High Country Collection
Although he can’t precisely pinpoint when he decided to build a tractor collection, Elko, Nev., resident Alvin Barkl knows why he favors the brands he does. “My early experiences were all with International Harvester or Cockshutt tractors,” Al explains. “So I guess it is natural for me to be interested in them today.”
But for this high desert collector, the tractors represent more than just so much old iron. Instead, they help keep his childhood memories sharp and offer an avenue for making new friends and maintaining connections with old ones.
“The hobby keeps me very busy,” Al explains from the seat of his well-kept pickup and tractor tow-rig. “There’s always some show to go to, or parade to be in.” Even though subzero winter temperatures and snow are common in northern Nevada, Al notes, the parades never seem to stop. However, formal activities are few enough in winter that it’s possible for him to complete a tractor restoration or two between summers. And that’s just what he has been doing since moving to Elko in 2001.
Mining a few farm memories
Al was born shortly before World War II on a farm just northwest of Yankton, S.D. As a very young boy, he was asked to work alongside his parents and 10 siblings to keep the family’s operation going. “Those were good years, when we were still all together on the farm,” Al explains. “We each had responsibilities, but we had plenty of fun too.”
One of his earliest chores was to collect corncobs from hog pens to fuel stock tank heaters in winter. School offered no reprieve. “I still collected the cobs twice a day,” he recalls. “Once in the morning before school and once at night. I used an old steel-wheeled wheelbarrow to carry them to the storage bin.”
Soon after Al started school, he was also asked to take responsibility for milking at least a couple of the family’s dairy cows. “I had six sisters and four brothers,” he says. “As they grew up and started moving away, we younger kids had to take over.” Al recalls separating cream from the milk, first with a hand-crank separator and later with an electric McCormick-Deering model. “We processed the milk by hand until about 1947 or ’48,” he says. “That’s when rural electric came to the farm.” The years were full of wonderful memories. From playing games with his siblings, to hand picking corn, to reading poetry in countywide competitions, it was all good.
“The first tractor I drove was a McCormick-Deering 10-20, plowing with my older brother,” Al says. “He did most of the driving, but I would steer the tractor in the furrow, which it couldn’t get out of anyway.” Al spent most of that very early experience sitting on the 10-20’s fender. The first tractor he ran completely by himself was the family’s 1948 Cockshutt 30, except it wasn’t officially a Cockshutt. “Our Cockshutt was really a Gambles Farmcrest 30,” he explains. “We bought it at the Farmcrest store in Scotland (S.D.).” As folks familiar with the Farmcrest 30 know, that tractor is really a Cockshutt 30 with a different set of decals. In any case, the tractor was a modern marvel in its time with live hydraulics and live PTO.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Al spent plenty of time with the Farmcrest, performing cross-directional cultivating in check-row planted corn, plowing, raking hay and more. “Early on, I drove it with the PTO binder in tow,” he says. “I got hollered at for turning too short and breaking the bats on the reel, or not making square corners.” In spite of the scolding, Al says he had it easier than his older brothers and sisters since they had to shock the bundles. A Farmall F-30 was also key to Al’s early experiences: He used that big machine to pull a 3-bottom plow.
“In 1950, a Farmall M arrived at the farm, and I thought it was great,” Al says. “Driving it was pure pleasure for a kid my age. I liked everything about that tractor.” One of Al’s fondest recollections of the Model M involved plowing at night (often after school) when the cool, damp (more dense) air would make the tractor purr with increased power.
The enjoyment he got out of running the Farmall M more than made up for one of his sleep-depriving chores during high school. “In the fall it was my job to pick corn with a McCormick-Deering Model 2M (2-row) picker mounted on the M,” Al says. “I had to get up at 2 a.m. and pick two loads before going to school.” It’s hard to imagine any kid today who would work like that for a paycheck, much less because his parents told him he had to. It was, he says, just how things were back then.
In 1957, Al began a four-year tour with the U.S. Air Force. By the time he got out, his interest in tractors and farming had waned, and like many others he found great opportunity in California. “I was busy working and raising a family,” he says of those years. “I bought the 1953 Farmall Super M with a Farmhand loader in the early 1990s.”
Building a collection
Al obtained the ’53 Super M in California from a guy who had rolled it on its side while loading wood. “I wondered why it had one new rear tire,” Al says. “He told me he was pinned under the tire so his helper cut it away with a chainsaw to free him.” Al still uses the tractor for snow removal duties. It is mostly original, although hydraulic control was added to the loader’s bucket.
The Super M reminded Al of how much fun he’d had as a kid on the farm. “So when I had the opportunity to obtain a 1954 Farmall Super C a few years later, I didn’t hesitate.” That particular Super C was also equipped with International Harvester’s proprietary Fast-Hitch rear implement mount and lift, and though it was in decent condition when he got it, Al still gave the tractor a cosmetic restoration. He uses the Super C with a Fast-Hitch rollover plow to turn soil on his Elko acreage and with a Fast-Hitch rear blade to maintain his lane.
About the same time he found the Super C, Al also found a 1961 Cub Cadet garden tractor. “I had owned a Montgomery Ward garden tractor and a John Deere Model 110,” he says. “But when I found the Cub Cadet I had to bring it home, since it was made by International Harvester.” Today, his Cub Cadet collection is made up of several different models, including a red Model 782, one of the last IH built.
“It wasn’t until I completely retired and moved to Elko in 2001 that I really caught the tractor bug,” Al says. “I had space, plenty of free time and found searching for the hard-to-find parts to be pretty exciting.” The next addition to his collection was a Cockshutt 30 he hauled from Yankton back to Nevada. As luck would have it, the Cockshutt didn’t need a major overhaul, but there were a few challenges to making it right.
Shortly after making the Cockshutt 30 shine, Al discovered a 1954 Farmall Super H while hunting near Encampment, Wyo. That tractor made it into his restoration shop in 2003. The Super H required new pistons, sleeves, rings, bearings and plenty of other new or refurbished components to complete, but it’s a beautiful specimen today. While working on the Super H, Al found a Cub Cadet Model 100 in South Dakota, and a second Model 100 along with a Model 147 in Elko. “I discovered I liked the Cub Cadets because as projects, they weren’t so involved,” he says. “And they are a lot easier to haul to shows.”
Once the Super H left the paint bay, Al was ready for another large project. He filled the void with a 1954 Farmall Super M equipped with IH’s proprietary 2-speed Torque Amplifier (TA) he found in Nevada. The Super MTA only needed a new head gasket and a few minor leaks repaired before it was ready to be prepped for paint. “I was lucky the TA was still in good shape,” Al says. “Parts to repair them are getting harder to find and they are pretty expensive.” He is particularly fond of the 1954 model Farmall tractors because they were the last of Harvester’s letter-series machines.
Al’s most recent projects include a pair of tractors built in 1946 by Cockshutt, among the first tractors the company manufactured. “I bought the CO-OP E3 and the Gambles Farmcrest Model 30 from my friend Bill Rosenof (read aboutBill’s collection) in Twin Falls, Idaho,” he says with a smile. “It took a bit of horse trading to get them home, but what are the odds of finding both at the same time?” In that single transaction, which took place in the fall of 2006, Al totally beat the odds. He now has three different brands of what amounts to a Cockshutt 30.
As it turns out, Cockshutt released its first tractor (manufactured in-house) as the Model 30 in the mid-1940s and distributed it in the U.S. through the National Farm Machinery CO-OP and Gambles. Cockshutt painted the Model 30 tractors red for Gamble-Skogmo Co. (Minneapolis), which operated a chain of farm stores across the upper Midwest. The same tractor received a coat of orange paint and was renamed the E3 for the National CO-OP.
By June of 2007, Al had both the Farmcrest and the E3 looking like new, just in time for the year’s show season. “It isn’t possible for me to haul all three Cockshutts to a show without making multiple trips,” he says. “But I hope to show the three of them together at one nearby event.”
Al isn’t certain where the collecting bug will lead him next. However, before the paint was dry on the Gambles, he had already found next winter’s project. “I just bought a 1952 Farmall M last week,” Al writes in a letter dated June 2, 2007. “I don’t know when I will get to it, but at least I’ll have one project to get me through the winter.”
In the meantime, Al plans to take one of his Cockshutts out to a friend’s ranch this summer to rake hay, just as he did so many years ago in South Dakota. And as a member of local and national engine and machinery clubs, he plans to hit plenty of shows this summer. “Summer is my busy season,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m supposed to be retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to do.”
When he isn’t showing, working on or playing with his machines, he tends to be camping, exploring or hunting in the vast north central Nevada wilderness with his faithful companion JATO, a miniature dappled dachshund that is every bit as comfortable riding shotgun in the pickup as he is on the four-wheeler’s gas tank. FC
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