Orange Obsession: Allis-Chalmers Museum Boasts Largest Collection

"Washington AC" houses more than 200 machines and several rare items, including WWII-era AC jet engine


| March 2004



FC_V6_I8_Mar_2004_12-1.jpg

More than 100 Allis-Chalmers tractors stand tire to tire in the facility that Ernest and Loretta Nutsch built in Washington, Kan., to house their AC collection. Ernest estimates that he owns at least 100 more Allis implements stored elsewhere.

Henry Nutsch purchased four new Allis-Chalmers Co. tractors in his lifetime.

His son, Ernest, owns more than 200 Allis-made machines – not one purchased off the showroom floor. Like other old-iron collectors, Ernest’s herd of tractors never seems to stop growing. “The tractors just keep finding me,” he says.

People passionate about Persian orange machines can find Ernest and the implements he’s collected in a machine shed in Washington, Kan. While Washington, D.C., is the nation’s capital, Ernest and his wife, Loretta, have dubbed their hometown museum “Washington AC” – the self-proclaimed home of the world’s largest collection of Allis-Chalmers tractors.

“There’s a couple other people in North America who claim to have a larger Allis-Chalmers collection,” Ernest declares. “But those are collections of all things Allis. I don’t think anyone owns more (Allis-made) tractors than we do.”

Like dear old Dad

Henry Nutsch’s first newly purchased AC tractor – a now-rusty 1928 Model 20-35E – occupies a place of honor in the collection. The Model 20-35E was shipped from Milwaukee, Wis., in 1928, and Henry greeted the new machine in person when it rolled off a rail car in Cuba, Kan.

Henry was accustomed to farming with horses, Ernest says, so the farmer removed the tractor’s seat so he could stand while guiding it across a field. Henry used the tractor for 35 years, Ernest adds, and then parked it in the trees for another 35 years.

When Ernest finished the museum building in 1997, they wanted to add the tractor to the indoor collection. Henry and Ernest simply put water and gas in the tractor, fired it up for the first time in more than three decades (although the tractor’s crank had been turned every so often without firing the engine to ensure the crank shaft remained free-moving) and drove it into the building. The tractor never ran on anything but steel wheels, Ernest says, and is always driven to destinations under its own power – never hauled on a trailer.

“We debated about restoring it, but Dad figured if he didn’t like it, it would take another 70 years to get it back looking like this,” Ernest recalls. “You can take any old tractor and make it look new. It takes years of work to make them look used.” Henry died in 1999 at 95 years old, but his legacy remains.

Rare and unrestored

Ernest’s tractor restoration philosophy – leave the tractors unrestored – extends to a large portion of the collection. That’s the way most visitors like it, Ernest says. The tractors are clean and in good repair, but many show the weathered patina of an implement that’s worked long hours – just like the farmers who operated them.

“We take people through and point out the rare and unusual tractors we have,” Loretta Nutsch says. “But they always want to see if we have a more common model like they remember from their farms.”