Anyone who’s spent months in pursuit of a hard-to-find tractor or part knows this essential truth of collecting: The hunt’s the thing. The quest becomes all-consuming: phone calls, letters, e-mail, advertisements, word of mouth … the obsessed collector employs every trick in the book short of smoke signals. Miles and miles of interstate highways melt away, and old iron seems a reasonable topic to inject into literally any conversation or event.
Once the prize is found, the tale takes on legend status. Old iron enthusiast Scott Garvey has been on a quest himself, gathering up tales of great finds for The Tractor in the Haystack: Great Stories of Tractor Archaeology. Garvey’s ears are fine-tuned to stories of remarkable finds, unimaginable good luck and the kind of stubborn tenacity required when hunting a needle in a haystack. In this excerpt from Tractor in the Haystack, Garvey recounts the story of what happened to a collector who found himself in the right place at the right time.
Despite the fact that Jon Kinzebaw, or Kinze as he’s known to his friends, has literally hundreds of tractors in his collection, he can easily pick a favorite – his 1946 Farmall H.
It is a machine that his father used to own and the tractor Kinze learned to drive on. However, this tractor wasn’t passed down from father to son. It only became a part of Kinze’s collection after fate – coincidence, luck, or whatever you want to call it – intervened.
The Farmall H first made its home on the Kinzebaw farm in Victor, Iowa, when Kinze’s dad bought it after returning home from service in World War II. At that time, Kinze was just a toddler. The tractor was still around when young Kinze was finally given the chance to take the controls – even though he was just a bit too small to reach the clutch pedal. His father fixed that problem by attaching a large block of wood to the pedal with a hinge to bring the pedal a little closer. A piece of rubber cut from an old tire provided a nonslip surface to keep Kinze’s boot from sliding off.
This basic, but clever, solution made it possible for Kinze to rack up more than a few happy hours at the wheel of the H. But eventually, his father decided he needed more horses under the hood and traded the H back to the dealer for a larger Farmall Super M. Over the years, that Farmall dealer closed up shop, and all records of the sales and trades were lost to time. So around 1983, when Kinze first started making inquiries to locate the old H, the dealer proved to be a dead-end lead. Kinze had no record of the H’s serial number to help, either. In those days, keeping serial number records just didn’t seem that important.
With the passage of so much time and nothing more than his recollections of a few unique features the H acquired over the years, Kinze wondered if he would ever find it. All he knew was that when it left the family farm it still had the hinge on the clutch, once mated to a block of wood, and a parking brake lever from an old Chevy truck that served as the throttle lever. In all likelihood, those parts were now long-since removed. He began to resign himself to the fact that the only place he would ever see the old H again was in his memories of the days spent working with his father on the family farm.
Kinze didn’t continue on with the family tradition of farming, but he did choose a career in agriculture – running Kinze Manufacturing, which produces farm implements. The company makes a nice fit with Kinze’s passion for old tractors. He is able to keep his tractor collection close to his manufacturing plant, and occasionally he draws on the mechanical expertise of some employees to help with the restorations.
In 1993, Kinze helped his son with the restoration of a Cub Cadet tractor as a 4-H project. That little tractor and his son’s report on the rebuilding process were entered in an Iowa county fair that year. While helping his son at the fair, it started raining, so Kinze decided to go inside and wait out the storm. As he was killing time, he began looking at some of the other children’s projects. A photograph display belonging to a boy who was showing his project here rather than at the fair in his own county caught Kinze’s eye.
As he stepped up for a closer look, he noticed one picture that had a familiar appearance. It was the silhouette of a Farmall H with an unusual, and noticeable, feature. Instead of a stock throttle assembly, the tractor in the picture had a lever that extended above the steering wheel. Kinze had seen that before – on his dad’s H.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. There was Dad’s old H sitting in the weeds,” Kinze said.
Kinze checked the name associated to the photo display and immediately began looking for Tanner, the young boy who entered the photo project. It didn’t take long to find him and his father and ask them about the tractor in the picture.
As it happened, that tractor was on the family’s farm across the river in Benton County, and, yes, Tanner’s father said he would sell it. In fact, he had been planning to sell it to a local wrecker for parts, but that deal wasn’t finalized yet. Tanner’s father said he would need about $500 to part with it. After negotiating, they settled on a price of $400.
When Kinze showed up with his trailer to get the tractor, he gave the H a once over. He knew quickly that he was looking at an old friend. After loading the H, Kinze went to the cab of his truck and returned with an old block of wood; it had some old rubber and half a hinge attached to it. He asked Tanner and his parents, who were watching from nearby, to come close and take a look. Then, he held the wooden block up to the clutch pedal, and it fit perfectly with the rusted hinge section that was still bolted to the back of the pedal. It was as certain an identification as if he had compared a fingerprint. The old Chevy brake lever, instead of the Farmall throttle, was still in place, too.
Kinze knew that, if pressed, he would have paid the full asking price for the tractor. That’s part of the reason he had deliberately not told Tanner and his dad why he wanted it. Now that the deal was done, he went back to his truck, took out his checkbook, and wrote out a $100 check. This one, however, he made out to Tanner as a finder’s fee.
Over the next couple of years, the H underwent a complete restoration in Kinze’s shop. Although it looked a little rough around the edges when he brought it home, only the engine needed any serious repairs. Usually, Kinze only replaces the seals on the transmissions and rear ends of his tractors, unless there are other repairs required. However, this tractor was special. It also was treated to a full set of new bearings.
Just before Kinze’s father traded the H, it was fitted with a new pair of Goodyear rear tires with 45-degree tread bars. Amazingly, those same tires were still on the tractor and still serviceable.
A year after buying the H, Kinze ran into Tanner’s mother at the annual county fair. She had a story she just had to share with him. She said that when Tanner was thinking about what project he would create for the fair that year, he asked her this: “Mom, what do you think I could take pictures of this year that Kinze would want to buy?” FC
The Tractor in the Haystack: Great Stories of Tractor Archaeology by Scott Garvey, 2008, hardcover, 6-1/4-by-9-1/2 inches, 256 pages, black-and-white photos, Voyageur Press, $22, available through the Farm Collector Store.