In 1939 Francis Sutherland and his father saw a brand-new UDLX Comfortractor at Minneapolis-Moline’s Pittsburgh branch factory. He didn’t get to own it until 1974.
‘Me and my Dad could have bought it for $1175,’ he said. ‘There were two at the branch. This was one of them. I kept watch on it ever since. I’m the third owner. They made them as a tractor and a car. They said you could plow all week, go to town on Saturday and go to church on Sunday. Farmers were just trading horses for steel at that time. MM built 350 of these Comfortractors. Eighty have been relocated but we don’t know what condition they’re in.’
Francis was one of many exhibitors at the Perry County Old Iron Collectors annual fall show held in the community of Ickesburg in south-central Pennsylvania. A resident of Harrisville, Pa., he has been going to shows for nearly 30 years and has never seen more than one Comfortractor anywhere.
‘I go to about 15 to 20 shows a year,’ he said. ‘I’ve been to Paris, Ontario, twice, but mostly I go to Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. I enjoy going to shows and seeing people looking at my tractor and wondering what it is. I see a lot of nice people. It’s instant family.’
Francis said the Comfortractor’s first owner only had one and a half acres so in 1943 he sold it to George Welch of Cooperstown, Pa.
He threshed with it for about 10 years – it was always outside,’ Francis said. ‘When I bought it in 1974 it had been in the lower story of a barn for years. He’d torn off the hood and the fenders and the head and just left it in the barn. It was a basket case when we got it. We hauled it home in pieces.’
Jerry Frampton of Harrisville undertook the restoration of the vehicle, a project that lasted more than three years.
‘He’s a good friend,’ Francis said. ‘He has as much pride in that tractor as I do. If I sold it he’d shoot me but it ain’t for sale.’
The second owner had the glass from the cab in his attic. Jerry was able to find all the necessary original parts to complete the restoration.
‘They had tinted glass front and rear,’ Francis said. ‘They were 25 years ahead of their time.’
The Comfortractor is not the only vehicle in his collection. Together with his son-in-law Rick Stuchal and grandson Cory, he owns 28 Minneapolis-Moline tractors. But it’s clear that the ‘Comfort’ is his very special toy.
Along with the usual array of tractors and steam engines the Perry County Old Iron Collectors show had a number of displays and demonstrations to teach the younger generation how things were done in the old days. Leroy Fleisher of New Bloomfield, Pa., brought along his century-old Blizzard L-11 ensilage cutter, for which he paid $35 three years ago.
‘It’s the only one I’ve ever seen,’ he said. ‘It was made by the Joseph Dick Company of Canton, Ohio, and was first patented in 1892. It’s made of cast iron. The conveyor belt and the feeder trough are wood. I cleaned it and repainted it and made an undercarriage for it. The hardest part was making the axles.’
The machine, which was powered by a tractor or a large hit-and-miss engine, was built to chop up green corn plants, grind them into silage and blow them into the storage silo through about 30 to 40 feet of pipe. The corn was brought in a wagon and fed into the cutter by hand. Leroy uses his 1930 McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor to carry out his demonstrations.
Kenneth Baldwin brought his 1892 two-hole corn shelter to show off to the public. He paid $25 for it about eight years ago and other than replacing the tin work has left it ‘as is.’ The faint lettering on the side indicates it was built by the Mountville Manufacturing Company of Mountville, Pa.
‘It’s all in the original state,’ he said. ‘I didn’t paint it. It’s all wood. There aren’t many left. The most unusual is the most rare.’
Kenneth powers the corn-sheller with a Fairbanks-Morse one and half horsepower steady fire engine that has been handed down in his family. He doesn’t know its age.
The 1916 Emerson-Brantingham Peerless Double T steam engine owned by Mike
Zeigler of New Bloomfield, Pa., has been a part of his family since it was purchased new. At the Perry County show he spoke with pride of its history.
‘My grandfather Luther Bolze and his brothers David and Lenus bought it in 1917,’ he said. ‘They were farmers, threshers and sawmillers. They had several engines but this one never got away. If you had access to water and wood you had free power when these engines were in their heyday. This engine is still within 15 miles of where it was sold new. I’m the fourth owner but it’s never been sold outside the family. Next to my family this is my pride and joy.’
The steam engine carries the serial number 17544 and the casting number 6075G. Mike has done extensive research and thinks his engine was the 200th built in 1916. He said there are reportedly 376 of these engines registered in Pennsylvania but there’s no record of how many are sitting idle in barns.
‘This one burned up in a sawmill in 1953,’ he said. ‘It was restored in 1954 after a year’s work. I redid it in 1998. It is in good running order and is certified by the State of Pennsylvania. I grew up with this engine but it’s definitely not a toy -you must know what you’re doing. I’ve always been fascinated with it.’
For more information on the Perry County Old Iron Collectors Inc. contact Jodi Mullen, PCOIC secretary, at 147 Basin Hill Road, Duncannon, PA 17020. 717-834-6611.
Jill Teunis is a frequent contributor to Farm Collector who lives and works in Damascus, Md.