This is a story about my friend, Nick Breslawski. He has been a serious collector of International Harvester tractors - those in need of salvage and overhaul - for most of his 79 years. Stuck bolts do not have a chance against this guy. His collection of nearly 40 antique tractors - all carrying the names McCormick Deering, Farmall or International Harvester - has earned him the admiration of countless old tractor collectors. He also has dozens of horse-drawn tools and implements, wrenches, walking sticks, oil cans, yardsticks, rulers, toys, signs and more, all with ties to International Harvester. He even has a military M1 rifle, one of many made by IHC when the company retooled for the war effort. Those IHC rifles, difficult to find, are highly sought by IHC collectors.
Each summer, Nick invites others in the Rochester, N.Y., area to bring their tractors to a show he puts on. Some tractors show up 'as is,' in their 'work clothes'; others are picture perfect. Nick's Hamlin Antique Tractor and Equipment Show attracts folks with interests in all makes of tractors. Nick is such a likable fellow that it makes no difference what color tractors you like. He does, however, refer to those green machines as 'tractors that are not yet ripe.'
At the show, a wood fire burning beneath a huge cast iron kettle boils milled sorghum into syrup. Nick grows his own sorghum, which is a bit of a challenge since the northeast's growing season often does not provide enough time for the crop to mature. But it adds an interesting exhibit to his shows. A late model yellow-and-white International Cub tractor turns a long pole connected to Nick's sorghum mill, wearing a large circle in the grass in the process. Nick's mill is believed to be the only working sorghum mill in New York.
This was the third year that Nick has given out complimentary show buttons. The 2000 show button has an IH Titan tractor on it. Another highlight of the show is the old fashioned baked goods sale conducted by friends. Women involved with the show wear dresses styled like those of the '30s. I have never attended another antique tractor show with this extra special touch.
On Sunday afternoon of the two-day show, I felt honored when Nick asked me to organize a parade. Small garden tractors - mostly Cub Cadets - led the procession. We paraded past the various exhibits, which included a working saw mill. I cannot wait until next year when the parade will be bigger, and held both days. I go to many shows each year, but Nick's little show is still the best, and full of old fashioned fun.
Nick lives on the family farm, 1,800 acres still farmed by his sons, Nick and Jim. He was only 7 when he began working on the family farm. He worked in the '40s and '50s as head mechanic at Bauch's International Harvester dealership in nearby Brockport, N.Y.
Over the years Nick has built his collection by attending auctions where IHC equipment was featured. His first tractor was a McCormick 10-20. One of his rarest tractors is a Farmall AV. These high clearance tractors are quite uncommon in these parts. Nick found his AV in Florida a couple of years ago and brought it home to Hamlin, N.Y.
I've seen Nick in action at farm machinery auctions, making bids on one-of-a-kind IHC collectibles. Once, at an IHC dealership liquidation sale at Belfast, N.Y., I watched as Nick bid on a variety of old IHC cans and tools in a cardboard box. Suddenly he realized he was bidding against an old crony, Al McBride, who had accompanied him to the auction. It was the funniest thing. At about the same time, Al realized what was happening, and immediately stopped bidding. Nick bought the box of goodies for less than $8 and later remarked to Al that he would have gotten it cheaper if Al had not 'run it up' like that.
Nick has expanded his interests in International Harvester products by acquiring a couple of Cub Cadets. One is a rare red model Cadet that is special to him. He plans to restore these famous little tractors while he relaxes at his Lakeland, Fla., winter home. Like many people doing garden tractor restorations, Nick enjoys working on the smaller Cub Cadet tractors because they weigh less and they're more manageable.
I recently spent a day with this IHC tinkerer. What an experience! We started out by inspecting my corral of Farmalls and Cub Cadet tractors and collection of IH memorabilia and toys. Sitting next to my corn binder was a stack of rusty red battery box covers. After asking me if I had one to fit a Farmall A, Nick found one and I told him he could have it. He smiled as if I had given him the whole tractor. Isn't it funny how an unexpected 'found treasure' for one of our relics makes us so happy? Later, we stopped by the farm home of Doc Ryan, another avid IH collector in this area. What a treat it was to witness these two old pros exchanging farm stories. Then it was off to Nick's farm to see his newest IH additions. I believe the day we spent together - one of the most rewarding of my life -was worth at least three college credits.
Following last year's show, we were all saddened by the passing of Nick's dear wife, Kate. She was always a faithful supporter of Nick's hobby, and worked very hard to make the tractor show a success. Kate Breslawski worked on the family farm alongside her husband all her adult life. They were married 55 years. I was among their many tractor friends who attended her memorial service. Many wondered if Nick would have a show in 2000 without his partner in life, but as you can see, it was a dandy, better than ever.
Gene Preston is a product of a family farm in Greece, N.Y. He collects International Harvester tractors, memorabilia and toys. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org