Southeast Kansas Gas Engine & Tractor Club Impresses at Annual Show

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Kenny Wilson's 1954 David Bradley Tri-Trac. The Trac sold for $598 ($5,178 today) in 1954. The way it was designed, it was an expensive little tractor, he says.
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Handsomely restored tractors were displayed along classic cars and trucks.
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McCormick-Deering 15-30 tractor hand-built by the late Allen Smith.
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“I live in a subdivision and the Tri-Trac is really popular there,” Kenny says. “get it out and the neighbor kids hook their wagons to it.”
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A display of street rods added unmistakable flair to the Pittsburg show.
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In addition to his David Bradley Tri-Trac, Kenny Wilson displayed a few old corn shellers. He gets kids interested in antique farm equipment by letting them try their hand at grinding corn.
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Andy Smith, Girard, Kan., and his dad, Luther Smith (not pictured), maintain working quarter-scale models designed and built by Smith.
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Jamie Gull’s 1919 Hercules 5EK. Except for physical size, notes C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, every engine in the Hercules line was virtually identical.
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Richard and Kathy Shannon with part of their collection of apple peelers and cherry pitters.
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Loren Erwin says he designs his displays “to keep the kids entertained.” Mission accomplished. When a crowd of children spies the displays, a chorus of “Awesome!” fills the air.
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Joe Winter with his collection of butter churns.
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Joe isn’t positive that this is a butter churn — but with a whip-like mechanism inside, he doesn’t know what else it might be. He believes it to be among the oldest pieces in his churn collection.
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This favorite churn was manufactured by J. McDermaid, Rockford, Ill. McDermaid produced four models of barrel-style churns. The patent he won in 1876 (no. 183,585) was among the first granted for barrel churns.
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This churn was equipped with two handles. “You could sit down and crank it with two handles,” Joe says. “It just made it easier to use.”

For sheer spectacle, there’s
nothing like an enormous, sprawling tractor show. But don’t underestimate the
appeal of a small local show. Hometown shows have their share of gems, and
there’s nothing the local folks would rather do than show them off.

The Southeast Kansas Gas
Engine & Tractor Club’s annual show is a classic example. Held the third
weekend of June in Pittsburg,
the show offered a surprising mix of antique farm relics big and small wrapped
up in a bear hug of warm hospitality. Adding a celebratory touch to the club’s
25th annual show, a bluegrass concert was held on the lawn Friday night. Other
special events included a rolling pin contest, women’s skillet toss, a car show
and baling demonstrations.

Feature tractor: David

Kenny Wilson, Carl Junction,
Mo., is a big
fan of collectible garden tractors — and that’s pretty understandable,
especially once you hear his story. “When I was growing up, we mostly farmed
with horse power,” he recalls. “We had a truck patch and it kept us kids busy,
pulling weeds and picking off potato bugs. Mom canned all summer. The house
would be super hot all summer, but if we wanted to eat that’s what we had to

The advent of walk-behind
garden tractors — like those built by David Bradley Mfg. Co. — was a major leap
forward. “It was such a big boon to the farmer,” Kenny says. “David Bradley had
no trouble selling those. They were economical; just about anybody could afford
one.” Equipped with a 4 hp Briggs & Stratton engine and 16-inch wheels, the
early walk-behind unit was also easy to handle. Kenny recently acquired a
walk-behind David Bradley unit. It is scheduled for restoration in his shop,
and if an already completed David Bradley Tri-Trac is any indication, it will
be a gem.

The Tri-Trac is a remnant of
the era when Sears, Roebuck & Co. owned David Bradley Mfg. Co. Produced
from 1954-’57 by David Bradley at Sears’ behest, the Tri-Trac was an idea after
its time. “They just didn’t go over,” Kenny says. “If they’d made them before
or during the war, they would have sold a lot of them. There was a big demand
for garden tractors then because everybody had a ‘victory garden.’ But by the
1950s, the troops were back home and they were farming on a big scale.”

The Tri-Trac had a 6 hp Wisconsin engine and a bore and stroke of 2-7/8 by 2-3/4
inches. Sears offered 10 pieces of equipment for the Tri-Trac. “Those are hard
to come by now,” Kenny says. The Tri-Trac had forward, reverse, neutral and a
speed changer; it weighed 894 pounds. “It was heavy compared to its
competitors,” he says, “but it was relatively easy to turn.” A versatile unit,
it also had an adjustable front wheel to accommodate row widths from 48-72

Kenny’s Tri-Trac was in good
condition mechanically when he got it. Even the tires — US Royals — are
original. “I got lucky,” he says. “It had always been kept shedded. I had a lot
of good hours restoring that Tri-Trac. Once you get one done, you say you’ll
never do it again, but you always do.”

Among the most popular
collectible garden tractors in the country, David Bradleys are a breeze to load
in a pickup. “I take it to a lot of shows,” Kenny says. His collection also includes
a Jacques Mighty Mite, a Shaw (built by Shaw Mfg. Co., Galesburg,
Kan.), and a Haney built in Philadelphia.

Feature engine: Hercules

The Pittsburg show had another Sears connection
with its featured engine: the Hercules line. Hercules Buggy Co., Evansville, Ind.,
renamed itself Hercules Gas Engine Co. in 1912. In years to follow, Sears
marketed a nearly identical line of Economy engines.

At Pittsburg,
collector Jamie Gull, Girard,
Kan., showed one of each. His
1919 Hercules 5EK nearly required spectators to don sunglasses or be blinded by
a gleaming restoration. “I wanted to ‘slick up’ one engine, so I worked with a
neighbor who does car restorations,” he says. “He guided me through the prep
process. I used a hand grinder with a sanding disc. I didn’t go after the pits,
just the bumps. It was hours of grinding.”

Next, Jamie used two coats
of spray-on filler/primer and his buddy applied four coats of single-stage
urethane paint. The resulting high gloss literally stops traffic. “I take it to
a lot of shows,” he says. “Kids walk by and then they wheel around for a second
look. Some of the old timers are not so keen on that kind of restoration. They
like to see the old engines in their ‘work clothes.’ But the younger generation
likes it. I tell people ‘That’s my miniature.’ The miniatures they make of gas
engines are always so shiny. But I can’t afford one of those, so I tell people
this is my miniature.”

Jamie already had an Economy
engine, so he was familiar with the Hercules when he got it. A previous owner
had converted the engine to spark plug ignition, but Jamie wanted the correct
configuration. “I had to find an igniter and a magneto,” he says, “but I was
lucky.” When he got it, the Hercules engine wasn’t running. He had to put shims
in the piston rings, make a lot of new pins and put bushings in. The Hercules
and other engines from Jamie’s collection are semi-permanently installed on a
custom-designed trailer with sidewalls that fold into awnings, making a shaded
show display a snap.

Perpetual motion

Years ago, Loren Erwin
collected engines and tractors. Today the Webb City, Mo., man has turned his
attention to fantastical tabletop displays of perpetual motion. One display at
the Pittsburg
show was reminiscent of an amusement park. Powered by a cordless drill’s power
unit, miniature stair steps rise and fall. A rotating disc suggests a Ferris
wheel. A chute made of wire flows through it all like a roller coaster. When a
barrage of gleaming ball bearings is released, the display seems to create its
own energy as balls stream, shoot, bounce and tumble along a carefully designed

At another tabletop display,
it’s all business. Toy trucks powered by a belt sander’s gearbox toil endlessly
on a jobsite where work never stops. With intricate timing, the course flawlessly
accommodates a steady flow of ball bearings. Trucks move forward and backward,
buckets dump loads, lifts kick into action as the balls move through a series
of shafts, stairs and ramps.

Loren works on the displays
at night, “when I can’t do anything else and I can’t sleep,” he says. He
estimates he has 120 hours in the construction display; perhaps 90 hours in the
amusement park. Design of each display was a work in progress. “I just go until
I stop,” he says, “or until I run out of room.”

Small masterpieces

It’s pretty easy to feel
like Gulliver when viewing Andy Smith’s display at the Pittsburg show. Rising to just about knee
height were a Case pull-type combine, a McCormick-Deering 15-30 tractor and a
Ford Model T pickup. The quarter-scale pieces are intricately detailed and all
run. They are the work of Andy’s late grandfather, Allen Smith.

“It was a hobby for him,”
says Andy, who is president of the Southeast Kansas Gas Engine & Tractor
Club. “He worked as a maintenance man at a printing shop but this was his

Growing up during the Great
Depression, Allen only rarely had a store-bought toy. Like others of his
generation, he made his own toys. In midlife, a visit to a threshing reunion
rekindled memories of his boyhood on the farm and the pleasure of building
something with his hands. For more than 40 years, beginning in the 1950s,
crafting working scale models of antique farm equipment was his passion.

Using little more than a
farm welder and a small turning lathe, Allen created the threshing machine,
tractor, combine and pickup truck as well as a 50 hp Case steam traction
engine, an Aultman-Taylor 30-60 tractor, an eight-bottom plow and a Caterpillar
60 crawler. He averaged 600 hours on each.

Perhaps Allen’s greatest joy
came from sharing his hobby. A notebook Andy compiled bursts with newspaper
articles on Allen and his masterpieces. Newspaper editors are not given to
hyperbole, but at least one could not resist. “Allen Smith is a genius,” one
article began.

All manner of trumpery

The business card starts
innocently enough. Below the name, address and phone number, it reads:
“Collector of old gasoline engines. Tractors. Winchesters.” Turn the card over
and there’s more. “Model trains. Machinist’s calipers. Wood bit braces. Old
clocks and all other trumpery.”

Joe Winter, Richards, Mo., is a man fascinated
by literally endless relics of the past; his business card barely scratches the
surface. At the Pittsburg
show — where he was show chairman — he displayed an enormous collection of
unique butter churns. “I’m more interested in acquiring churns that are
different than I am in run-of-the-mill pieces,” he says. “When Shirley and I
are out looking for gas engines on country farmsteads, if we stumble onto a
churn, we’ll try to buy it. Then we start looking for something different.”

Joe was a youth of 13 when
electricity came to his family’s farm in rural Missouri in the years after World War II. He
well remembers the chore of churning butter by hand. “It’s like my mother used
to say,” he recalls. “The best part of the good old days is that they’re all

Many churns didn’t survive
the passage of time. “A lot of farmhouses burned,” he says. “They were built of
wood, and they burned wood in them. A lot of times there was no fire department
right there and no way to put a fire out.”

Peelers and pitters

Sitting under a pop-up tent,
Richard Shannon, Little Rock,
Ark., was quick to explain that
he has antique tractors at home. But trucking, he allows, is a lot easier when
you’re hauling antique apple peelers and cherry pitters. He and his wife,
Kathy, displayed an interesting selection of restored peelers and pitters
dating to the mid-1800s.

Happy to demonstrate the
archaic tools, he popped an apple on a fork that was part of the device.
Literally before you could count to three, the apple was completely peeled. “I
like anything that has gears,” Richard says. “I’m just fascinated by the
mechanics of it.”

Among the peelers was one
dating to the 1860s made by Sargent & Foster, Shelburne Falls, Mass.
That company gained early fame for its “quick return” model. The peeler’s
mechanism is driven by a worm gear; the peeling arm is under spring tension
designed to follow the apple’s profile. Once the apple is peeled, the arm — no
longer in gear — snaps back to the starting position.

Richard’s collection
includes a canning device that compresses a lid onto a tin can. “My dad told me
that they used to have canning houses (essentially a community canning
operation) during the Depression,” he says. “People would bring the produce
they’d raised and use machines like this to can it. It’s what kept some of them
from starving.” FC

For more information:

Southeast Kansas Old Time Gas Engine & Tractor Club show, June 20-21, 2014.

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector.
Contact her at

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