Wisconsin is home to some well-known antique farm equipment shows, including the Badger Steam & Gas Show near Baraboo and the Rock River Thresheree in Edgerton, home of the 2008 world record threshing event in which 29 threshing machines operated at the same time.
The hill country of southwest Wisconsin also offers some old iron treasures. Tucked away in eastern Juneau County, a few miles south of Lyndon Station, is the Don and Dolores Raspiller farm. Don, his mother and two brothers, moved there from Somonauk, Illinois, in 1964. Don purchased a 256-acre farm. Five years later, he married his wife, Dolores. They are the parents of a son and two daughters.
In 1981, Don tackled his first tractor restoration: a 1936 McCormick-Deering Farmall F-12 he picked up for $30. At that price, he figured he could afford to plow an additional $300 into the project. “It was in such bad shape, I had to buy another one for parts,” he says, “so I took pieces of two F-12s and made one tractor out of it.”
The tractor’s engine was stuck. Don took the head off, removed the spark plugs, dumped a bunch of penetrating oil in, let it set for a few days and then started pounding. “It budged a little,” he says. “Not long after, my brother and I unseized it.”
Look around the Raspiller farmstead, and you’ll spot plenty of implements to start farming in 1930s or 1940s fashion. All you’d need are a good team of horses and a few tanks of gasoline. To help out those horses, throw in a 1940 John Deere H that looks like it just came off the dealer’s lot.
“This tractor starts with one fling of the flywheel,” Don says. A visitor set the controls and sure enough, with half a turn, the Model H model popped to life. The Model H was produced from 1939 to 1947; 58,600 were built.
McCormick-Deering introduced the 10-20 in 1923 and continued the line until 1939. Don and Dolores got their hands on a battleship gray 1930 machine. The 3-speed tractor has a 14-1/2 gallon tank that feeds kerosene to four cylinders. The tractor weighs 3,700 pounds, and produces about 15 hp on the drawbar.
Don and Dolores’ newest tractor is a 1961 Farmall 560. “This is the tractor that dealt a heavy financial blow to International Harvester,” Don explains. “The Farmall 460 and 560 were rushed into production in 1958 without extensive testing of the transmission and drive train, and farmers reported problems after about 300 hours of heavy operation.
The transmission could not handle the power from the 55 hp 6-cylinder engine.”
International was said to have spent huge sums on field modifications. “International desperately tried to fix the problem,” Don says. “It was said that their field mechanics made sufficient overtime pay to buy a house.”
International Harvester lost the lead to John Deere and never recovered. The 5-plow-rated Farmall 560 is a sleek, stylish machine. In the late 1950s, IH turned out nearly 300 tractors a day. Some 66,000 Farmall 560s were built.
Who doesn’t love the 1948 Farmall Cub, with its offset steering wheel and seating? Rated for one 12-inch plow, the Cub was the smallest tractor in the International Harvester line. More than 200,000 of these small chore tractors were built between 1947 and 1964. The Raspillers’ Farmall Cub is one of the earliest.
“The Farmall Cub, with its well-known L-head engine, was designed for small acreage farmers or those who wanted a second tractor,” Don says. “Having the tractor set off to the left and driver and steering wheel to the right, it’s perfect for an underneath-mounted cultivator or mower.”
Musing on the fact that we’ve all overspent on something at some time, I asked Don if he ever thought he’d paid too much for any of his 30 tractors. He allowed as how he might have gone too far on the Cub. “I shelled out $3,100, but it was a splendid looking piece of equipment, and I didn’t have one,” he says. “Of course, it came with a 5-foot belly mower, a 5-foot sickle mower, cultivators and a 1-bottom plow, so maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.”
A 1945 McCormick W-9, the biggest tractor in the Raspiller inventory, has a unique Wisconsin connection. “It’s one of more than 67,000 built in Milwaukee,” Don says. The tractor is rated for 4 plows. Its 335-cubic inch, 4-cylinder engine produces 48 hp on the drawbar and 52 hp on the belt.
When it comes to tractors, there are standard colors. You have your John Deere green, Farmall red, a not-so-deep red for the Massey-Harris line, Allis-Chalmers orange and Ford gray. Many farm collectors will tell you that the most beautiful farm tractor color is Minneapolis-Moline’s Prairie Gold trimmed in cherry red.
Don and Dolores have restored three MMs, all standard-tread versions. Their collection includes a 1949 MM R, a 1951 MM U and a 1953 MM Z. That Prairie Gold paint is hard to come by and very expensive. “I paid $80 a gallon back in 1980,” Don recalls. “Bought it from a vendor, and it takes just about a gallon to do one Minneapolis-Moline tractor.”
So what did Don do for his 1951 MM Model U? It’s Don’s secret as to how he came up with the perfect Minneapolis- Moline color, but suffice it to say that hardware store paint, meticulous blending and matching were involved. This author would challenge anyone to pick out the homemade, mix-it-yourself paint job!
As a boy growing up in the hill country of Crawford County in southwest Wisconsin, outside of Seneca, I relished the times when we shocked oats with a McCormick-Deering grain binder and threshed bundles with a McCormick-Deering thresher. I have a natural affinity for those behemoth machines. Don and Dolores own a splendid Nichols & Shepard Red River Special 28-46 dating to about 1940.
In the model designation, the number 28 refers to cylinder width (in inches); the number 46 indicates diameter (also in inches) of the blower fan that sends oat or wheat straw out a blower pipe to make a straw stack. The cylinder’s sharp serrated bars, rotating at about 500 rpm, beat against the grain, releasing the grain from the straw stalks.
“The Red River Special had a reputation for quality among farmers in the Midwest,” Don says. The thresher is in good working condition. In demonstrations, Don belts it to his 1951 Minneapolis-Moline, his 1945 McCormick-Deering W-9 or any 3-plow tractor.
Much of the older farm machinery is built of wood; those pieces are best stored inside when not in use. The Raspillers’ two-roller Appleton corn husker/shredder is a good example. Manufactured in Batavia, Illinois, in the early 1920s, the husker/shredder was said to “do more and better work than any other machine of like character and corresponding size.”
Don found his at an auction in central Wisconsin. “Hardly anybody was bidding on it,” he says, “so I got it for $230.” The unit is complete with all its belts and is ready to go to work. Don has yet to belt it to a tractor, but has turned it over by hand, and he reports it runs smoothly.
All of the Raspillers’ tractors, machinery and implements are fully operational. During a recent visit, Don fired up a 1937 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hp McCormick-Deering LA gasoline engine to power an early 1940s two-hole corn sheller. An ear of corn is fed into either of two openings and the kernels are stripped off the cob. Did I mention that Don and Dolores have a corn sheller? Well, make that eight of them, plus several smaller hand-cranked units.
During World War II, most raw materials were diverted to the war effort and farm machinery production took a back seat. Don’s McCormick-Deering Model 42 combine is typical of products produced during the war years. “They used whatever they could get,” he says, “some galvanized steel, some regular steel, whatever they could find.” The PTO-driven combines were built from 1941 to 1944.
Litchfield Mfg. Co. was founded in 1879 in Webster City, Iowa, by Lyman Litchfield. The company also built feed grinders and end gates, but in 1917, Litchfield focused on making just one product and making it very well. That one product? The Litchfield manure spreader. Don’s Litchfield spreader was built in 1910 and restored by a previous owner in 1990.
Interested in implements? Don and Dolores have plenty, including 1-bottom walking plows and 2-bottom horse-drawn or tractor-pulled plows. Their collection also includes discs, drags, Van Brunt grain drill, hay loader, dump rake, potato digger, potato sorter, root cutter, grain fanning mills, seeders, a road grader, two wooden wheel wagons and a stump puller. Several McCormick-Deering grain binders are set and ready to work, with canvas on the rollers and binder twine bales in the bucket.
The Raspiller collection takes in the entire vintage farm operation. Milking machines, cream separators, saws, scythes, hayforks, oil cans, grease guns, pitchforks, shovels and every conceivable farm tool – they have them all, as well as dozens of implement seats.
The collection is also a home for butter churns, wringer washing machines, dinnerware, wood-burning cookstoves, potbellied stoves, knives, baby carriages, telephones, hand pumps, a 1910 Victrola music player and treadle sewing machines.
What drives people like Don and Dolores Raspiller to collect and restore old iron? Late in his life, President Dwight David Eisenhower was asked about his greatest accomplishment. Was it his leadership of all Allied Forces that defeated Nazi Germany? Two terms as president? Establishment of the interstate highway system?
The answer was “none of the above.” Eisenhower said that his most satisfying life accomplishment was taking a run-down, 189-acre Pennsylvania farm and restoring it to a working farm. He stopped erosion, enriched the land, remodeled buildings, repaired fences, planted trees and built up the cattle stock.
Every collector and restorer can relate to that story. It is the thrill of searching, finding and rescuing. It’s the pride and satisfaction of turning a piece of rusty old junk into a good-as-new machine. In the pages of this magazine, we regularly read of such miracles. It’s almost like raising Lazarus from the dead. Oh, what a joy it is to be a part of the old iron community. FC
For more information: Don and Dolores Raspiller, N427 Hwy. J, Lyndon Station, WI 53944; (608) 254-7740.
Larry Scheckel grew up on a family farm in the hill country of southwestern Wisconsin. He and his wife, Ann, are retired teachers living in Tomah, Wisconsin. They are the authors of Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers, an account of life on the Crawford County farm in the 1940s and 1950s. Contact them at 1113 Parkview Dr., Tomah, WI 54660; email; online