Midwest Old Threshers Reunion offers backdrop for "family" reunion
Labor Day marked the last big weekend of the summer show season, and thousands of collectors chose to spend the three-day holiday at the 1999 Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
Among the collectors there was a diverse group who've grown close through their shared appreciation for vintage iron. The friendly banter and camaraderie of the group – all of whom camped in close proximity to each other – sounded like the ribbing more typical of a family reunion.
One of those in the extended "clan" was Ken Lage, Wilton, Iowa. Ken brought a 1935 Toro Model A tractor. The Toro Tractor Company made tractors prior to 1920, Ken said, but the company was bought out by Advance-Rumely in about 1924. Five years later, Toro bought back the rights to the name and building from Advance-Rumely, and Allis-Chalmers bought out the other part of the business.
Ken's Toro – built by a company now famous for lawnmowers – features a Model A Ford engine and transmission. The rear end was made by Clark.
"It was a component tractor they built," he said.
Ken found the tractor in June 1980 in a Corning, Iowa, salvage yard. What he found bears no resemblance to the classic he's been bringing to the Old Threshers Reunion every year since.
"I had it restored in two or two-and-a-half months, and brought it to Mt. Pleasant," he said. "There was no gas tank, steering wheel, etc., but the radiator and grille were all there."
The tractor's wheels are original.
"I've never seen another set of steel up front," he said. "Most are rubber tires. They're noisy on gravel, but I want to leave on the originals."
Ken constructed a new seat, and added a modification: A buggy seat in back.
"It's a 'mother-in-law seat,' I call it," he said.
Some restoration details can be tough to nail down. Ken, for instance, wasn't sure about correct colors until he met up with another collector at the Old Threshers Reunion who agreed to share literature.
"I'm not sure about the color," Ken said. "It was this color under the grease, but this guy (the other collector) said it should be green, black and red."
The Toro is just one of Ken's prizes. His collection also includes Hubers, Keck-Gonnermans, Bakers, Leaders and more. Parked on one side of his Toro at Mt. Pleasant was a wonderfully restored 1930 Hart-Parr, and to the other side a 1927 Twin City 17-28 – restored by Ken's grandson, Tony Behall.
Now a high school senior, Tony has been helping his grandfather since he was knee high. The Twin City was a good choice for him, he said, because "they are half-way rare." Affordability also played a role in the acquisition, his grandfather noted.
The tractor collecting bug has bitten many in the family. Ken said his wife, Joyce, and the couple's children and grandchildren enjoy the shows as much as he does.
Dick Bockwoldt, Dixon, Iowa, is another member of this particular clan at Mt. Pleasant. Dick and fellow collector Don Huber, Olathe, Kan., own a large collection of tractors at "Huber Heaven" on the eastern Iowa border. Dick, a full-time restorer, displayed a 1930's vintage Huber Supreme 22-40 threshing machine which he and his family had just completed.
"It came from Minnesota and the owner – Jay Schumacker – is from California," he said. "He bought two (of the threshing machines); one is for parts. This one took a month and a half to restore."
Dick credited his wife, Dorothy, with a good part of the restoration work. The decals for the word "Huber" were in five layers, and took intensive labor to apply. The word "Supreme" was hand painted.
Another in this circle of friends is Richard Grimm, Charlotte, Iowa, who displayed two rare Eagle tractors. One was a 1936 Model B; the other was a 1937 Model C. In 1912-13, the Eagle Company made two-cylinder tractors, he said. Then, in 1929, the company introduced the Model A, B and C, all six-cylinder tractors. The A – with a Waukesha engine – was the biggest. The B and C models featured the sturdy Hercules engine. In 1939, the company began producing tractors for military use, but shortly thereafter ceased production.
Although Richard's Eagles have many similarities, they vary slightly. Production of the '36 C was more limited than that of the B. Richard recounted finding his '37 B in Appleton, Wis., about 15 years ago.
"It was painted yellow, but it was in good shape," he said. "A guy told me there was a shed with an Eagle in it I thought it was an Allis at first, then a Case, but it was an Eagle."
Neither Eagle needed more than a little touch-up and a good paint job.
The '37 B stays onsite at the Old Threshers Museum year-round, but the C goes home with the Grimms. (The B will return home next year for maintenance.)
Richard said he began collecting tractors at age 18. Although he's partial to Eagles, like many collectors, it's a tractor with family ties that means the most to him.
"Dad's 1929 Case is my favorite," he said.
The Grimm family, like the Lage and Bockwoldt families, enjoy tractor collecting as a shared activity. The Grimms have four children and seven grandchildren: Richard's wife and grandson (a high school freshman) joined him at Mt. Pleasant. This year's trip, Richard said, was a special one, in that one of his sons would literally see the show for the first time in more than a decade.
"I've been coming to Mt. Pleasant for about 25 years," he said. "Fifteen years ago, my boy lost his eyesight to an anhydrous ammonia accident. But he just got his eyesight back: He went to Minneapolis, and his sister donated part of her eye. Now he's riding a bike all over town."
For this group – this extended family, really – of collectors, Mt. Pleasant was more than a tractor show. From live bluegrass performances to museum collections, train and trolley rides to thresherman's dinners and tall tales, the event truly was a reunion, one last chance for collectors to kick up their heels before taking their vintage classics home for the winter. FC
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, Ill.