A Tractor Collection in the Magic Valley
When auto-body artist and successful businessman George Rosenof moved his family to Idaho’s Magic Valley, his plan was to do a little farming.
But in the process George germinated an embryonic agricultural interest in his teenage son Bill that quickly developed into a full-fledged and enduring passion. “We moved from Rock Springs, Wyo., to Twin Falls when I was 13,” Bill explains, reminiscing about his love affair with farming and small-scale machinery. “We started in 1944 with 20 irrigated acres, and I’ve been at it ever since.”
It didn’t take George long to realize he enjoyed running his own auto-body repair business more than he did farming, so after a few years he turned over much of that responsibility to Bill. By the time Bill graduated from high school in 1950, he was responsible for working the family’s 20 acres on his own and had developed a successful small-scale custom business on the side. “Dad bought a Farmall Cub new in 1947,” Bill recalls. “I worked that tractor hard after school and plowed most of the gardens in our neighborhood.” He also worked for neighboring farmers whenever he got the chance and soaked up everything he could learn from them just as the valley’s fertile soils soaked up irrigation water diverted from the Snake River.
Bill’s hard work paid off and before long he was dealing on a tractor of his own. “The first tractor I bought myself was a 1943 Farmall A,” Bill explains while pointing out a front-bolster strengthening modification he made to one of his old row crop tractors. “I bought that tractor with a plow, cultivators and a 6-foot sickle bar mower for around $700.” The first season he had the tractor, an 18-acre plot of edible-type seed peas more than paid for it. “You could make a living farming pretty easily back then,” Bill says, laughing. “But not every crop was a winner.”
One of Bill’s most memorable years was 1951 because it included a contract to grow 8 acres of carrot seed. “We had to pull the carrot plants whole and form them into windrows by hand”‘ Bill says. “Later, we forked those windrows into a modified International Harvester 503 combine.” Though plenty of seed accumulated in the harvester-thresher’s grain tank, it was light as a feather. “They paid a pretty good price per pound of seed,” Bill says, shaking his head. “But with the labor involved and the seed’s low density, it just wasn’t worth it in the end.”
Undeterred by the carrot seed caper, Bill continued to focus his efforts on garden seed and other specialty crops for the next half decade and he enjoyed every minute of it.
Magic in the valley
Part of what makes Idaho’s Magic Valley land so productive is the wonderfuly fertile volcanic soil. Irrigation is the other part of the equation. With the exception of acreage adjacent to the Snake River, the area around Twin Falls was pretty tough country until the Milner Dam was constructed near Burley, Idaho, during the first decade of the 20th century. The reservoir created by the dam and a complex system of canals and ditches literally transformed the area into one of the richest agricultural regions in the northwest. “This place was considered a wasteland before the dam,” Bill explains. “Once the irrigation water started flowing, it was changed to what you see now – like magic.”
Through the latter half of the 20th century, Bill and his wife, Aloa, took advantage of the fine soil and plentiful water to produce sugar beets, sweet corn seed, edible peas, edible beans (including Great Northern), alfalfa, onions, garden vegetable seed and other unusual crops. Unlike the huge grain farms found elsewhere in the country, Bill’s model concentrated on high value and moderate scale. Because of that, he was able to get the work done with smaller row crop equipment he modified to suit their corrugated soil-style flood irrigation practice. In the process, Bill grew fond of the machines he worked with.
Now retired, Bill still grows a big garden and keeps a small orchard, but his interests have turned to collecting and restoring the tools of his trade. Not surprisingly, the collection’s foundation includes some of the very machines he once used to make a living.
Assembling a collection
Bill comes by the tractor collecting habit naturally. As a child in the Great Depression, he was used to “making do.” It was second nature to accumulate parts machines and other bits and pieces to keep the operation running. When modifications were needed to enhance machinery, he made them without hesitation. For example, Bill was partial to a McCormick-Deering bean drill dating to the 1920s. However, to make the drill work better in his irrigated ground, he installed hiller-disc closers in place of its press wheels and used it to plant sugar beets.
In another instance, Bill converted an IH Model 76, pull-type peanut special combine to help harvest edible beans because its threshing unit could better handle the occasional volcanic stones that got tangled in the windrows. Today, several such McCormick-Deering drills and the Model 76 combine stand as a testament to Bill’s ingenuity and provide a cornerstone to a very personalized collection. “Today, these machines don’t have much value to anyone but the scrap man,” he says. “But they have a lot of sentimental value for me because they served well and paid for themselves time and again.”
As with the planting and harvesting implements, several tractors in Bill’s collection were once part of his working fleet, including his last new tractor. “I bought the (IH) 784 to run the baler in 1984,” Bill explains. “It was among the last of the 84-series tractors built.” Not only does the 784 come at the end of the series, but it was delivered within months of the Nov. 26, 1984 International Harvester-Case merger.
According to retired Harvester engineer Ralph Baumheckel, late Model 784s were available from the factory with a ROPS (rollover protection) cab built by SIMS (Rutland, Mass.) styled to look like the Control Center cabs installed on larger contemporary IH tractors at the time. Bill’s 784 is equipped with a cab produced by Ansel Mfg. Co., Ulysses, Kan., instead.”I probably should sell it to someone who can get the use out of it,” Bill says, wiping a streak of white volcanic dust from the gleaming machine’s hood. “It’s the most modern and comfortable tractor we ever had.”
Most of Bill’s tractors were smaller, open-station models. Not surprisingly, he is still very partial to those machines. An original condition Farmall A Bill purchased as an extra cultivating tractor when his kids were old enough to help with that precision chore holds a place of honor – in part because he likes the model and in part because it became Aloa’s favorite tractor for doing fieldwork. “I haven’t decided whether to restore it or just leave it alone,” Bill says. “It doesn’t look that different from the day we bought it used.”
Bill has many original condition IH tractors in his collection. While he can’t really decide which is his favorite, he is particularly partial to one extended family of Farmalls. “I liked the Farmall B because it was a very comfortable cultivating tractor and had plenty of power for other work,” Bill explains. “So when I started collecting, I thought it would be fun to find one of every member of that family.”
So far he’s collected at least one of each of the related Farmall B, BN (narrow-tread), C, Super C, 200, 230 and 240. “The only model I haven’t found yet is the (Farmall) 404,” Bill continues. ‘It’s the most modern tractor in that family, but it’s been pretty hard to find so far.’ Bill is quick to point out that he hasn’t gotten around to restoring most of those tractors yet, but says it’s good to have projects waiting their turn.
Although he definitely likes IH machinery, Bill isn’t a purist. He recently completed restoration of a 1940s-vintage Massey-Harris Pony he likes because it’s small and easy to haul to shows and parades. He also has a nice John Deere M, John Deere LA, Case DC-4, Case Model SI, Oliver 60 Standard and plenty others.
Sometimes Bill collects machines because he happens to be in the right place at the right time, which is how a Gambles Farmcrest 30 and matching CO-OP E3 came to the farm. “I placed the winning bid on the pair of them at an auction some time ago,” Bill says. “If it had been just one or the other, they wouldn’t have interested me.” What makes these two tractors interesting is that they are identical in every way except paint and decals, and both are really Canadian-built Cockshutt 30 tractors in disguise.
“Cockshutt released their first (manufactured in-house) tractor as the Model 30 in the mid-1940s,” Bill explains. “They distributed them in the U.S. through the National Farm Machinery CO-OP and Gambles.”
Cockshutt painted the Model 30 tractors red for the Gamble-Skogmo Co., Minneapolis, which operated a chain of farm stores across the upper Midwest, while the same machine received a coat of orange paint and was renamed the E3 for the national CO-OP. Bill intended to restore those two tractors and hoped to add a Cockshutt 30 to complete the trio, but he recently used the machines to do a little horse trading instead. “A friend already had a nice Cockshutt 30 and was very interested in the other two,” Bill says. “So we did a little trading last fall and now he has them.”
Bill’s collection includes several other interesting implements, toys and even a model steam engine he received as a gift in 1939. The old steam engine was carefully tucked away in the attic of a building slated for destruction, but a family friend rescued the relic and gave it to Bill. “I was only 8 at the time and had the bright idea to heat the engine on a gas burner,” Bill says. “It was running so fast that it threw the governor off.” It’s a wonder Bill didn’t get hurt or ruin the engine, but today it holds a place of honor in the Rosenof house.
Bill isn’t sure where his interest in old iron will lead him next, but he feels comfortable in the fact that there are many more projects around his place than he will ever likely be able to finish. Since last summer, he’s completed restoration of a Farmall C and Super A, and they look nice beside his restored Cub and Pony. “Working on the tractors is fun, but there is only so much I can get done in a day,” Bill says. “I feel lucky that after more than a half century of farming I can get anything done at all.”
He also continues to participate in local tractor shows and parades, and gained notoriety last fall at the local fair where he scored high marks in the garden tractor pull. “I entered my old Sears Suburban garden tractor,” Bill explains, laughing. “I put her in second gear and low range and I got first place … it took a while, but I got her.” For Bill, life still includes working hard, having fun and being happy, which is easy to do in Idaho’s Magic Valley. FC
For more information: Contact Bill Rosenof at (208) 733-5643.
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