LET'S TALK RUSTY IRON

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Sam Moore

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Summer fun awaits at California's Heidrick Ag History Center

Vintage farm equipment museums dot the American landscape. Some are low-budget, mom-and-pop affairs and others house collections worth many thousands of dollars. With summer travel season in full swing, it's time I told you about one of the greatest rusty iron museums I've ever visited.

Two years ago, my wife, Nancy, and I spent three weeks wandering around California. We crossed the Mojave Desert and saw parts of Los Angeles. We drove into the San Gabriel Mountains where we could look down on L.A., which couldn't be seen due to a grayish-yellow layer of smog. We drove north along the coastal highway, visited Hearst's castle and saw Big Sur before reaching the Monterey Peninsula where we drove around the famous Pebble Beach golf course. We crossed the fertile San Joachin Valley several times and toured Yosemite National Park where we saw Bridalveil Falls and walked through a tunnel carved through a giant redwood tree.

We spent several days in San Francisco, then drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and checked out some of the wineries in the Napa Valley. Finally, we reached Woodland, which is about 20 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Woodland holds a special treasure for rusty iron lovers: the Heidrick Ag History Center. The modern facility houses the Fred C. Heidrick collection of old tractors and farm machinery in a 130,000-square-foot building, as well as the vast antique truck collection once owned by A.W. 'Pop' Hayes.

The two are separate, but one ticket gives a visitor admission to both the Heidrick and Hayes collections. Since I love old farm machinery and old trucks, I spent about five hours in the museum (Nancy wasn't quite as enthusiastic, but she had a book to read) and took about 150 photos (I ran out of film or I'd have taken more).

Pop Hays started hauling live chickens into San Francisco in 1929, with a new Chevy truck. When Pop sold his 100-truck hauling business and retired in 1978, he needed something to do. So, at age 76, he restored a 1929 Chevy truck, which was the start of the present collection that numbers more than 100 vehicles.

Ranging in age from a 1903 Knox to a 1962 Cook Bros., a few of the more unusual trucks bear the following nameplates: Bethlehem, Breeding, Chase, Collier, C.T. Electric, Day Elder, DeMartini, Fulton, Galloway, Gary, Hug, Indiana, Jumbo, Kelly Springfield, Kleiber, Linn, Maccar, Packet, Pierce Arrow, Powell, Schact, Traffic, USA, Walker Electric and Winther. Of course, there are lots of more familiar names, such as Chevrolet, Diamond T, Dodge, Ford, GMC, International, Mack, REO and White.

Fred Heidrick, along with his brother, Joe, farmed as many as 80,000 acres near Sacramento. Shortly after World War II, Fred began collecting and restoring antique farm machinery. Eventually, the Heidrick collection numbered some 150 restored units, as well as that many more unrestored pieces.

The agriculture museum contains many unusual tractors. Inside are a 1919 Allwork, a 1918 John Bean Trackpull, a 1918 Gray Drum-Drive, a 1919 COD, a 1924 Imperial Super Drive, a 1918 Samson Sieve-Grip, a 1928 Rumely DoAll, a 1930 Bates Steel Mule, a 1926 Continental Cultor and a 1920 Yuba Ball Tread tractor. There were lots of Cletrac, Holt, Best and Caterpillar crawlers, plus many John Deere, IHC, Allis-Chalmers, Case and Fordson machines.

A real curiosity is the Fordson 'Snow Devil,' equipped with an Armstead Snow-Motor attachment that consisted of a long, screw-type drum on each side instead of wheels. As the drums revolved, the screws pulled the tractor across snow, or even bare ground. The machine is said to have hauled mail through the heavy snow on the 13-mile route from Truckee, Calif., to Lake Tahoe during 1925 to 1926.

There's a huge Harris combine from about 1920, with a 24-foot cutter bar. It took five men to operate: A tractor driver, a header attendant, a separator attendant, and two sack sewers. Another combine, a 1918 self-propelled Holt, made mostly of wood with a 16-foot cut, was said to harvest 35 to 45 acres per day.

There were lots of implements displayed, including an 1890s Deering reaper, a 1918 McCormick combine, and a Dain hay press, as well as a Triumph wagon, horse- and tractor-drawn plows, and a grain binder and combine, all from Deere & Co. The Heidricks used many of these machines in their farming operation.

Back in 1935, Fred and Joe Heidrick built a swather, using a Star automobile engine, a Ford Model T differential, and a 10-foot header off an old Caterpillar combine. This machine is on exhibit, as are hundreds of smaller tools and implements used by the Heidricks.

Fred Heidrick and Pop Hays were friends. In fact, Fred gave Pop the 1929 Chevy truck that started the Hays collection, so it made sense to combine the two collections under one roof, which was accomplished in 1997.

Both Mr. Heidrick and Mr. Hays are gone now, but their collections are preserved for all to see and enjoy. If you ever visit California, don't miss the Heidrick Ag History Center. It's even worth a special trip to the Golden State, as far as I'm concerned.

Nancy and I went on to check out Sacramento, then traveled over the Sierra Nevadas to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nev. We then drove across the wastes of Nevada and Utah to Salt Lake City, where we turned in our rented car and flew home. It was a great trip! FC

- Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail: letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com

Finding the Heidrick Ag History Center

Traveling north on Interstate 5 from Sacramento, Calif., take the County Road 102 Exit. Then, turn west on Hays Lane and drive until you see signs for the Heidrick Ag History Center, which is on the left. Contact the Heidrick Ag History Center, 1962 Hays Lane, Woodland, CA 95776; (530) 666-9700; www.aghistory.org