Butch Bjorklund’s collection of farm-related items could be described in many ways.
It is one of the largest International Harvester collections in the U.S., one of the most varied IH collections, and one with the most unusual items. Or you could describe it with one simple word: Wow!
“That’s the reaction we get from people who come to look at what we have,” says Butch, who lives in Buffalo, Minn. “They’ll say, ‘I heard you had a bunch of IH stuff, but I didn’t realize you had this much.'”
Growing up on a farm near Buffalo, Butch used IH tractors with equipment from other manufacturers: a John Deere rake and 4-row corn planter, John Deere running gears on the gravity wagons and boxes, and a New Holland 77 hay baler. “Maybe those products were a little bit better than IH, or maybe a better price,” Butch says. “I can’t answer that. But my dad and uncles mostly believed in IH.” When Christmas and birthdays rolled around, Butch received IHC toys – and the die was cast.
Starting with the merger
A trip of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and so did Butch’s trip into collecting. “When Case and IH merged in 1985, I wondered what color the new toys might become: white or orange like Case, or red like IH, maybe,” he says. “When they merged, as a remembrance of the company, I bought an IH toy from a dealer in Buffalo.”
His wife, Bev, was intrigued by the toy, and asked if the dealership had any others. “The following weekend we bought several more toys. After we had all their varieties, we bought more at the Watertown, Minn., dealership. After that, one thing just led into another,” he says with a shrug. Those first toys included the IH 886, 1086 and 1486 tractors.
Back to his roots
As the Bjorklund toy collection grew, the couple became interested in larger items from a variety of manufacturers. Some reflected fond memories of farm life; others were reminders of plain old work – like running a hand-crank cream separator.
“I have two McCormick brand cream separators. One is hand-crank and the other is electric/hand-crank, like the one we had on the farm,” Butch recalls. “Two or three times a winter, the electricity would go off, so we’d have to hand-crank the milk to separate the cream. If you ever cranked one of those, you remember the warning bell telling you to crank faster or you wouldn’t be separating the cream from the milk,” which meant losing cream and money.
Butch restored the hand-crank McCormick separator for his collection. He also used it to show his children and grandchildren how milk and cream were separated. “Unfortunately I didn’t get the settings just right,” he says, “so it didn’t work as well as I expected, but they got the idea.”
In the backyard Butch has installed a hand pump and Thermoil engine like those from the backyard of his childhood home. “I wanted to get across the idea of how things were in the olden days,” he says. “We used the engine to pump water for the horses, but there were times when we had to pump by hand to get them water.” A small-scale version of the display is housed in one of his toy rooms.
Butch’s collection even includes a model of an IHC dealership. “In the 1940s and ’50s, all IHC dealerships had to be built alike,” he says. “If a dealer wanted to erect a new building, he had to use the IHC blueprints. This one was made for me from those original blueprints.”
A custom-built backyard building contains the dealership model, as well as large IHC items, including a Planet Jr. corn planter, framed photos of IHC events and an IHC mailbox. In front of the building is a McCormick-Deering bench with wheels. The wheels are from an old McCormick grain drill and the bench back is the drill’s lid. The rest is sawed lumber. Nearby is a rusty Farmall gas tank with holes cut in the top to hold flowerpots. “A friend of mine talked me into that,” Butch says, shaking his head.
No big tractors – yet
Butch’s collection is unusual for what it doesn’t have: big tractors, often the main focus of many IH collectors. “I’ve thought about getting one of the bigger ones,” he says. “I’d like to have a 1206 someday. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having one of everything we had on the farm, a couple of M’s and Super C’s, a 400 and 650, all IH.”
For now, Butch has settled for smaller tractors: four Cub Cadets and a Cub Cadet 60 lawnmower. Three of his Cub Cadets came via Trueman Welter’s dealership in Buffalo. “When they discontinued their IHC building in St. Michael, Minn., I bought three pickup loads of literature,” Butch says. “The literature covered everything: Gehl, Fox and Minnesota. I sold it all off except for the IH items. A few weeks later they wanted to sell me three used Cub Cadets. The wheels and spindles were off, the engines were bad and the axles were shot. They said they’d give me a discount on any parts I ordered for the restoration, with the stipulation that the Cub Cadets would be kept original and not used for pulling.”
With the exception of the rear ends, everything on all three Cubs was restored. Butch tore each apart and handled reassembly; he hired out engine work and painting. Craftsmen went through engines, resealed gas tanks, and rebuilt carburetors, alternators and starters. The Cub Cadets gleamed, and worked like new. “It wasn’t something we planned,” Butch says, “but it reflects how we’ve gotten pieces of our collection. The opportunity was there, and we took it.”
At first all three Cub Cadets appeared to be rare 1961 models. Body styles were identical to those built in 1961, the first year of production (though some collectors claim a few were made in 1960). But as more Cub Cadet information became available, Butch discovered that one of the three was a prized 1961 and the other two were less-in-demand but still desirable 1962 models. They’re all called Cub Cadet Originals; there is no other model name or number.
Restoration is on tap for another 1961 Cub Cadet and a 1968 “bathtub” Cub Cadet 60 lawnmower, named for its resemblance to a tub. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cub Cadet 60 restored,” he says. “They’re pretty common; you see them around at shows. I was going to restore the bathtub first, but once I got the 1961, I decided to do that one first.” He also has a restored Cub Cadet trailer to go along with the tractors.
In the Bjorklund collection, one thing leads inevitably to another. “We wanted to take the Cub Cadets and memorabilia to shows,” he explains, “so we built a display trailer to haul them.” Two walls of the trailer are lined with glass display cases containing IH memorabilia.
Mounds of memorabilia
The broad range of the Bjorklund collection is showcased in the couple’s array of memorabilia. It’s hard to list it all without taking a deep breath: IH pens, pins, playing cards, screwdrivers, ash trays, stamps, coins, rulers, bottle openers, memoranda booklets, knives, tie tacks, mugs, oil cans, watches, watch fobs, key chains, jackknives, matches, belt buckles, spoons, wind-chill charts, brushes, letter openers, keys and more.
“It started with a few area dealers giving us trinkets,” Butch says. “After that, every time I went to any dealership, I’d ask if I could get an ink pen or something showing the dealership name.”
Employee tenure award pins are among his favorite pieces of memorabilia. “The first one we’re aware of is for 10 years’ service, then 20 years,” he says. At the 25-year mark, a gem is added to each pin. On the 25-year pin, for instance, a small ruby dots the letter “I” in the IH logo. On the 30-year pin, a larger ruby dots the “I.” The 40-year pin features a diamond.
Butch’s collection of IH literature traces a timeline from the early days of Farmall M tractors up to modern times. “We also have literature on silo fillers, grain binders, corn planters, owner’s and parts manuals, and horse-drawn stuff,” he says. The collection includes tons of IH advertisements from Successful Farming and Farm Journal magazines going back as far as 1912.
Printing blocks and more
Printing blocks are another unusual part of the Bjorklund collection. “I got some from a print shop in Buffalo, and still find them at shows around the country,” Butch says. “My brother-in-law helped find a few, and occasionally I see them on eBay.”
Small blocks are easy to find, and Butch has his share of those. Large blocks (used in production of newspaper and magazine ads) are more rare, but he has several. He’s inked some and printed the images on paper. “We’re going to use some to make into Christmas cards,” he says.
An IH TD-24 crawler necktie gets people’s attention. “It shows a crawler at long distance,” Butch says, “and in the middle of the tie are the caterpillar tracks, and then at the bottom, like it made a turn, it is pushing dirt along with the IH logo.”
“First-heat/last-heat” bookends or paperweights are a unique part of the Bjorklund memorabilia collection. These show production start and end dates for equipment produced at a selection of IH plants. “They’re kind of scarce. I haven’t seen any for a long time now,” Butch says.
Butch and Bev often take friends along to thresherees and farm shows, even if their guests are not big fans of old farming days. “We might get them interested in something, or we might just have a good time visiting with them and getting to know them,” Butch says. “Maybe they’ll find something they like or pass the word on to someone else who is interested.”
Meanwhile, Butch remains totally captivated by the hobby. “I’d like to know how things got going from day one with McCormick-Deering down until the end, how much progress was made, how things got better – or worse – and all the history involved in that,” he says. “I love IH stuff, I love toys, I love to have people come and enjoy our stuff, and I love talking with people.” The couple’s e-mail address says it all: email@example.com. FCFor more information: Butch and Bev Bjorklund, 3194 Meridian Ave N.E., Buffalo MN 55313. Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.