Letters to the Editor

California collection provides backdrop for ag history lesson


| April 2007



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Left: This Best 60 features an “eight-hour” fuel tank built in Stockton, Calif., designed to maximize time spent in the field before refueling. It is part of a varied collection put together by Al Hauschildt, Sonora, Calif.

For Al Hauschildt, seeing is more than believing. When a new generation sees vintage iron in action, he says, they come to understand a way of life irretrievably lost.

"The younger generation doesn't know what our heritage is," he says. "People come see this equipment, and they wonder what it is and what it does. But if you have it running, then they can understand it."

A show held annually at Al's 23-acre Horse Around Ranch in the Sierra Mountains near Sonora, Calif., is his way of reaching the younger generation. Held each August, the show features pieces displayed and operated by local collectors. "We'll have model engines, gas engines and tractors," Al says. "And we have all kinds of demonstrations. We've had blacksmiths, painters, a two-man chainsaw demonstration, a mining display and tractors pulling sleds and plows. We've had an Aermotor engine display, a truck show and one year recently we had a Stanley Steamer here." The three-day event draws attendance of about 600 (not including exhibitors).

Al's hosted the show off and on since the early 1990s. One constant? Young people. "I like to see children at shows," Al says, "especially when they're about 10 or 12 and older. If a kid has a girlfriend with him, forget it. But if you get two or three boys together, they're full of questions. I like to get them involved. If you introduce a child to something, you've planted a seed."

In Al's case, a seed planted in childhood began growing like a weed in the 1950s when he started collecting antique farm equipment. As the decades passed, Al's collection began to encompass rare and highly collectible pieces: tractors, gas engines and more - lots more. "Oh, I've got hog oilers, engines, signs, chainsaws, mining stuff and more," he says. "You go to an auction, and all of a sudden they say 'Sold!' and jeez, then I've got to pay for it! I don't think I've ever come home from an auction with an empty trailer."

His collection features local favorites like Best crawlers. He found his prototype Best 30 (built by C.L. Best Tractor Co., San Leandro, Calif.) at an auction put on by the Heidrick Agricultural History Center at Woodland, Calif. It's a fitting companion for his Best 60, which features an "eight-hour" fuel tank. "The original tank wouldn't hold enough fuel to run the tractor all day," Al explains. "The tractor used 11 gallons an hour. This way they could refuel and lubricate at noon. At night, the guys were too tired, and they'd miss some of the fittings. And in the morning, the grease was too cold."