It’s one thing to acquire a fine antique. It’s another thing altogether to own an antique that’s a family piece. And that’s the situation Iowa collector Bruce Hungerford finds himself in.
In this issue of Farm Collector, Kelly Barnett tells the story of a gas engine purchased new by a pair of brothers 116 years ago. No spoilers here: I’ll leave the rest of the story to Kelly.
Suffice to say, stories like this can run chills down a spine. Long-lost pieces returned to an owner, or the piece sold at auction tracked down decades later, or a story of how or where a piece was used, or by whom – all add immense intangible value to an antique.
You can see a tractor or an engine or any piece of old iron at a show, and your mind registers rare or common, restored or original. You may not give the piece a second thought – until you hear its back story. Then, instantly, the relic becomes one of a kind, elevated above its peers.
Years ago, I met a man in Scotland whose father applied to that country’s Department of Agriculture to get a tractor during World War II. “It was necessary to get a special permit to get one with rubber tires,” Ian said. “They told my father, ‘The only tractor coming across on rubber tires is a Minneapolis-Moline. Would you take that?’ Well, in lend-lease, you just took what you could get. He jumped at the chance.”
In 1942, during war time shortages, that tractor was almost unimaginably dear to a Scottish farmer. When it was delivered, he called to Ian, then 12. “Jump on it, son,” he said. “You’ll be the first to drive it.”
More than 32,000 Minneapolis-Moline UTS tractors were built. Sixty years later, across the Atlantic, at least one remained a cherished family heirloom. Presumably, it still is, though by now it may have passed to Ian’s sons.
And they, like anyone fortunate enough to be the current holder of an heirloom, undoubtedly feel an awesome responsibility to protect the relic. In the end, collectors are little more than caretakers, preserving a bit of the past as a gift for the future. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you!