Tractor enthusiasts across the Atlantic don't let borders limit their hobby. Ray Bailey of Wales in the United Kingdom, for instance, travels to the United States twice a year to visit friends and attend Minneapolis-Moline collector shows.
Ray started collecting tractors more than 20 years ago. Although now a Minneapolis-Moline fan, he didn't start out with the Prairie Gold.
"I started collecting International Harvester about 20 years ago," he says, "but I lost interest. I started collecting again when I bought an MM UTS."
The 1945 MM UTS recharged Ray's interest in vintage tractors. Soon after he bought the UTS, he bought an MM GT. Within eight weeks, he purchased an MM GTS. After adding another U to his collection, Ray decided to join a friend on a visit to see what tractor collecting was like in the U.S.
"I always wanted to come over," he says. "And a John Deere collector friend wanted me to come with him in 1992."
Though Ray is not a Green fan, he made the trip, visiting the John Deere Two Cylinder Club show held in Waterloo, Iowa, that year.
While visiting, Ray learned of Roger Mohr's legendary Minneapolis-Moline collection in Vail, Iowa. That collection consists of about 70 Minneapolis-Moline tractors, including the UDLX Comfort Tractor. Roger's toy models are in such demand that new orders are put on a three-year waiting list.
The collection was one that Ray couldn't pass up. Fortunately, he didn't, for it was there that he met Tiny Blom, an Oliver tractor collector.
"We became instant friends, and he invited me to come over," Ray says. "I came over four or five times in the next few years, and we went everywhere together. He found tractors for me which I bought and then shipped to the U.K. Unfortunately, he died two years ago, but we've remained good friends with his family, and still visit them often."
The prospect of shipping tractors overseas would be a daunting one for many. But, Ray says, it isn't too much of an ordeal. Much hinges on the exchange rate. In the early '90s, when Ray and Tiny toured the U.S. countryside, bargains were still available.
"Prices four to five years ago in the U.S. were reasonable," Ray says. "But it has evened out. Now, consequently, not as many tractors are being shipped back and forth."
But before a tractor is shipped, it must be purchased. Bidding at auctions in the U.S. was a learning experience, Ray says. The first time he placed a bid, he thought he had a tractor, only to find it gone to another bidder. Bidding in the UK, he says, is more positive and easier to follow than at American auctions. Auctioneers overseas, he says, are more likely to take the bids themselves, working without assistants.
"What makes it easier is, it's 'going, going, gone' and the hammer falls," he says. "That's it. The auction in the UK is more definite toward the end."
The days of finding tractors at rock bottom prices, Ray says, have ended both in the U.S. and overseas. These days, his biggest thrill is in making new friends. He and his friend, Bridget, have enjoyed the hospitality of many good friends when they visit here, and they enjoy reciprocating when friends visit his home. He lives on 12 acres in rural Wales in a home built more than 300 years ago, and operates a "caravan park" (comparable to an RV camp-ground in the states). Visitors are able to see vintage tractors, as well as historic sites.
"There are castles and country houses of historical interest nearby," he says. "And we live near Chester, an ancient Roman city, where there are museums and the like."
In Ray's collection, two of his favorites are a 1948 MM UDS with a 46 hp British Dorman diesel engine, and a 1948 MM UDM, a 66 hp tractor with a Meadows diesel engine.
Both tractors, he says, "came out too late." The three-point hitch had arrived in the U.K., and these tractors were expensive and obsolete (the new tractors with three-point hitches sold for 300-400 pounds; the old MMs went for about 1,200 pounds). The distributor couldn't compete, and soon got out of the tractor business. Of the two tractors, the UDM with the Meadows engine is the most highly sought.
"I know of only about 10 around," Ray says. "And two of them are in Australia."
Because of the high cost of gasoline, most tractors used in the U.K. are run on diesel. While visiting in Arkansas, he marveled at the price of gas.
"At home," he says, "gas costs about $5 a gallon. Diesel is now the fuel of choice."
It wasn't always that way.
"During World War II, things were different," he says. "Most tractors used gas to start, then ran on TVO or distillate. They were very much in demand for our food production (under the Lend/Lease program). Many of the ships were torpedoed, though, and only a few tractors got through."
Ray would like to see more complete exhibits at shows, here and abroad.
"The display of implements has been neglected in the U.K.," he says. "The general public becomes bored with static tractors, and to include implements with them helps to give a better insight into their use."
In England and other parts of the United Kingdom, he said, Road Runs and Work Days are popular additions to the traditional show. The Road Run consists mainly of a 20- to 30-mile drive through the countryside on collectible tractors. Proceeds typically go to charity. At Work Days – which resemble Old Threshing Days in the U.S. – club members plow, cultivate, combine, cut hay and corn, and run a sawmill, in addition to other demonstrations.
Whatever the event, it's a success if it brings people together, he says. Tractors provide the motivation, but the friendships gained are the real treasure.
"When it gets to the nitty gritty," he says, "it's all about meeting people of like interests." FC
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, Ill.