A Penchant for Red Machinery

Red machinery, including International Harvester and Deering implements dating to the 1920s, are brought back to life.

| August 2015

As a kid, Arnold Zempel fell in love with red farm machinery, from Deering right on up through International Harvester. “When I was in preschool, my dad traded our 1941 John Deere Model A for a 1953 Farmall Super H,” he recalls. “He’d already purchased another Farmall at an auction, and he liked driving it better than the John Deere.”

Arnold’s pair of older brothers had John Deere toys emulating the full-size equipment used on the family farm near Montevideo, Minnesota. “At that time more John Deere toys were made than most of the others and they were made of metal, but I didn’t want one of those,” he says. “I wanted a red one, and all they could find was a red Farmall made out of plastic. Even though it was played with and used, I still have that toy today.”

Along with it, he has a penchant for red machinery. Although Arnold’s collection includes pieces from other lines, he farms primarily with IH equipment. That led to a string of old red machinery, beginning with an F-20 tractor purchased at an auction. “It was something I was interested in because I grew up on a farm,” he says. “As I bought more, I thought it was just interesting and fun to look at the development of the engineering and how it progressed. It might also have something to do with my engineering degree from the University of Minnesota.”

Awed by steam technology

Like many collectors, Arnold’s interest in old machinery was whetted when he attended a threshing show in the late 1950s. “I found that very fascinating,” he says. “Seeing a steam engine was probably the main attraction. Some of those big heavyweight tractors really looked like antiques, because they were something way older than I was used to seeing.”

Arnold also garnered information from his father, Harold. “He had knowledge of that kind of equipment, because he’d seen it,” he says. “I’d watched steam, but had never been around it much. It’s a different kind of engineering and far more dangerous to work with because you have to maintain the boilers, watch the water pressure and levels and all the other things required to work with steam. It’s extremely expensive to maintain and operate.”

As he began building a collection, Arnold knew the heavyweights predating 1920 were out of his reach. “They were expensive then and they’re still expensive, so I started buying red equipment from the 1920s and ‘30s,” he says. “I was really looking more for all the corn machinery – for corn planting, elevating and cutting silage. Even though I remember it all, it was out of date by the time I could have used it. One of my dad’s brothers-in-law still used some of that equipment into the 1960s, but I didn’t get to see it much. We did a lot of custom corn shelling when I grew up, so I’m very familiar with shelling corn.”