has about 30 engines. They've come from all over.
"I've gone as far as Ohio, Minnesota and Canada, looking for engines," he said. "I just enjoy traveling."
And classics. In addition to his engine collection, and a few vintage tractors, he has some classic vehicles.
"I also have an old Model A and a Model T truck, all restored," he said. "I just like the old stuff. I have the most fun with a 1928 Model A Ford farm truck. It had just 16,000 miles on it when I bought it (it now has 17,000 miles on it). Grain trucks just didn't get driven too much."
Whether he's restoring an engine, a tractor, or a classic vehicle, David – who works as a tool maker at a Waverly company – puts particular focus on the finish.
"You want to try and get a good paint job on it, and get the detailing done properly," he said. "A lot of people have the mechanical know-how, but when it comes to the paint job, they don't always get it right. Take your time; try to do it right." Other advice?
"I'd try to buy rarer stuff," he said, while acknowledging the challenge. "There's getting to be more and more collectors all the time, and more collectors with big money. For the guy just getting started, it's getting pretty tough."
He recommends starting – particularly if you're collecting engines – at swap meets. At auctions, he said, "everything seems to go higher than it should." FC
For more information: David Miller, 10420 N. 142nd Street, Waverly, NE 68462.