At the Antique Truck & Tractor Display at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show, some visitors strolled around the building, glanced at the various pieces of machinery, perhaps stopped for a moment to watch one being fired up and then, just as quickly, moved on to another part of the show. Some people just don’t appreciate old tractors, even when they’ve been rebuilt and repainted.
But there are those who know the true relevance of these machines to the current technology on display nearby. They know that these pieces from the past laid the groundwork for the giants of today. They also know that each of the pieces on display comes with a proud owner and a good story behind it. The tales that emerge are many and varied, and most of them speak to the pioneer spirit that helped settle the Canadian west in the first half of the 20th century.
As one collector put it, “Tractors made this part of the world.”
Judging by the volume of antique trucks, tractors and other machinery at the show, there was no lack of choice for early consumers: Cockshutt, Massey-Harris, Case, John Deere, Oliver and Minneapolis-Moline were among the brands on display. The building where the antiques were showcased was full of old-time color, sound and activity on a daily basis.
And it wasn’t limited to trucks and tractors. One could also find the occasional threshing machine, hay rack or combine, depending on what had been recently recovered or restored. There was even a blacksmith hard at work in a corner. About 100 pieces make up each year’s display, meaning people who want to see a unique blend of technology and history have plenty to choose from, all in one place.
For more than three decades, the Western Canada Farm Progress Show – the largest dry land farm technology show in Canada – has been at the forefront of advances in agricultural technology trends. Recognized as Canada’s National Farm Show, the three-day event – held annually in June in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada – is consistently ranked number one among farm shows for its relevance to exhibitors and the agriculture industry.
Attracting more than 40,000 people annually, the internationally-recognized event is the place to be for opportunity and innovation. Many manufacturers launch product releases to coincide with the show, guaranteeing that the new offering will be seen by buyers and sellers from around the world. But many visitors come just to see the Antique Truck & Tractor Display.
Show Manager Rob O’Connor knows the antique display is a major draw. “It’s one of the main features of the show,” he says. “This program adds a lot to the event.” It can be difficult to compare today’s agricultural marvels to yesterday’s smaller counterparts, yet O’Connor knows the importance of saluting the past while recognizing the present.
“It’s a great display of the equipment that we used to use to produce the food and the grains that we still grow now,” he says. “It really helps us to reminisce and understand how farming once was.” He particularly enjoys seeing antiques “working like they did 30, 40, 50, 100 years ago.”
Barry Olson agrees. He’s been coming to the Farm Progress Show for more than 12 years and his main focus has been the Antique Truck & Tractor Display. Barry, who lives in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, showed off his 1941 Case V Tractor at the 2010 event and, as anticipated, had an interesting story to tell.
“The tractor was made in 1941 but my grandfather, my dad and my uncle bought it in the spring of 1942,” he recalls. “It was wartime; they had a lot of trouble getting it because there just wasn’t enough iron around to get it all made.”
The trio had to convince an unwilling dealer – who thought he had a better chance at selling elsewhere – to let the tractor go. The tractor sold for $911.50 ($11,300 in today’s terms) and the purchase necessitated some financial fine-tuning.
“They traded an old Chevy car in they had,” he says, “and they got $65 for that. They signed two notes with Case for the fall of ’42 and the fall of ’43 and then they also got a loan at the bank for nine years.” The Case was the first vehicle Barry drove. “With my foot, I could push the ‘off’ switch,” he says, “so Dad would put it in gear in the barn and then I’d go.”
Over the years, Barry lost track of the Case’s whereabouts until he learned that his father’s cousin had ended up with it. He purchased it, brought it home and set about restoring it. “It wasn’t long after that I discovered Dad had all the original documents for it,” he marvels. “I’d never seen them before.” Those documents included the original bill of sale, something that Barry proudly displays alongside his tractor.
Three McDougall men: Howard, Darryl and Andrew. Three Cockshutt tractors: a 1949 30, a 1951 40 and a 1954 50. Andrew McDougall owns the Cockshutt 30, bought from his uncle who had been planning to sell it for scrap metal. Andrew is the fourth generation owner of the tractor.
All three McDougalls were raised on the farm. Brothers Howard and Darryl farm near Craven, Saskatchewan; Andrew, Howard’s youngest son, lives in Regina. Darryl says his dad, Percy, was dedicated to the Cockshutt line. “He liked Canadian-made,” he says. “That was number one.” Percy liked the quality of the equipment so much that he bought Cockshutt machinery as well. “He was a real Cockshutt man,” Darryl says.
Originating in Brantford, Ontario, in the late 1800s, Cockshutt began as the Brantford Plow Works, producing stoves and walking plows. A family-run business, the company changed its name to the Cockshutt Plow Co. a few years later. The brand quickly became synonymous with innovation, durability and dependability. Significant growth and expansion occurred during the early part of the 20th century. While businesses across the country were folding during the Great Depression, Cockshutt survived and, according to the International Cockshutt Club’s website, “…still had very little bank loans 10 years later.”
Perhaps the company’s biggest contribution to agricultural technology was the Cockshutt 30 tractor, billed as “the first modern production tractor built in Canada … also the first tractor in the world to be equipped with live Power-Take-Off.” Besides the 30, 40 and 50, the company also added the 20: the “little brother” of the Cockshutt line.
In 1958, Cockshutt was bought out. Four years later, in 1962, the farm equipment division was sold to White Farm Equipment and the Cockshutt name was officially retired.
Massey-Harris (later Massey Ferguson) is another well-known Canadian agricultural brand. Establishing the company in 1847 in Newcastle, Ontario, owner Daniel Massey merged with Alanson Harris in 1891 to become Massey-Harris. In 1953, the company welcomed Harry Ferguson, the Irish engineer who had dramatically changed tractor design with the 3-point hitch. Initially called Massey-Harris-Ferguson, the name was shortened five years later to Massey Ferguson. In 1995, Massey Ferguson was purchased by U.S.-based AGCO Corp.
In the 1930s, Massey-Harris produced the GP, one of the world’s first 4-wheel drive tractors (for more on the Massey-Harris GP, see Farm Collector, September 2010, “4-Wheel Drive Pioneer,” pages 38-41). Henry Boutin, Carlyle, Saskatchewan, owns not one but two GPs. He displayed his 1935 Massey-Harris four-wheel drive tractor at the Farm Progress Show, noting that both machines were in pretty bad shape when he brought them back from Vermont. He had just recently finished restoring one of them. It was Henry’s third four-wheel drive restoration project and, while he says he’s getting used to it, he admits there’s a lot of work involved.
Four-wheel drive GPs were quite rare; just 3,000 were built through 1935. “They were hard to sell because, for one reason, the Depression, plus they were fairly expensive for the time. But they were really ahead of their time.”
Finding parts is a challenge. Henry says about the only place he’s been able to locate them is in the U.S. Would he ever sell the four-wheel drive relics? “Oh, probably, if the price is right,” he says, “because there’s a lot of work that went into this one.”
And that sums up the Antique Truck & Tractor Display at the Farm Progress Show. Each piece – rebuilt and restored to its former glory – stands as a proud testament to advancement in Canadian agricultural technology and serves as a silent reminder of what ingenuity, determination and hard work can achieve. FC
For more information about the Antique Truck & Tractor Display at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show (scheduled for June 15-17, 2011), visit www.myfarmshow.com.
Debra Clarke is a freelance writer/editor in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.