Duane Huschka of rural Brodhead, Wis., can make a claim not many others can: “Every furrow I’ve ever turned in my life has been with an International plow,” he says. “I have never used any other kind of plow.”
He’s also a collector of red farm machinery who buys not only for nostalgia, but for farm use as well.
“All of them get used throughout the year,” he says. “I wouldn’t have a tractor unless I could use it.” He also has a number of red implements, as well.
Sometimes he finds himself asking which tractor he should take on a particular day.
“It’s just a matter of, well, this one hasn’t been run for a while, so let’s use this one today,” he says. “I’ve found that rotating the tractors through the year in various seasons and various jobs works good. I don’t keep batteries in all the tractors, because it’s too many to keep all charged up. I might use one tractor for a month for certain jobs, and then I’ll park it in the back of the shed and put that battery in another tractor, and I’ll use that one for a while. For most of the tractors, changing the battery is a relatively easy job.”
To Duane, there is no sound more beautiful than a Farmall M out in the field plowing, “with a nice steady load,” he says, “not pulling the guts out of her, but just making her work good. That’s my earliest memory of a tractor: me sitting in the sandbox and playing with my own little toy tractors, like most farm kids did, and watching grandpa out in the field plowing with an M. I love to listen to the sound of the M when it’s working.”
He has a couple of M’s. He found his 1939 Farmall M after a 15-year search.
“I wanted an M with a three-digit serial number, and since the M serial numbers started at 501, it meant there were only 499 of them out there,” he says. “I found a couple others, but the people who owned them wouldn’t sell. This was the first one I found that I was able to buy. It has serial number 875, and all the serial numbers matched, so it’s worth more to the serious collector. I bought it to collect, but also to use.”
The ’39 M, which he found in a junkyard 200 yards north of his home, has 36-inch back tires instead of 38-inch models. From what he’s heard, most of the first 482 Farmall M’s leaving the factory on rubber had 36-inch tires.
“I just recently found another M sitting in a junkyard with 36-inch tires on it, and I’m contemplating buying it,” he says. “The engine is stuck on it, and it needs a lot of work. But the guy has it priced right, and it’s not too far from here, and he’ll deliver it. It’s a 1939 M, but newer than the other one.”
Duane’s other Farmall M (a ’41, serial number 37104) is a family heirloom that his grandfather bought new.
“By the casting dates, it was built about June 1941,” he says. “My grandfather had bought an H new in 1940, but he soon found it wasn’t big enough for him, so he went to the IH dealer Demonstration Day where they were baling hay, and that M was being used to demonstrate on the baler.”
He wanted to buy the M, but didn’t have the money. Later that year, the same dealer had a corn picking demonstration, using that M to pull a new two-row, pull-type corn picker.
“Grandpa was real impressed with the way that handled the two-row corn picker, so he bought the M at that time,” he says. “He paid $1,188 for that tractor, and he thought it was an ungodly sum of money. It was on full rubber, with electric starter, lights, and had two wheel weights and a PTO. He bought it without a hydraulic; he never believed in hydraulic.”
The first tractor Duane bought was an M.
“I bought it in 1974 in a farm auction, and had it until 1990, when I traded it for a new corn picker, which I needed more at the time than I needed another tractor,” he says. “I wish I hadn’t traded it off, though.”
He also has a bunch of old IH implements, including a three-bar horse rake he bought for $25 from his uncle in 1974.
“It’s the only one I remember him having,” he says. “I used to go over and help him put up hay, and I used to rake hay with that rake. When he quit farming in 1974 due to health reasons, I bought that rake from him. I’ve used it every year since then.”
His uncle had purchased the rake used (originally it was a horse-drawn rake), and converted it to tractor use by cutting off the tongue and bolted irons on the end. Last summer he found an owner’s manual for the rake in a flea market.
Duane is a stickler on owner’s manuals. He tries to have one for every piece of machinery on the farm. He’s not just a collector: he actually reads each one.
“I think a big mistake a lot of people make is not reading the owner’s manual,” he says. “A lot of problems could be solved, or greatly reduced, if they would just read it. I’m surprised and amazed at people who buy new machinery and never use the owner’s manual. It refreshes your mind on how the engineers intended for the thing to be used, and avoids a lot of headaches and problems if you familiarize yourself with owner’s manuals.”
He keeps old manuals when he junks a piece of equipment, hoping to pass on the manual to someone who might need it. He’s even been known to keep a few for himself. He also collects literature, parts manuals, and every issue of several farm-related magazines.
Other red machinery in his collection includes three four-bar rakes, some dating to the 1930s, and five model 60 and model 70 plows. He also has intimate knowledge of the IH baler, since his uncle used to do custom hay baling.
“He bought an IH 45 baler new, and I don’t know how many bales he put through that,” Duane says. “Then he traded it in and got a new one, and baled hay with that for many years, and then he got an IH 46 baler, and baled with that for many years. When he found out the IH 46 balers weren’t going to be built any longer, he got another new one, and I don’t know how many years he had that. When he quit farming in 1974, we bought that 46 baler from him. I baled more than 7,000 bales that first year, and we used it until 1983. It was a good baler, and I had no problem at all with it.”
Duane is a sort of one-man registry system.
“For the last 21 years, I’ve been writing down the serial numbers of every Farmall H and M I’ve seen, or when people write into Red Power with their serial number, I’ll get it and put it down in my records,” he says. “The last time I counted, I had just over a thousand serial numbers.”
People who know Duane help out by “collecting” serial numbers for him when they go to shows.
“It’s an interesting hobby,” he says.
“I grew up with IH equipment, farming with my grandfather for many years, and he was the type that if you buy something, you take care of it and make it last,” he says. “I grew up with that old stuff, and I liked it because it’s a lot simpler, easier to repair, and, in a lot of cases, more reliable because it’s simpler.”
The demise of the company was more than a news item to him. Duane found out about IH selling out from an implement dealer salesman.
“I hadn’t heard about it on the radio when Milt told me,” he says. “We sat and talked about it for a while. Milt was shocked, and so I was I. We both knew they were in financial trouble, and had been for quite a while, but I never expected them to toss in the towel and give up, which is what I think they did.”
He keeps his focus on the company’s glory days.
“I still think of IH, and wish they were No. 1,” he says. “I wish the company had never been forced to sell, and had never gone out of business. They built some excellent machines and excellent tractors. There was the time they were a proud company.”
Today, Duane’s working collection reflects that excellence and pride. FC
Bill Vossler has written on a variety of collectible farm equipment, and is the author of Toy Farm Tractors.