Collecting Authentic Pieces: Antique Farm Equipment in Original Condition

Farm relics in such exceptional condition that cosmetic restoration would be a crime

| April 2010

When it comes to old iron, the pristine original has limited appeal.

But don’t put it in the Rodney Dangerfield category: There’s still plenty of passion for the relic in condition so exceptional that cosmetic restoration would be a crime.

Historic Farm Days, an annual production of the I&I Tractor & Gas Engine Club, Penfield, Ill., offered ample evidence of that. The July 2009 event was packed with showstoppers – but some very nice originals were standouts in their own right. (Read more about the 2009 I&I show: “Super-Sized in 2009: I&I Antique Tractor & Gas Engine Club Show.”)

The appeal of a fine original is powerful. One way or another, the original piece has survived the passage of time with amazingly little wear. It doesn’t look brand new, to be sure – and that can put off enthusiasts accustomed to a steady diet of gleaming restorations. But given the age of the piece, the astonishingly good condition of a fine original sets it apart. It is authentic; there is no artifice or deception. It’s as close to what it was when it came off the assembly line as a piece can be. And, as the old saying goes, “it’s only original once.” Restore it, and what makes it special is irretrievably lost.

A working original is very big medicine indeed. A machine that needs no mechanical restoration to work as it was intended to decades earlier draws particular admiration from collectors and enthusiasts.

Hidden in a warehouse

Flanked by handsomely restored tractors at the Classic Farm Tractors Calendar Reunion display, Dwight Emstrom’s 1951 Ford 8N stood in a class by itself: The tractor is nearly totally original, and has just 125 original hours.

Dwight, who lives in Galesburg, Ill., added the 8N to his Ford collection eight years ago. When a friend told Dwight about the ad he’d seen for an original 8N with very low hours, Dwight wasted no time pursuing the rare original. “I called the seller and asked him if he’d hold the tractor for me until morning,” he recalls. “He agreed, so I drove half the night. When I got there at 6:30 the next morning, 10 people watched me pull in.”

Years earlier, the seller’s father bought the tractor new, equipped with loader and blade. But after a family squabble turned toxic, the original owner drained all the fluids and parked the Ford in a warehouse in Wisconsin, where it remained – for 40 years.

“The warehouse must have been damp,” Dwight speculates. “That saved the tires, but it blistered the paint. But it didn’t bother the sheet metal. Water probably dripped off that.” He’s since given it a clear coat to protect the finish.