Farm Collector

Too Rough to Run?

Having spent half a century driving a tractor almost daily during the summer months, I find that in America’s mountain states a person has extremely limited access to a gathering of enthusiasts that results in tractor shows like those in the Midwest.

Television coverage of such gatherings almost boggle the minds of those of us who never see large numbers of tractors assembled in one place. A regional show of the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club was held in northern Utah a couple of years ago. As a longtime operator of a D4 Cat crawler, I wanted to at least go and look, but the 800-mile round trip from southern Idaho kept me from it. 

About the only flaw in TV coverage is the static depiction of the tractors. Row upon row of John Deere, Farmall and Ford tractors are shown. Obviously those hundreds of tractors had to be hauled to the site, unloaded and driven into the display area. All of that activity has to be somewhat exciting, but the viewing audience misses it all because the show is presented only after everything is organized. The displayed tractors are vital objects with color, movement, sound and even smell. How is that conveyed to the viewing audience in their living rooms? An even a better question: How is it conveyed to the thousands of visitors who come to the show after it opens?

Fortunately one sometimes now sees parades of tractors on the move with a TV host stopping each one to inquire of the driver what they are driving and where they are from. We get to see only a few on TV since time is limited. Surely all of the hundreds of tractors on display aren’t included in the parade, because that would take days at regular tractor speeds. What the parade does is show tractors moving like we all know they do, and we appreciate seeing that.

It seems that almost everyone interviewed on a TV program has a tale to tell about finding a derelict tractor “along the fence line” or some other abandoned site. That find becomes the focus of the collector’s time, effort and money as they resurrect or restore the newly acquired tractor. If photographs are shown of the process, one wonders how it was possible to re-create an outstanding finished product. The tractor in question now looks like it is brand-new.

They’re only original once

In the last few years, a major change has taken place. Today, original vehicles – no matter their condition – are considered just as interesting as those that look brand-new.

The individual whose goal is to totally resurrect a badly deteriorated old tractor finds that beautiful, new-looking tractors from previous generations aren’t appreciated as much as they used to be. One often hears the expression, “They’re only original once.” Decent ones that have survived intact are pretty special.

But what about the one that’s in really bad shape? A tractor that will roll (on replacement tires) and is complete enough to be visually identifiable can be displayed to an appreciative crowd. Non-running vehicles take at least 10 times the effort to move around, but it can be done.

The simplest way is to haul the old hulk to a show and move it with another power source. I don’t have a tractor collection, but have found displaying unusual-appearing old automobiles often results in great enthusiasm from show visitors.

Patina takes the prize

At a regional 1928-31 Model A Ford meet with hundreds of beautifully restored cars on display, my crude, home-made Model A-based buck rake that goes backward, a Model A-based doodlebug tractor and a Model A-based Snowbird tracked snow vehicle were the hits of the show.

You will find the same thing with your recently acquired cruddy old tractor among the beautiful restored ones. Now more than ever, what something looks like before being rebuilt has great popular appeal. As amazing as it is to us older enthusiasts, in many instances a vehicle’s patina is more important than beauty.

Nonetheless, it remains almost embarrassing to have to tow a non-runner, even if it is purposely left in that condition for the time being. The average viewer doesn’t know but what you are just derelict in your restoration efforts. But getting the old tractor from the trailer to a spot in a neat row isn’t too unbearable. Try this idea if you’d like to show the ancient old thing in motion. I’ve used it with old cars, so I know it works.

Small but mighty Crosley

The Crosley is a miniature American-made car produced from 1939 through 1952 (with time out for World War II). Crosleys are so small that four could be shipped in one ordinary railroad boxcar. In the car-short years immediately after the war, they sold fairly well, even though they have only 26-1/2 hp and a cruising speed of about 45 mph. Gas mileage of 50 mpg was a plus. Most people today have never seen one, even though the line included sedans, convertibles, station wagons and pickups.

I have a cute pickup I wanted to display, but it had been brought to Idaho from California in December with no anti-freeze in the engine. A lot of effort had gone into correcting all its visual faults, but the engine problem had not been corrected: It was non-running.

I came up with the idea of welding a log chain solid and pushing the Crosley down the parade route. As photos accompanying this article show, my son and I learned that even well-welded chains are weak if they are very long. Ultimately one about 5 feet long proved stiff enough for the light little Crosley to be pushed by our Hummer H2, which has a receiver hitch connection in the front.

Before the parade, we practiced several times starting and stopping and turning corners. We even tested the effect of an uneven roadway (none). The crowd loved it: I heard one woman exclaim, “that’s adorable!” Not one person we talked to later caught on to the fact the Hummer was the power source. We heard comments like, “that little pickup’s engine surely was powerful to pull such a big vehicle without making a lot of noise.”

I not only displayed my vehicle, but I had a little fun at the crowd’s expense. As far as old tractors are concerned, I urge you to rig up your current restoration project (the less-decent looking the better) and push it in a parade with one of your “like new” collectible tractors.

Before and after

It wouldn’t be too difficult to design and use a strong, solid metal push bar to connect the two. The one being pushed surely would have some type of drawbar connection in the rear. It wouldn’t take too much effort to create an attachment for the front of your push tractor. Some already have places designed to bolt on tillage equipment.

With a little practice, your two-tractor display – basically showing the “before” and “after” – will be a crowd favorite. Onlookers will understand the fact that the old one you are pushing can someday look new again. All you need is another person to steer the old tractor. You will have complete control of both of them at all times.

One last thing. Your John Deere or Farmall push tractor will look great, so it needs no identification – but the dramatic relic in front needs a sign explaining what it really is and, if you wish, listing you as the owner. FC

A retired high school history teacher, Clell G. Ballard has worked on farms since he was in grade school, including 53 summers spent working on his uncle’s dryland hay and grain ranch. He also is a dealer of World War II-era military vehicles and parts. Contact him at (208) 764-2313 (and bear in mind the time difference with Mountain time) or by email at

  • Published on Feb 6, 2018
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