Barn Fire!

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Evidence of what a hot fire can do to tires and red, shiny paint: the author's McCormick-Deering W4.
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These four tractors (shown here before the first) were in the barn when it burned.
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The Silver King's color was the only thing not much changed.

About 4:30 Saturday morning on April 29, I was awakened by the cry that every rural dweller fears: “The barn’s on fire!”

Sure enough, when I looked out, the whole back end of my pole barn was ablaze. While on his way to work, a kind passerby spotted the barn fire from the highway and beat on the door to wake us up. The phone wire to the barn had already burned, putting the house phone out of order. Luckily, the man had a cell phone, and called the fire department. He also had the presence of mind to get the keys and move my truck away from the barn, or it would have been severely damaged. We’re very grateful to this man, without whose help the destruction would have been much worse.

I got dressed and went outside, where a lot of spectators had gathered, despite the early hour.

Everyone was talking excitedly about where and when they’d seen the barn fire, and the large glow in the sky caused by the blaze. As there wasn’t much I could do, I stood silently, watching the fire and listening to the talk around me.

The local volunteer fire department was there in about 15 minutes, but there wasn’t much they could do either, except squirt water on the travel trailer (which was parked about 30 feet away) and the other pole barn (about 25 feet away) to keep them from burning. Even with their efforts, some of the siding and plastic parts on the camper were damaged. My John Deere lawn tractor was parked in front of the barn and a fireman pulled it back, but most of the plastic parts on it were melted as well. There were nine tractors inside the barn, and each is a total loss; just so much twisted metal. Talk about Rusty Iron! Of course, all my shop and hand tools were destroyed, plus many scarce parts and repair manuals that I had accumulated.

We don’t know what caused the fire. Due to some surgery, I hadn’t worked in the barn for about six weeks. The only thing we can figure is that it was electrical, although a short in the wiring should have popped the circuit breaker. The only other option is arson, and I doubt that. All we know for sure is that it started at the rear end of the building, where a refrigerator was located, as well as a John Deere MI (my show plowing tractor). The MI had a good battery in it, so it would be ready to go anytime. Mice have a habit of building their soft little nests up behind the dash of the tractor. They also love to chew the insulation off electrical wires. If that happened, and the wires shorted out near the nest, it wouldn’t take much sparking to start the nest material burning. I guess we’ll never know for sure. From now on, I’ll be sure to shut off all the power at the main panel before leaving the building, and I’ll disconnect all the batteries on my tractors while in the barn.

My homeowners insurance will replace the building and all the tools, but of course the old tractors and parts aren’t covered under the policy. I carried separate liability insurance on the tractors, but felt the cost of fire and theft coverage was too expensive. If any of you are under the impression that your homeowner’s insurance automatically covers your antique tractors, I suggest you verify that with your agent.

It’s really sad that these old machines got destroyed, not just for the money and work that went into fixing them up, but because some of them were rare, and can’t easily be replaced. Here’s a list of items that were destroyed: 1962 International 444, not restored, but a sweet little running tractor; 1951 John Deere MI with front blade, not restored; 1950 Fordson E27N, English built, rare in the States, older restoration, but a good runner; 1948 Case S, restored, and one of my favorites; 1946 John Deere BW, all restored except the sheet metal, many NOS parts; 1946 Oliver 60 Standard, all restored except the sheet metal, my current project;1941 McCormick-Deering W4, restored, and another favorite; 1937 Silver King 3-wheeler, not restored, but a good runner; and a 1937 Centaur KVW, restored, a very rare tractor and one I really hated to lose.

There were two old walk-behind garden tractors, a Kincaid and a Gravely L; a restored John Deere 4B plow with rare, cast, rubber-tired wheels, and an unrestored Emerson-Brantingham horse-drawn mower, plus hundreds of scarce parts, part books and service manuals.

My first thought was that the fire would pretty much put me out of the tractor restoration business. However, since the only way to really get my money out of the insurance company is to replace everything, I will probably do that. Of course, I still have some machinery, as well as ten tractors in the other barn, so I am not completely done for yet.

It’s impossible to describe the thoughts that run through your head while watching a big chunk of your life go up in smoke. Some of you have experienced the same or even worse, and know what I mean. I hope the rest of you never have to go through a similar situation. FC

Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.

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