Tractor Restoration Therapy

Iowa farmer turns to tractor restoration to keep him on his feet.

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Dick Bockwoldt and his 1937 Huber Model L, a one-of-a-kind tractor. It features a factory custom-built oversized fuel tank. The tractor’s hood was also redesigned and sloped to accommodate the taller tank.

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When Dick Bockwoldt's physician told him to either quit farming or live with debilitating pain in his back and subsequent loss of mobility, Dick's life almost immediately changed for the better. After some careful thought and planning, the Dixon, Iowa, farmer sold his cattle and machinery, and turned his tractor restoration avocation into his new vocation. "We didn't plan it this way," Dick says from beneath a respirator as he emerges from the paint booth. "But it has worked out very well for us."

"About 14 years ago, the doctor told me to get off the tractor or else," Dick explains. "The constant twisting and rocking over rough ground had really damaged my back and there was a chance I would lose mobility." As luck would have it though, by then Dick had developed a steady side business of restoring tractors. But restoration work also can be hard on a back. "The doctor told me if I wore good, soft-soled shoes in the shop and was really careful about lifting, my back would be okay," Dick explains. "So far, I have not had any more problems, but I am careful." He still misses the cattle, especially the calves, but with over a year's worth of restoration work backlogged today, he admits the change was a good one.

So how does a farmer become a restoration artist, all in a single lifetime? In Dick's case, he started as a collector, and when folks saw the quality of his work, they wanted to engage his services. As might be expected, Dick has put together an interesting and highly unusual collection of machines, implements and related ephemera during his more than three decades of collecting. "Just about any tractor or implement is interesting to me," Dick says. "But I like to collect things that you don't see too often."

In the beginning

"In 1970 the town of Donahue, Iowa, had its centennial, and they were going to have an antique tractor parade and pull," Dick says. "So I went looking for a tractor." Dick didn't have to look far to find the first tractor for his collection. In fact, he knew about this machine from his teenage years at home on the farm. The 1935 Rock Island was still parked in the orchard at his dad's farm when Dick went looking for it. "It was a little rough from sitting all of those years," Dick says. "But dad gave it to me and I managed to get it going for the celebration."

"When I was 16, we were farming with an International F-20 and a John Deere A, and dad wanted something for grinding feed," Dick says. "Dad bought the Rock Island to power the hammer mill." Dick is quick to point out that both the F-20 and Model A were plenty capable of running the hammer mill, but it was difficult to accomplish when the tractors were outfitted with their front-mounted cultivators and other implements. "It was a real chore removing the cultivators just to grind feed," Dick explains, "only to put them back on again."

Although the Bockwoldts didn't realize it at the time, that Rock Island tractor had a family connection. "I went with my dad to look at the tractor," Dick says. "The guy had a pair of them, one on rubber, and one with steel wheels and fenders." Dick's dad made the deal on the tractor with rubber tires, but he negotiated for the fenders too. Once they got the machine home, Dick and his dad replaced the tractor's repaired front axle and put it to work. "One day my dad's uncle came over while we were grinding and thought he recognized the tractor," Dick says. "But then he said it couldn't be the one because it had fenders and a good front axle." Once the fenders were explained, Dick took his great-uncle behind the shed to look at the old axle. As it turns out, Dick's great-uncle had driven that particular tractor pulling gondola cars at the Rock Island Plow Co. foundry where he had worked.

In 1970, Dick didn't know what the proper paint scheme was for the Rock Island tractor so he painted it with an early Case color scheme - orange with black accents. But the outlandish color scheme drew attention to Dick's skills as a painter, which led to many requests by area enthusiasts for help with their restoration projects. In the 1970s, the tractor-collecting hobby was in its infancy, and few were concerned with correctness. Today, however, that has all changed, and so the 1935 Rock Island is again in pieces, primed and ready for a fresh coat of paint.

An unusual collection

Many collectors are fascinated by a specific tractor brand and limit their collection to that line. Others focus on variations of a specific model, or even on representative examples of the entire lineage of a particular model. Dick Bockwoldt's approach adds even more variety. He collects unusual models of even more unusual brands. His collection includes tractors with names like GO, Heider, Rock Island, Huber and COOP.

Shortly after finishing his first Rock Island tractor, Dick started looking for others. To date he has 11 Rock Islands, including a beautiful 1929 Model FA with a Rock Island plow in tow, and a Model G that was sold in Canada. "I learned that Rock Island tractors sold here were painted grey with red wheels, and for the Canadian market they were painted green with red wheels," Dick explains. "Both are technically correct." Dick also has an earlier 1920 Rock Island Heider Model C in original condition. "The Heider is unusual because it has a friction drive transmission," Dick explains. "You change the speed by sliding the engine forward or backwards." Dick's Rock Island Heider had spent its life running a sawmill, so not only was the friction-drive system intact, the tractor was in remarkably good condition, and its 2-bottom plow was virtually perfect.

By the early 1980s, Dick was on the lookout for something else to collect when he saw Huber tractors for sale in Ohio. "I got an army buddy to look at them for me," Dick says. "When he gave me the word, I sent a semi out after them."

Among Dick's especially unusual Hubers is a one-of-a-kind 1937 Model L delivered from the factory with a custom-built extra-capacity fuel tank for an Indiana farmer. He also has a 1935 Model SC, which is an unusual row-crop version of the Model S (C stands for cultivator), and a 1935 Model S Modern Farmer he has restored to perfection. The tractor is rare today: Dick says just a couple hundred were built. Dick's Huber collection also includes a Model 40-62 Industrial with rear duals. That tractor was originally delivered with hard rubber tires. Dick also has the 33rd Huber-built CO-OP tractor - out of a total of 34 (or 36, depending on which reference you consult). This machine dates to the mid-1930s and is essentially a Huber Modern Farmer Model S, but it is painted CO-OP red. The Duplex Printing Press Co., Cockshutt and possibly others built later CO-OP tractors (see July 2005 issue of Farm Collector).

The most unusual tractor in Dick's collection may well be his GO friction drive model. The GO tractor was built by the General Ordinance Co. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1919. The machine was previously also sold under the names Denning and National, but according to Dick, those companies went broke. Dick says his GO is one of eight known to exist in the U.S. and one of two that run. Dick found his GO on one of his Huber forays into Ohio. Like the Heider, the GO tractor makes use of a Rockwood friction transmission built by the Rockwood Manufac-turing Co. of Indianapolis, and requires sliding of the engine to change speeds.

More than machines

"I like to get as much information about the tractors I collect as possible," Dick says. "So our literature collection is now pretty substantial also." "Substan-tial" is really an understatement, but what is true is that if Dick needs detailed information about a Heider, Huber, Rock Island or any of a number of additional brands, he need only look through his library to find it.

"When you are looking for old and rare pieces of literature, you have to be patient," Dick explains. "And you have to look everywhere." Dick inadvertently attends a large number of auctions and combs sale bills for paper items of interest. He can't say exactly how much literature he has, but the number is high, and he has virtually all of the Huber, Rock Island and Heider lines fully covered. Dick also has several serial number lists, along with many parts catalogs, operator's manuals, sales brochures and service materials.

"When you are in the restoration business, it helps to have numbers, instructions and pictures," Dick adds with a chuckle. "The rest of it you figure out as you go along." At this point Dick isn't really searching for any specific machines to add to his collection. He does continue to look for literature, but he won't rule out adding a machine or two. For Dick, getting into the restoration business was the best therapy his ailing back could get.

For more information:

- Dick Bockwoldt, 27404 60th Ave., Dixon, IA 52745; (563) 843-2270.

- Oscar "Hank" Will III is an old-iron collector and freelance writer and photographer who retired from farming in 1999. He splits his time between his home in Gettysburg, Pa., and his farm in East Andover, N.H. Write him at 243 W. Broadway, Gettysburg, PA 17325; (717) 337-6068; e-mail: willo@gettysburg.edu

Heiders Muscle In

The Heider Manufacturing Co. was rooted on the Heider family farm north of Templeton, Iowa where, in the late 1800s, young Henry Heider became known for his ability to repair machinery, harnesses and other horse-hitching devices. By the time he was 21 years old, Henry had patented an evener that facilitated a 4-horse hitch, and by the time he was 24, his hitch repair and evener manufacturing business had outgrown the buildings on the farm. In 1903, Henry formed a partnership with his older brother, John, who was well into a career in banking, and the brothers moved the fledgling manufacturing business to Albert Lea, Minn., where demand for their goods literally soared, and rapidly outstripped their production capacity.

By 1905, the Heider Manufacturing Co. was located in Carroll, Iowa, just a few miles north of Templeton, where they produced a line of wooden ladders, a large number of horse-hitch items (including a new 6-horse evener) and replacement parts. In 1908, Henry began serious work on a tractor design, and by 1911 the Heider Model A was offered for sale. The single-speed, friction-drive tractor was painted green and silver, and sported red French and Hecht wheels and a 4-cylinder Rutenber engine.

Heider's Model B tractor was released in 1912 as a 4-plow tractor. It featured the same 40-hp Rutenber engine as the Model A, but it had better weight distribution and an improved overall design. The Rock Island Plow Co. had become Heider's largest tractor customer by 1913, and the small company initially struggled to supply Rock Island's demand. In 1914, Rock Island and Heider entered into a formal agreement with Heider listed as the manufacturer and Rock Island the distributor and principal sales agent for the tractors.

Henry Heider's third tractor was released in 1914 as the Model C. This machine used a Waukesha engine and was a near complete redesign from previous models. Once again, Henry opted to utilize Rockwood's Friction Transmission, but in this case, the engine and flywheel (coated on the edge with friction material) could be slid forward or backward with the help of a lever (locking in seven positions), which changed the relative diameter of the transmission's driven wheel, effectively giving the tractor seven speeds. The Rock Island Plow Co. was impressed with the Model C and bought the tractor in large numbers, and in early 1916, negotiated purchase of Heider's tractor division - along with the services of Henry Heider.

Henry's relationship with Rock Island netted them the 2-plow Heider Model D in 1917, the Model 15-27 in 1925, and the sliding-gear transmission-equipped Model 18-35 in 1929. Henry resigned from Rock Island in 1922 shortly after working out much of the 18-35's design. Terms of the Heider-Rock Island agreement stipulated that the tractors carry the Heider name through 1927.

Meanwhile back in Carroll, Iowa, Heider Manufacturing Co. was still busy with horse-hitch parts, ladders and Henry's All American Coaster Wagon that initially featured fifth-wheel steering and, later, automotive-type steering. The company went on to produce farm wagons, feed wagons, running gear, truck boxes, hog feeders, farm gates and other items until it was sold to the Wellbuilt division of the Scranton Manufacturing Co. in 1983.