Honoring Agricultural Heritage

Pair of Northwest hobbyists stand tall in old iron hobby

| April 2012

If there were a college degree in collecting old iron, Andy Gortsema and Ted Billups could serve as a two-man faculty. Each has spent a lifetime collecting, restoring and preserving relics from America’s agricultural heritage. Well into their ninth decades, each man remains actively involved in his hobby. They are both keenly interested in new finds, careful managers of extensive collections, and skilled artisans in coaxing antiques back to life.

Stationary gas engines are Andy’s primary interest. At one time, his collection numbered 100 or more engines. Now 85, Andy has amassed a broad collection, reflecting keen curiosity in the world around him. His museum at his home in Fairfield, Wash., includes a remarkable variety of farm-related items, local memorabilia, gadgets of the past and wonders from the natural world.

About 170 miles southeast, in Grangeville, Idaho, Ted has built a life around tractors. Now 88, he’s worked as a mechanic for the same company for 67 years. He tried retirement once; it didn’t take. Today he works full-time as a mechanic at the local John Deere dealership, tackles his own projects in his free time and manages an impressive tractor collection.

The two men are members of the Lewis-Clark Antique Power Club, EDGE&TA Branch 54, Lewiston, Idaho, and both have been inducted in the national EDGE&TA Hall of Fame.

Intrigued by engines

Some kids start with baseball cards; others with stamps. Not Andy Gortsema. His first collection as a boy was old engines, and he never looked back. “They were always around,” he recalls. “And they were all different. Dad had engines to pump water and grind feed. We used the old engines until we got electricity on the home place in about 1940. Then they got shoved aside pretty fast.”

He started with Maytags (his collection includes a Maytag from the line’s first model, possibly dating to 1910). After he began working as a mechanic (first for a car dealer in Grangeville, then for an International Harvester dealer in Fairfield), he found additions to his collection almost easy to come by. “I’d make service calls to farms and a lot of times I’d see old engines,” he says. “The farmers would say ‘take it if you want it.’”