Museum Celebrates Antique Agricultural Equipment

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"The Little Giant." The old wood harvesters are fairly rare: many were casualties of fire, either accidental, or deliberate, as the pieces were scrapped.
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This armored Holt was used to pull heavy artillery during World War I. The engine was protected by armor; the driver was less fortunate. If the driver was hit, the tractor would keep moving in the same direction until it ran out of gas.
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The Best "Humpback 30." Built in 1913, this tractor was the forerunner of the orchard tractor. It is believed to be the only one of its model in existence.
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An early Deering reaper, circa 1890.
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Fred Heidrick
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This Fordson "Snow Devil" was used to get mail through the Sierra Nevadas from Truckee to North Tahoe in 1925-26. Its top cruising speed: 12 mph.
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The Heidrick Ag History Center at Woodland, Calif., about 30 miles northwest of Sacramento.
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1918 Belt Rail Model B was built to compete with wheeled tractors. It was able to run on softer ground because of its center drive track. The Heidrick Collection believes this to be the only Belt Rail in existence.
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A 1919 Avery 6-cylinder, 14 hp Model C.
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1919 COD: Made in Minneapolis, Minn., and believed to be named for company stockholders (Conrad, Ogard and Daniel). Less than 200 were made; few remain. The belt pulleys ran off the flywheel to operate the oil, fuel and water pumps.
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The 1918 Bean Track Pull. A one-drive track in front pulls the tractor. The tractor features two sterring wheels: the top one steers the tractor, the bottom one is a clutch. The tractor was used primarily in orchards and vineyards because of its tight turning radius.
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This early Holt – with two front wheels, instead of the more customary one – was designed for use in the midwest. Original plans called for construction of 10 of the units, but only two were built, and this is the lone survivor. 

A lifetime collection of farm tractors now has a life of its own, thanks to the vision of a California farmer. Housed in the Heidrick Ag History Center, Woodland, Calif., a world-class collection of antique agricultural equipment tells the story of the mechanized grain harvest.

Established by Fred Heidrick as a non-profit foundation, the Heidrick Collection represents about one-quarter of the equipment he’s collected in the past 50 years. Displayed in a large, airy building, the equipment – including familiar names as well as oddballs – recounts the evolution of mechanized farm equipment. But it’s more than just machinery.

“One of the most wonderful things about it is that people share their memories when they visit here,” says Melissa Jordan, assistant to the museum’s executive director. “It’s like they revisit their lives.”

That’s just the way Fred Heidrick would have it. To him, the collection represents the heritage of agriculture.

“It’s been a part of my life,” he says. “It was something that did the work years ago, when people really needed the horsepower that tractors could provide. We worked with these things through good times and bad, and just decided to save them from the junkyard.”

The Heidrick Collection takes in everything from Deere to Fordson, Holt to Best, McCormick to Case to Avery. And then there’s the less familiar names: Gray, COD, Belt Rail.

“It’s kind of like a family,” Heidrick says. “You never have two alike, and the parents never favor one over another. We just wanted to show the equipment used in daily life on the farm.”

He should know. Heidrick’s farmed all his life, and he was tinkering with machinery at a time when his peers were still mastering the intricacies of tying their shoes. “Dad’s been mechanical since he was a kid,” says his daughter, Linda Heidrick Lucchesi. “It was out of necessity: He quit school after eighth grade to help feed his family.”

“I was from a poor family,” Heidrick says. “There were six of us kids, and dad was a school teacher. He couldn’t make enough money to feed half of us. So we did lots of odd jobs: I remember overhauling an old Fordson when I was just a kid. That really educated me and my brother, Joe, on how to handle equipment without getting hurt.”

That mechanical wizardry continues on in a younger generation of Heidricks. Linda’s son, Rusty Lucchesi, shares his grandfather’s passion for vintage equipment. “I’ve learned everything from him,” he says. During World War II, when equipment and parts were all but unavailable, Fred Heidrick’s mechanical skill kept tractors, harvesters and implements ticking. That kind of resourcefulness has resurfaced in his grandson.

“One thing I’ve noticed that makes me different from guys I’ve worked with is that I’m less afraid to do something not quite ‘right’,” Lucchesi says. “You just make it run. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s right or wrong. Later, you can go back and fix it ‘right’.”

Heidrick’s collection began to grow just after World War II.

“When the war was over, farmers were cleaning up their property,” Heidrick says. “We had to hurry to get stuff before it was chopped up for the junkyard.”

At that time, there were no collectors to speak of.

“Fifty years ago, there were probably two collectors in California,” he says. “If you had a pretty good old tractor or truck, you might keep it for the kids to use in a parade.”

As the number of collectors grew, Heidrick scrambled to keep ahead of the game.

“Oh, there was lots of great stuff that got away,” he says. “Some was cut up with torches; they’d get $300 for scrap for one piece. Now, you’d get $75,000 for it. But it was just junk until somebody put some effort into it.”

And effort is, clearly, Fred Heidrick’s long suit. The museum proves that. It is a professionally designed facility, with attractive displays, computer interactives, and knowledgeable volunteers. Every related detail – parking, signage, rest areas, refreshments, loaner wheelchairs and strollers – has been carefully anticipated.

“People always say it’s so much more than they expected,” says Linda Lucchesi.

The staff has worked aggressively to make the Heidrick Center more than just a museum. Special programming includes regularly scheduled entertainment, display of exotic livestock, swap meets, threshing with vintage equipment, school tours, and on-site graduate-level courses. Last summer, 3,000 children wandered through an eight-acre maze cut out of a field of corn, and with a nod to the past, a new Caterpillar model was unveiled in the center’s parking lot. On Father’s Day, a truck driving school in the museum’s parking lot put dads behind the wheels of semi-trailer trucks and a city bus.

“Where else could you do that?” Melissa Jordan asks.

The special events are the museum’s way of getting people focused on vintage ag equipment.

“We really intend to be the predominant educational resource in the state on antique agricultural equipment,” she says.

Interest has been strong since opening day 18 months ago.

“We had 14,000 visitors in 1998,” she adds. “We had a group from Australia here on opening day, and we’ve already had three tour groups from Monrovia. We’ve had people from New Zealand, England and France, and all over the U.S.”

The 130,000-square foot Heidrick Center includes the Hays Antique Truck Museum, billed as the largest exhibit of its kind; a fully-stocked gift shop, courtyard, play areas (indoors and outdoors) for children, and a 300-seat conference center.

A force of 70 trained volunteers contributes to the effort.

“We have one man who’s 95 who works in here three hours a day,” Jordan says.

That level of dedication, she says, reflects a widely-held passion for the farm classics.

“We give people a lot of joy here,” she says.

“They see these things, and it kind of revives childhood memories. Some of our visitors have operated this equipment, or they remember their fathers operating it.”

Oscar Bacon, a Heidrick volunteer, says the equipment brings home the challenges faced by early farmers.

“People marvel at these machines, and the number of men it took to operate them, and the engineering that went into them,” he says. “They were kind of geniuses, weren’t they?” FC

The Heidrick Ag History Center, 1962 Hays Lane, Woodland, Calif. 95776; (530) 666-9700; e-mail at lindseyl@aghistory.org; online at www.aghistory.org.
Hours: Monday & Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; closed July 4th, Thanksgiving Day, December 24, 25 & 31, January 1. Last admission one hour before closing. Admission fees: Adults (13-61) $7, seniors (62 & up) $6, children (5-12) $4, under 4 free.

Farm Collector Magazine
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